Posts Tagged ‘transitions’


In Jessica Black’s book COWBOY DRESSAGE, she explains Eitan Beth-Halachmy’s riding and training philosophy. One point they do an excellent job clarifying involves transitions: what they are, how to prepare for them, and how to make them good.

Anytime the horse changes his gait or frame, he performs a transition. Going from the walk to the jog is a transition, for example; changing the frame, as in working jog to free jog, is also a transition. The goal for any transition is to make a smooth change of gait or frame (without altering the rhythm). This means staying straight or remaining on a bend, and keeping the back supple and the head and neck relaxed with light contact.

The horse should be engaged: all transitions start in the hindquarters, thus keeping the front end light. Transitions are an opportunity for the rider to bring the horse back into frame. It is particularly important not to over-train with transitions; always stop after one or two good executions.

Teaching transitions starts on the ground as part of building the foundation through leading, lunging, long-lining, and ground driving. These will establish a pattern of obedience that carries over to work under saddle. Even at the earliest stages of training, procure that the horse stay relaxed and supple. Don’t set your horse up for failure by asking too much. This is true for work under saddle as well as on the ground. If the horse does not understand, encourage him to move forward before asking for transitions again. Sometimes it can even be a good idea to put the horse up, and continue the next day.

Teaching transitions is not something you suddenly decide to do one day; you teach them all the time. Keep in mind that every communication with your horse is a teaching moment. The Cowboy Dressage emphasis on lightness will help make each transition work toward a better partnership.

Soft Feel, with its four facets, is an ideal approach to transitions:

Preparation, that is, asking the horse clearly what you want him to do.

Execution, that is, the horse’s interpretation of your requests.

Release, that is, the reward for the horse’s compliance.

Relaxation, that is, the result of effective communication with the horse continuing calmly to the next movement.


Let’s consider transitions between gaits. The most important point to remember about changing gaits is that the change starts in the back of the horse, which moves forward into the transition. This will mean shortening the frame slightly in order to bring the horse together before executing the transition. The horse should make the transition smoothly and calmly. In general, if the horse is on a straight line or a bend when you start the transition, he should be on (the same) straight line or bend when he finishes it.

Sometimes you will want to change the gait at the same time you change direction (straightness/bend). This can be useful for practicing transitions: changing to a bend can make it easier to pick up the lope, for example. Cowboy Dressage tests may ask for changes of gait or frame at the same time that you go from straight to bend, or vice versa.

One of the best things a rider can do to ensure good transitions is become familiar with the gaits, and pay close attention to the pattern of hoof beats. Familiarize yourself with the walk, jog, and lope, by looking at the many diagrams available that demonstrate each step. Videos can also provide clear demonstrations of how the horse moves at each gait. Once you are familiar with how each movement should look, spend time watching horses move. Observing your horses play is not only good for the soul, it is good for the rider’s brain. Watching horses move freely in the pasture can help you become familiar with gaits, and this familiarity will make teaching them under saddle easier.

When you ride, feel the movement of the horse as his hooves strike the ground. Practice identifying where each foot is at the walk, jog, and lope. At the free jog, it can be very useful to post, paying attention to your diagonal (the horse’s  front foot with which the rider rises when posting). As you rise, the opposite hind foot is coming forward. Learn to recognize the diagonal movement of the horse’s feet at the jog. All these details will inform your decisions about where and how to ask your horse to change gaits.



COWBOY DRESSAGE is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

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Upward transitions are all about thrust and reach. They reinforce the "Go." Downward transitions are all about engagement. They reinforce the "Whoa."

Upward transitions are all about thrust and reach. They reinforce the “Go.” Downward transitions are all about engagement. They reinforce the “Whoa.”


“The purpose of transitions,” says Beth Baumert in her new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, “isn’t to get into the gait of choice, but rather to do it with grace, in a way that improves the horse. Transitions can improve the connection and collect him.”

Transitions not only make life fun and interesting for the horse, they also put the rider in the position of leader. Here are Beth’s tips for riding good transitions:

  • Make one change at a time.
  • Convert the energy.
  • Monitor the frame.
  • Relax the neck.
  • Monitor the bend.
  • Monitor the rhythm.
  • Monitor the speed.
  • “Look for the possibility”—feel for the right moment to make the transition.


Exercise: Looking for the Possibility
“Looking for the possibility” of a transition is all about gaining access to the horse’s hindquarters and keeping connected to them.

Step 1  Do a trot-walk transition and immediately do a leg-yield or shoulder-fore. Then trot off again.

Step 2  Next, halt briefly and do a turn-on-the-forehand or a turn-on-the-haunches. Then trot off again. The turn or movement teaches the horse that he needs to stay connected and listening with his hindquarters in the walk. Even if the turn or the movement isn’t perfect, it improves him, making the next upward transition more supple, engaged, and obedient. It makes the next transition more possible.

Step 3  Do variations of the same theme: Leg-yield or confirm your shoulder-fore before the transition to canter. These transitions help you retain the ability to “Go” in downward transitions, and they help you retain the ability to “Whoa” in the forward work. When the circle of aids is working you can easily adjust your horse within that circle, making anything possible. You want to be in the “land of all possibilities.”


Find other great insight and exercises in Beth’s new book WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS, available now from the TSB online bookstore.






Here’s what top riders, trainers, and judges are saying about WHEN TWO SPINES ALIGN: DRESSAGE DYNAMICS:

“Sometimes when I’m teaching I find myself thinking my student really needs to read Beth Baumert’s book. The perspective and the words she’s chosen give a welcomed fresh approach to describing the theories behind training.” —George Williams, Member, US Dressage Team and President, United States Dressage Federation (USDF)

“I absolutely LOVE this book! It grabbed me from the moment I read the words ‘perfect balance’ and ‘that place where two spines meet’—you get such a great visual from this! When teaching, it can be a struggle to help riders who can’t seem to balance themselves. This is where author Beth Baumert provides a valuable tool: She explains why the rider’s balance is the key to the horse’s balance and how a controlled interaction of balance ultimately leads to success and harmony. This book is where the magic begins.” —Debbie McDonald, Two-Time Olympian and USEF Developing Dressage Coach

“Beth Baumert and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to horses and dressage training. Now she has created the best guide I’ve seen for those who really want to grasp the ins and outs of dressage—I’ve never read a book covering all facets of dressage in this detail. With all that is going on in our sport today, I hope that riders—now and in the future—will pursue dressage as it is described here by Beth.” —Henk van Bergen, Former Chef d’Equipe, Dutch National Dressage Team and British National Young Riders Developing Team, and Member, FEI Judges Supervisory Panel

“This book is truly timeless. I can humbly admit that it clarified some subject even for me, after a lifetime of being involved with dressage. It is the equivalent of countless clinics given by some of the best in the world.” —Axel Steiner, FEI 5* Dressage Judge (Retired), USEF “S” Judge, and USDF “L” Program Faculty Member

“Beth Baumert’s book is desperately needed. I see many riders going down the wrong road, often because of a dubious understanding of the term ‘dressage’ and a limited view of its importance. Whatever you are riding—whether hunters, ponies, jumpers—I recommend that you learn about and use dressage in your schooling, if only for reasons of maintaining soundness. I’m lucky that, in my life of riding and teaching, there has never been jumping without flatwork. But that’s in my own little world. Today’s riders are too consumed with cosmetics and competition. Even riders at the top have somehow lost what the Masters knew centuries ago! Every rider needs to know the basic tenets of dressage, and so I recommend When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics. I can’t say enough good about it.” —George Morris, Former Chef d’Equipe, US Show Jumping Team

“This is a great book! It mirrors what I see in Beth Baumert’s students—they all demonstrate a very classical way of riding and training horses. When Two Spines Align: Dressage Dynamics clearly explains the classical foundation of how the rider should balance and sit so that he or she can then educate the horse. Beth has provided a valuable tool for all kinds and levels of riders.” —Bo Jena, Chef d’Equipe, Swedish Dressage Team and FEI 4* Judge


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It is essential for all ridden horses to maintain suppleness in their back and loins. By contracting the horse’s abdominal muscles, the back will stretch. The abdominal muscles (rectus abdominis, internal and external abdominal oblique) as well as the hip flexors (iliopsoas) are responsible for lumbo-sacral and hip flexion. When these muscles contract, the horse’s bottom line is shortened while the top line is lengthened. The hindquarters become more engaged, the horse becomes more comfortable to ride, and his weight-bearing capacity is improved.

The lumbo-sacral joint is very important, as keeping it supple will help create engagement and develop power, improving the horse’s athletic ability, such as increasing his capacity to lengthen stride. This joint is also important for the maintenance of balance.


Here are the trunk and loin extensor muscles and their functions:

Trunk Extensors

 Spinalis thoracis extends the thoracic vertebrae.

Longissimus thoracis extends the vertebral column.

Iliocostalis thoracis extends the vertebral column.

Multifidus thoracis and lumborum twist the vertebral column.

Serratus dorsalis caudalis extends the thoracic vertebrae.


Loin Extensors

Medial gluteus extends and abducts the hip, but with its connection to longissimus lumborum extends the loins.

Accessory gluteus assists the medial gluteus.

Longissimus lumborum extends the lumbar spine as well as the hip through its connection to the medial gluteus.

All these muscles are interconnected from the croup to the poll. Contraction of the abdominal muscles will lead to stretching of the entire group of extensors. During the contraction of the abdominals, the horse’s back becomes rounded, the loin flexes, and the hindquarters are drawn under the body.


3 Active Stretch Exercises for the Trunk and Loin Extensors

In order to stretch the loins actively the iliopsoas (iliacus and psoas major) and the abdominal muscles have to contract.


1   Walk and trot over 6 to 8 ground poles, encouraging the horse to stretch his head and neck down. Keep the first and last poles spaced a little closer than the middle poles. If the distance of the first two poles is too long and you do not bring the horse close enough to the first pole, he will take an extra step in the first or second space. If all the poles are of an equal distance and the distance is too long, he will take an extra step in the last space. By putting extra steps in, he will thus shorten his stride instead of lengthening it.


Walk and trot over ground poles. Note that the first and last poles are placed closer together.

Walk and trot over ground poles. Note that the first and last poles are placed closer together.


2  Incorporate backing-up (rein-back) exercises into your riding session. Start with a few steps only, then slowly build up to 6 to 8 steps. Next, back up a slight incline—note that this has a very strong stretching effect on the loin extensors, so start with only one or two steps then increase the amount slowly. Do not repeat this exercise too many times as it may cause muscle strain. Backing up is physically difficult for the horse, since he has to lift his hind legs one at a time without putting his weight on his forehand. This means that the one hind leg has to carry the horse’s weight while the other is moving backward, and vice versa.


Backing up a slight incline has a very strong stretching effect on the horse's loin extensors.

Backing up a slight incline has a very strong stretching effect on the horse’s loin extensors.


3   All transitions strengthen the abdominal muscles and the iliopsoas and therefore stretch the loin muscles. Start with trot-walk-trot transitions and progress to trot-halt-trot transitions. To perform these correctly the horse will have to bring his hindquarters more underneath him. Move on to canter-trot-canter transitions and when the horse can master this with balance and ease, do canter-walk-canter transitions. The latter exercise develops the most power in the bottom line muscles and stretch in the top line.



StretchExerciseshcspFind more excellent and easy-to-do stretch exercises to help prepare your horse to perform better, as well as keep him healthy and happy in STRETCH EXERCISES FOR YOUR HORSE, available at the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.


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Let’s aim for a fluid, upward transition into the New Year, shall we? Check out this “Sneak Peek” from Disc 4 of the hit instructional DVD series 7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN: Buck talks about the importance of knowing the pattern of your horse’s footfalls in all gaits, and how understanding where his feet are (and being able to “feel” what they’re doing), can help you achieve smooth canter transitions.

7 CLINICS WITH BUCK BRANNAMAN is available from the TSB online bookstore.

Take advantage of our annual FOR ME SALE and get an additional 15% off your purchase! Check out sale details HERE and hurry! The FOR ME SALE ends tomorrow!


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