Downwards Transitions

Some of you may remember I talked a bit about a mare last week who had a change in noseband to help prevent her setting her neck in the downward transitions. Simultaneously, I`ve been working with a young client and her pony on their dressage. She can now maintain a contact, ride positively towards the contact and maintain the trot rhythm and balance around the arena and on a variety of different school movements. The upward transitions are coming along nicely, but one of their weaknesses is their trot to walk transitions.

The pony is developing his topline so finds it easier to hollow into the walk, leaving his hindlegs out behind him. Subsequently, the walk lacks energy and my rider has to work very hard to regenerate the walk and get back into trot.

I watched her ride a couple of transitions before making a couple of adjustments. It`s important not to overload riders with new information, so I tend to make one correction and after they have ridden a few more transitions, and then made another adjustments.

What I noticed was that my rider was collapsing through her seat into the transition and slouching slightly. Which obviously helped her pony collapse in his back and slump into walk. She also didn`t use her leg in the downwards transitions.

Firstly, I got her to think about her posture through the transitions, and then to maintain her rising throughout the transition. Not necessarily correct for the final downwards transition, but the rising will take the pressure of his back, and encourage him not to drop his back.  We need to break his habit of collapsing his back, and after a couple of transitions he wasn`t doing it as much.

So it was time for stage two. I asked my rider to think about the ratio of her aids in the downward transition. Was she using more hand than seat, or leg? She agreed that she was using too heavy a rein aid. So the next few transitions involved her thinking of drawing her upper body up and back, slowing her rising, and using her seat to instigate the transition. Then she could apply the tiniest of rein aids, which focused on massaging the bit in his mouth as opposed to pulling back on it, whilst closing the leg around his barrel to make the transition slower and less abrupt, to give her pony time to place his legs. Again, a few transitions later the hindlegs weren`t being left behind quite so much and the pony wasn’t coming up and back in his neck as much.

The next step was to reintroduce the sitting trot into the transition. Because the pony isn`t that strong in his back he needs all the help he can get to lift it through the transition. I told my rider to make her rises as small and delicate as possible before going into sitting trot; imagining sitting onto a bed of nails. You want to sit as lightly as possible, with the weight going into the legs.

With my rider sitting very lightly in the saddle the pony could use his back a little more, and with the added application of her legs through the transition it helped “lift” the pony into the transition because she pushed the hindleg underneath him, lifting his abdominal muscles, lifting his back and dropping his nose. Whilst the pony didn`t go forwards into a brilliant walk, he stopped hollowing as much, and stopped drawing his neck in, which meant that the correct muscles were being utilised. As he strengthens these muscles and his topline his transitions will improve further because he will be able to keep his balance throughout the transition and finish the transition with a good quality walk.

It`s now down to my rider, and me if I school the pony, to work consistently on these transitions so that the pony builds up the correct muscles and doesn’t revert back to his habit of slumping into walk.

I think the pony would benefit from some transitions on the lunge with the Pessoa. The Pessoa would be set to the lowest setting, and not so tight that he tucks his neck in, but rather stretches his neck forwards and down, keeping his nose on the vertical. Then when you ask for walk with the voice, the action of the Pessoa encourages the pony to maintain the long and low position, and without the weight of the rider he may find it easier to lift his back.

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