Transitions in Lateral work
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, December 8, 2016 11:01 AM
The lateral work done correctly either in walk, trot or canter is a great way to improve horse's suppleness, straightness and collection. You also can enhance your horse's training and add variety to it by doing transitions in lateral work. These transitions will expose your horse's lack of suppleness, coordination, balance and straightness on a different level.They also challenge his throughness and obedience.
In all lateral work the transitions you can do are walk-halt-walk, trot-walk-trot, trot-halt-trot, canter-walk-canter, trot-passage-trot (they are listed in according to their level of difficulty). The trot-canter transitions in lateral work should be done on a limited basis and carefully observed. The purpose of these exercises is to teach a horse engagement and ability to sit behind and push upwards - in other words collection. Trot-canter transitions are more suited for developing horse's suppleness. Do them on a circle as a warm-up before doing more demanding transitions in lateral work.
It is very important to ride lateral exercises correctly, understand their purpose and know common evasions used by horses to avoid engagement. A rider must sit centered and observe how the horse executes the movement rather than do the work for him. Holding a horse together with tight aids will teach him not to try.
Transitions in shoulder-in That would be the first lateral exercise to try the transitions. Leg-yield is not considered a classical two-track exercise and there are different opinions on it's value for training. Leg-yield will not collect the horse it is rather suppling exercise. For these reasons I will not include it here. The best way to get an idea of how transitions affect your horse in shoulder-in is to start with walk-halt-walk. Establish a shoulder-in in walk along a wall, make sure the bend is not just in the neck but in the ribcage. The main aids to ask for a halt is outside rein and inside seatbone which becomes deeper and point more forward with the assistance of core muscles while it is arresting the forward movement, the upper body must not wave or lean. The inside leg should check if the horse is honest to it BEFORE the main aids for the halt and NOT at the same time. The transition should feel very smooth, like a wave through the horse's body. At this point a horse may try to:
- fall in instead of coming through and obeying the outside rein. Keep your seat from falling in also and use inside leg to correct the horse. Inside rein may resist or give upward half-halt
- stiffen and raise the head up, this is again lack of throughness to outside rein. Ask for counter-shoulder in for a few steps and change back to shoulder-in, try halting again
- step out with outside leg making the angle bigger and losing engagement, this is lack of lift in the back, inside side wasn't giving in and the horse wasn't bending properly, outside side wasn't stretched and lifted enough
- stops the hind legs before the front legs and stretches behind. This evasion is easier to feel in lateral work then in a straight halt. All these issues were present in the shoulder-in but was not obvious enough so the rider may miss them during shoulder-in but they will reveal themselves in the halt.
Now upward transition into walk should happen from inside leg and release of the seat (this is not a push but invitation to go forward). All the mistakes described above may happen in an upward transition: falling in or stepping out is lack of engagement and lift through the back, stiffening or raising the head is first of all lack of obedience to inside leg and then everything else mentioned above.
All other transitions in shoulder-in like trot-walk or canter-walk will have similar mistakes, however, they will be more exadurated and faster executed by a horse and catching them or better preventing them from happening in the first place will allow the rider to develop effective skills and feel how to guide the horse. In downward transitions where movement is continued the seat does not arrest the movement like in a halt but "suggests" the new gait.
Transitions in travers Starting with walk-halt-walk again. The travers are considered more difficult than shoulder-in because a horse must bend into the direction of the movement. When riding travers pay strict attention to how the horse's back feels. Inside seatbone of the rider must feel like it is sitting in it's own pocket while it stays ahead of the outside seatbone, if it feels pushed upward the horse is not bending through the ribcage. A rider who is leaning outward will not feel if inside seatbone got pushed upward or not. The main aids to halt are the seat which arrests the movement but does not allow the horse to drop the back or lose bend. This is done by making sure inside seatbone stays in it's pocked and it is pointed forward as it stops moving. Again, I cannot stress this enough - the tipping of the pelvis to point seatbones forward is done by core muscles and not by glutes. Upper body must stay vertical, inside shoulder must stay over inside hip. The other aid is outside rein assisted by inside rein acting as indirect rein. During halting a horse may try to:
- stiffen up against inside rein because staying supple requires the horse to bend more during a halt. This will correct itself through practice. The horse just needs to develop more suppleness and coordination. The rider must watch though that her/his seat will not lose it's alignment and continues to preserve travers position. Using inside leg just before the halt will help to encourage the horse to stay lifted through the back. Also, at this stage of training it will help to initiate the halt with inside rein just until the horse develops more coordination and strength.
- pushes his back upward on the inside side of his body indicating that the bend is lost and the back is twisted now. Outside side of the back lost the lift and the stretch. The most difficult work for any muscle is to stay in isometric contraction (engaged without changing it's length) while being in a stretched state at the same time. Travers position requires the horse to stretch and control outside side of his back, during halt the action of stopping puts more demand on the horse to preserve it's posture. This is basically the same problem as described in previous paragraph, however, the evasion is more difficult to correct. The rider must not allow the horse to change her/his seat which makes it much more difficult for a horse to twist his back. Also, pay attention that outside seatbone and thigh do not press down too much. The horse should feel that the lift of outside side of his body is encouraged and no resistance offered in any way.
- steps inward with inside hind leg increasing the angle. Depending on the problem that action may be encouraged or prevented. For example, if a horse just learning the travers halting with the intention to increase the angle helps the horse to understand the required posture. Horses often can stay in travers position before they can walk in it. On the other hand, a horse may use stepping in as an evasion of engagement and lost of bend.Outside rein and inside leg and deep inside seatbone without any extra pressure from outside seat and leg will help the horse to correct the problem.
- steps outward with either outside front or hind leg. Indication of loss of balance and using a step to catch himself. Better preparation and coordination of aids to correct this problem.
Upward transition is difficult in travers position. This is a strength training for a horse. Their most common mistake is to fall into inside shoulder when starting to move. This is a great exercise for horses who lean in. Do not try to "help" the horse too much in a wrong way (leaning forward, releasing too much rein and loosing contact, twisting, lifting seatbones out, pushing with the hips, pulling up on the reins). Horses must figure out how to start moving or change the gait while asked to stay in travers and not push through the "boundaries" of that posture.
Starting trot or canter is even more challenging. Because horses are asymmetrical one side will feel like it is more coordinated. However, horses may avoid work on their good side in several ways: creating bigger angle by stepping slightly inward from the line of travel, pushing into outside shoulder, or lifting their head. All these mistakes must be identified and worked on until the execution is very fluid, balanced and effortless either direction.
Besides riding lateral exercises and transitions along the wall, they also can be done on a quarter line, diagonal line (half-pass) and on a circle (working pirouette). Transitions in shoulder-in can also be ridden on a circle. Plus, transitions in counter-shoulder-in and renvers are also excellent exercises.
Happy riding...
 
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