[Q] How can I keep my horse on the bridle when transitioning downwards?
Asked by Chesney Williams
[A] Problems with maintaining a contact through downward transitions are common symptoms of a lack of throughness or suppleness. In order to achieve true throughness, your horse must create energy in his hindquarters and transfer it over his back, withers, neck and poll into an elastic, yielding rein contact. He may seem to be on the bit but still be stiff in his poll or in fact leaning heavily on your hands and contact. Alternatively, you may be holding your horse in a frame that appears round, but as soon as the pressure is relaxed, he raises his head. In these cases, throughness is not true, and the horse will struggle to remain on the contact during transitions. Transitions are therefore a great way to test if connection is true.
It’s important to remember that true throughness comes from a horse working from his hind end. It can be tempting in a downward transition to forget about maintaining hind-end activity, as you are ‘slowing down’. This is a huge error. Hind-end activity must be maintained in a downward transition to ensure that the horse does not collapse onto the forehand, resulting in the feeling of a horse running away through the transition. A good transition is achieved when a horse ‘sits’ into it.
A good way to practice controlled transitions is to collect the gait before the downward transition. For instance, collecting the trot for a few strides before moving down into the walk can help to maintain hind-end activity, and encourage you to maintain the contact through the transition. It is essential during downward transitions that you do not get tempted to collapse your body and throw your reins at the horse. This lack of contact in front will inevitably cause the horse to ‘fall down’ into the transition.
If your horse is young or particularly unbalanced, it’s worth considering initially practicing downward transitions within a gait. For example, practice producing a slower trot from an extended trot, or moving from a quicker walk down into a slower walk. Once you can maintain the contact during these transitions, you will be in a much better position to achieve throughness during a more dramatic downward transition.