One of the most beneficial, and most neglected, exercises we can do with our horses is up/down speed transitions. There is something almost magical that is accomplished by consistently doing this one maneuver.
Even experienced riders typically don’t spend much time going back and forth between gaits. The usual scenario is we get on the horse, walk for a minute, maybe trot for a few, and then lope circles. The standard exercise of loping circles should be balanced out with just as much time spent doing transitions.
How Transitions Help
Speed transitions help your horse in multiple ways. By nature, horses carry over 60% of their weight on the front end. Doing transitions can help shift more of the weight to the hind end and cause the horse to travel more balanced. This will make the horse more maneuverable in preparation for a movement.
Transitions also improve your horse’s responsiveness and attention. They will help a horse that is not good at slowing down or stopping and also one that is heavy to the leg. Doing effective transitions requires the rider to be clear and particular which causes us to be better communicators. They also teach the horse to listen for your cues and stay underneath you. Transitions eliminate the situation where your horse randomly decides how fast or slow he is going to go.
Transitions help strengthen the muscles your horse needs for balance, longevity, and self-carriage. They basically improve every element of a horse’s training and progression, including his mental soundness.
To diagnose your horse’s mental soundness, go here: Mentally Sound Checklist
Speed transitions should be the main standard exercise you do on a regular basis. I would venture to say that none of us do them enough.
Change It Up
Even though the basic gaits are walk, trot, and lope, there are variations of all these. When doing transition exercises include the slow, medium, and fast versions of all the gaits. For example, go from a fast walk, to a slow walk, and then to a fast trot. Go from a slow trot to a fast lope, and then back down to a medium trot. Walk fast for 5 steps, trot fast for 5, lope medium fast for 5, then walk slow for 5. Keep mixing up all the gait variations as you travel a path down a trail or around an arena. It’s also a good idea to add in stopping and backing at various times during the exercise. For example, walk 6 steps and then back 3 steps. Then ask for a medium trot before you go back down to a slow walk.
Don’t Neglect Transitions
In the performance world, transitions are extremely useful giving the horse a thorough understanding of rate. They will help your horse become good at speeding up, slowing down, and staying ‘with’ you while his attention is fixed on what you are going to ask next. But even if you never plan on doing any performance training, don’t neglect working on transitions. If we all spent more time doing transitions, we would have way better horses.
To listen to my podcast about transitions, click here: The Magic Of Transitions
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