I’m having trouble keeping my horse on the bit in downwards transitions – he’s fine in the upwards ones. Any ideas?
The thing with downwards transitions is they’re always the last to get worked on – it’s so easy to focus on the up because they usually cause trouble first.
If you lose shape and softness it’s because you’re not riding forward through the whole transition. However much you believe you’re doing it there’s a strong chance you’re holding your breath for even as little as half a stride – and that’s what causes the hiccup and tension. The instant your body stops feeling relaxed to him the instant he’ll tighten up and hollow. Find time to sit and really visualise riding transitions up and down – there’s usually a point that you think ‘and’ trot/canter/walk and it’s that ‘and’ that creates the hollowing. There’s a post on that here.
Downwards transitions need more positive riding than up and yet it’s so much harder to do because your mind is saying slow down. Try to think about all your transitions as a change of leg sequence rather than moving up or down a pace.
The other thing is your contact. Be really careful you’re not giving him a backwards feeling in his mouth. Ride into trot/walk or halt as if there’s a jump in front of you and ‘allow’ with your hand – you’ll find he’ll actually push into your hand and sit back on his hocks. This becomes a ‘forward feeling’ contact – a bit like going downhill with a wheelbarrow – the contact is still there (or you’d drop it) but it’s taking you forward. (Handy tip here! )
Practise trot to halt. Ride into halt for all you are worth! (Trust me on this he will stop!) Use your knee to ask for the halt ( More on that here.) but keep really driving forward as you ask. You might have a few hit and miss ones at first but just keep at it. Ride large asking for halt on the long sides at E/B. Really push on into them and dig your knees in to ask for the halt without pulling back. Once you get the feel for it it’s a great feeling. Think of squatting down into the halt so your seat pushes down and your legs stay on. It’s easy to try to lighten your seat if you’re having problems but it just makes things worse.
There are some good posts to use further down – for trot to halt, canter to trot and canter to walk. They should keep you going for a bit! Best of luck!