Walk to Trot? What’s the Problem?
Do you ever really think about asking your horse to trot? It’s such a non-event that you could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much to it. But ignore it at your peril! Any tension created in the transition not only ruins your trot it also goes on to affect your canter.
A transition should be an invisible flow from one sequence of legs to another but very rarely does it happen. Any tension is highlighted by your horse as he tightens his jaw, hollows or even swishes his tail. This is most often seen in trot to canter transitions but the same thing is happening from walk to trot – it’s just less obvious.
Think about what happens when you ask your horse to trot. Theoretically you should be in walk one second and trot the next with very little change in your position or his. In practise however you probably unintentionally tighten almost every muscle in your body as you ask him to trot and he returns the favour by doing the same! This results in various things –
- he hangs back in walk and then lurches into trot,
- he tightens his back and the trot strides are short and stuffy
- he hollows and lifts his head up
- he shoots forward or
- he’s reluctant (you may call him lazy or unresponsive)
Because your end pace is trot this problem may only show itself for a few strides (canter is always far more traumatic!). You may well carry on without giving it a second thought but you could well be missing out. Any tension in a transition always affects the pace you move into – the smoother it is the softer your horse’s back is and the looser his paces will be.
Any transition is directly affected by the quality of the pace before it so it’s up to you to get your horse walking forward into a good contact before you go. When it comes to canter transitions most riders think well ahead but when it’s ‘only’ walk to trot they won’t give it a second thought. Plan ahead – get him walking on and you’ll soon notice a difference.
No horse should have to be pushed on to stay in walk! Your horse must walk on until you ask him to turn, change pace or move sideways. Check out this post for simple way to get him listening to your leg aids.
There’s a post here that lists other blog posts all about walk. Spend time improving your horse’s walk. It’s important because it’s the foundation for all your other paces. Get it right and everything else will improve.
An unprepared transition will always lack fluency because you have to make your aids sharper so they’re clearer to your horse. Think about what you usually do as you ask your horse to trot –
- as you put your legs on you probably tighten your stomach muscles and therefore your seat which tightens your thigh and knee against the saddle – which is actually a brilliant way to ask your horse to slow down! Check out The Other Way of Stopping if you haven’t already.
- As your body lifts up (because your seat tightens) the tension runs up into your shoulders and down into your elbow and straight to the bit.
- Feeling the tension on his mouth your horse is probably slow to react and you’ll lighten the contact to encourage him – and drop him onto his shoulders
It may sound like a lot and it is but it all happens in the space of a stride or two. Is it any wonder your transitions are a little bit tense? Although your trot may feel OK it’s likely that following any of those transitions your horse’s strides will lack energy and spring, his back will be stiff and his weight will fall onto his shoulders.
Preparing for a walk to trot transition doesn’t mean fiddling! It simply means getting your horse walk forward so that the slightest touch from both heels is enough to tell him to trot on. The less you do the easier he’ll find it to listen to every aid you give.
In walk your horse moves his head and neck forward and back – it’s important to allow him this movement so he works through his back. Hold your contact too tight and he’ll keep his head still to avoid the pressure. If he does that every muscle in his back will tighten. It’s well worth practising walking around the school focusing on following his mouth with your arms, without losing your contact.
Practise riding transitions at E and B so you’re straight. The contact on both reins should be the same as should the pressure from both legs when you use them. Remember each hand controls one shoulder and each leg controls a hind leg – uneven pressure creates crookedness.
If your horse is walking forward correctly you should have both calf muscles resting on his sides without having to push which helps you to stay relaxed. When you pass each marker you should only need to touch his sides with both heels to ask for trot. Initially you may need to back up your aid with a schooling whip but be patient – never compromise your own position if things go wrong. Repetition and consistency always improve everything. Be prepared to ruin a couple of transitions in order to make the next ones better.
It’s very easy to focus on the things that are most obvious – a canter transition is one of the most talked about problems – but it’s often the things you can’t see that make the biggest difference. Spend a few sessions improving your walk to trot transitions and you’ll find that they have a direct affect on your canter.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.