Polished Transitions (That Look Effortless And Feel Great)


Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

This one is good for the horses that tend to “suck back” before transitions and/or “run out” after the transitions.

There are transitions and then there are Transitions. The good ones are precise, strong and balanced. They are so clear and easily done that it looks like the rider didn’t do anything. The horse stays round, energetic and bold. The gait change is matter-of-fact, easy. In fact, good transitions are critical for a seamless, harmonized ride.

The opposite is easily obvious to the onlooker. Poorly executed transitions are sluggish and slow to develop. The horse seems to labor through the transition, the rider has to use obvious aids and still it takes time to get the gait change. The horse hollows his back, falls further to the forehand and maybe stumbles or runs through the rider’s aids. The rider might struggle to keep balance through the lurches until the gait change finally happens.

For the purposes of this exercise, the word “transition” can mean several changes:

– upward or downward progressive transitions (walk to trot, canter to trot)

– upward or downward non-progressive transitions (walk to canter, trot to halt)

– change of direction (trot from the left to the right)

– straight line to turn (change of direction across the diagonal to a left turn into the corner)


We often talk about it but we often forget to actually do it. Every transition can benefit from it. There is nothing more important for it.

What is it?

Energy. Impulsion. Oomph.

It actually sounds simple. All you need to do is ask for a little more energy before and after the transition. Let’s try it with a progressive, upward transition.

Let’s say you are trotting to the left and want to pick up a canter after the next corner. This is a good way to encourage a young horse to canter as the horse sees all the space ahead of him as he comes out of the corner.

As you approach the corner, you feel your horse slow down momentarily. This is quite normal, especially if you are riding in an indoor arena – the horse backs off a bit when he’s faced with the walls that appear to come at him. A more trained horse understands that he is going to turn through the corner and have the long side ahead.

Your “oomph” moment occurs a few strides before the transition.

  1. Use both your legs for energy and lighten your seat to allow the energy over the back.
  2. Then do a small half-halt before asking for the gait change.
  3. Ask for the canter.
  4. Once the horse is cantering, ask for another energy surge.
  5. Use another half-halt afterward to not allow the horse to just run out from under you.

You see what I mean. It’s basically like you are strengthening both your body (in terms of tone and energy) and your horse’s movement as you go into and out of the transition. 

Done well, there will be no obvious lurch or energy surge. In fact, the remarkable result will be that it looks like nothing happened at all, except a fluidity of movement, a calm, relaxed tempo, lack of conflict and confident, bold movement. Think connection, steady, consistency.

The reason this happens is that the horse won’t slow every few strides, won’t break stride and have to change gait again and won’t have to go through the resultant imbalances. The rider won’t kick the horse every few strides, won’t wait for the gait change and then have to recover and won’t be lurches in the saddle again and again.

At first, it might seem like you’re asking for energy many times before and after the transition. You’re right – you probably are! It will take time for you and your horse to become accustomed to the amount of energy it takes to move freely through the many changes we require over the course of a ride. After a while, it simply becomes second nature to prepare and complete all changes this way. Once you get used to doing it yourself, your horse will likely be right there with you with no hint of suck back or run out. Because as you know, all riding problems start and end with the rider! 

Next time you ride, give this a try. Those five steps above happen very quickly in rapid succession, so prepare ahead of time and know what you’re going to do before you go through with it. Maybe have someone on the ground to help be your eyes and tell you how the horse looks to, through and after the transition. 

How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

New! Horse Listening – Book 2: Forward and Round to Training Success

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3d Book 2


More related reading here:

Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem:  It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.

Can You Recognize the Sewing-Machine Trot? It is easy to get fooled into thinking that the sewing-machine trot is a good trot.

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

What Do Leg Aids Mean? Instead of relying on them only to get the horse to move his legs faster or transition to a new gait, we might discover more involved messages that can be given with a sophisticated leg aid.

How to ‘Flow” From the Trot to Walk: Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to.

Horse Listening Is Now On Periscope!


If you haven’t heard of Periscope, it’s a new live stream platform from Twitter. Basically, I can use my phone to play a live stream of whatever I’m doing while I’m online. If you follow my account, you will be notified when I go online and you can join me any time during the live stream or up to 24 hours afterward.

The stream gets automatically deleted after 24 hours of being online. 

Periscope is meant to be an informal platform – so don’t expect TV-like spotlights or memorized scripts. In my case, it’s going to be horses, barns, me dressed for the barn, and just some good ol’ down-to-earth chatting. Plus I still have to learn to use my phone so I get the best picture and sound. I realize that my first stream was very gray – maybe because of the white snow in the background – but I’ll work on that. 

If you like it, stay online and connect with me through the chat dialogue. You can let me know where you are, what you’re doing, and if you have any questions you’d like answered. I can read the chat as I video. 

There’s also this thing where you can “like” what I’m saying by “giving hearts”. Just tap on the bottom right side of the screen and a heart will float up the side. It’s cute and gives positive feedback.

You can watch it on your phone or your laptop or other device. As long as you get the link off Twitter, you just go to the page and click on the play button. That’s all there is to it!

Well, I’m going to give it a try for the next while. I’ll probably video things mostly from the ground, as I usually have to hold the camera myself. But I’ll play with different ideas and see how we can connect through Periscope. 

You might still be able to see that first stream before it goes offline. Just click here: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1BRJjNApzoRJw

Thanks and let me know what you think!



18 Reasons To Establish “Forward” Energy


Riding your horse “forward” is almost indispensable for all riding. Movements fall apart when you are not forward. Lack of forward is the root of many unwanted things in riding, including crookedness in the horse (leaning in or drifting out), loss of balance (on the forehand), and bucks (runaways, spooks, balks, and a variety of other such escapades).

Riding forward is often an elusive concept when you’re first learning to ride. It requires an increase in energy but paradoxically, the energy can’t be let “out the front”. It’s not exactly about just getting the horse moving faster – this is where the ideas of impulsion and then engagement become more critical.

It isn’t always easy to establish and maintain a forward, energetic but contained movement. Whether in walk, trot or canter, both you and your horse have to ride in a forward – but not running – manner. When you first start working on it, you might find yourself teetering between sluggishness and too fast.

This is where half-halts become essential. Well-timed half-halts help to contain the energy while simultaneously allowing the energy “through”. They help establish and maintain the horse’s balance – from an initial on-the-forehand balance (in the young or uneducated horse) to a level balance, and finally to an uphill balance (collection).

Don’t worry if it takes a while to really establish this energy. The more you try it, the easier it will come to you and your horse. Keep working on it even if it doesn’t seem like you’re improving because one day, things will fall into place and your energy burst will be followed just right by a half-halt and your horse will find his legs underneath him and able to carry.

Along the way, you’ll begin to really understand why forward energy is a prerequisite to almost every movement in riding. The following are dressage movements that simply cannot be successful without that forward “oomph”. Other disciplines also need the same energy for their movements.

  1. Straightness – energy keeps the shoulders going straight “between the reins” without falling out or into the arena
  2. Balance – not enough forward energy restricts the horse’s ability to step underneath himself and maintain balance on turns or straight lines
  3. Contact – stabilize the horse’s front end by allowing energy to come over the topline and into your hands 
  4. Half-halt – there can be no half-halt without enough forward energy
  5. Bend – a horse needs to step into the bend and that requires significant energy forward
  6. Circles – horses tend to want to disengage in circles because of the extra effort it takes to keep moving on a never-ending turn
  7. Transitions – need an increase in forward energy to be sharp, strong and well balanced
  8. Swing (through the back) – the up/down swinging movement of the back comes from a well engaged hind end
  9. Spooking – cannot happen if the horse is moving forward energetically
  10. Leg Yield – needs a strong forward inclination even while moving sideways across the length of the arena
  11. Corners – require an extra boost of energy to counteract the restricting nature of the tight, often going into a wall kind of turn 
  12. Shoulder-In – must keep the energy up while bending through the body
  13. Haunches-In – require that extra “oomph” to bring the hind end to the inside track while keeping the front on the rail
  14. Half-Pass – need to maintain that forward-sideways energy similar to the leg yield
  15. Halt – can only be engaged after an energy boost pushes the hind legs underneath the body
  16. Collection – there is nothing to collect without energy coming through the body
  17. Lengthen/Medium/Extension – there is nothing to extend without energy coming through the body!
  18. Back up – energy must go forward before it can translate into steps backward

What do you need forward energy for? Add to the list below in the comments.

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2

More reading here:

Try This To Feel “Forward”: If you’ve never felt “forward” before, how on earth are you supposed to learn it?

“Go and No”: The Connection Between Forward And Half-Halt in Horse Riding: If you want to control energy, you have to have energy in the first place.

Do A “Forward” Back-Up: It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. That is the only way the horse can move his legs efficiently and diagonally.

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End: Many riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!

Don’t Mistake the Halt For a Stop!   Don’t do it! Don’t mistake the halt for a stop. They are two entirely different maneuvers.

Long Reins – And How To Stay In Balance

Long Reins

Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

Does this happen to you? You are working on a stretch over the back at the trot, but the moment you let your reins out, your horse goes faster and faster until he feels like he’s going to go head first in the sand. Or you let your reins out and your horse throws his head up, hollowing his back and breaking stride.

Keeping balance on a long rein can be harder than it looks. The longer your horse gets, the more difficult it is for him to keep his legs underneath him.

Yet you know it can be done. You might have seen people doing it nonchalantly without any apparent effort. But the half-halt was there, even though the horse was stretching long and low and the reins were let out.

That’s because the horse didn’t just speed up. He stayed in balance, kept up his energy, showed a beautiful swing through the back and just kept going. He looked great!

But when you tried it yourself, the result wasn’t exactly the same. When you lengthened the reins, your horse stuck his neck out and even higher. He sped up, taking the longer rein as a signal to go faster. Or he got longer and longer in the body until he eventually had to break from a trot to a walk.

If something like this has happened to you, you’re not alone! We’ve all been there.

The key is in knowing what to do when, with good timing and a nice feel on the reins.

When To Use A Long Rein

In dressage, we ride with long reins when we want the horse to stretch over the topline. He takes the bit forward and downward, allowing his back to be the highest point. You will often feel an increase swing in the movement, especially in the trot, if the stretch is done correctly.

Alternatively, you may use a long rein for your particular riding style. The hunter under saddle horses move with a long neck and so need a long rein even as they move with good activity and impulsion. Many of the western disciplines also go in a longer rein with little pressure on the bit. In any case, the horse’s balance must be maintained, preferably in a non-intrusive, invisible manner.

How to Half-Halt On A Long Rein

This is where the half-halt can be handy. All good riders use some version of the half-halt (in western riding, it might be called a “check”). Whether you use your whole body, seat, back or fingers, you need to do something to help your horse stay in balance.

Here is something you can try.

Shorten the reins (even though they are long) until you have a soft contact with the mouth. You can play with the strength of the half-halt. Many times, you won’t need more than a finger squeeze on the reins to keep the horse from falling to the forehand. Other times, you can use your seat. In trot, post slowly to encourage a slow tempo (but keep up the energy). Give your horse time to bring each leg through to the next step.

Keep your rein length and make sure you start with energy coming from the hind end and over the back. If you want your horse to stretch more, see if your horse will take the rein out from your fingers. If your horse is not used to stretching over the back, he might not be willing to take the bit forward. You might need to try this a few times.

Once you are riding on the length of rein you want (it can be given out all the way or some of the way), the trick is to keep the horse balanced, with the same impulsion and the same leg speed. Keep the rein tight enough that you can still feel the horse. Then go ahead and work on the half-halt all over again.

Many riders tend to stop riding once they let the reins out. You have to continue riding with all your aids regardless of the length of the rein. In fact, if you imagine that you can ride pretty much the same way regardless of rein length, you’ll be on the right track. Long or short, keep a light contact, keep your horse moving over the back, and use half-halts to maintain your horse’s balance. 

Want to advertise your business on Horse Listening? Click here for more info.

horse logos 1

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

3D book 2

More reading here:

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

Too Good to be True? Finding Your Horse’s “Happy Place”: Did you know that through riding, you can help your horse achieve a happy, content outlook on life? Sounds ridiculously far-fetched? Too good to be true?

Do You Make This Timing Mistake When Riding Your Horse? Have you ever given your horse an aid and got nothing in return? There could be one other variable that you might not have considered…

5 Steps to Effective Short Reins: Just as with any other movement and technique that is taught to horses, short reins can be very beneficial to the horse when applied correctly.

Why A Release Is Not A Let Go in Horseback Riding: Many people interpret the term ‘Release’ literally – but that’s not what really means.