How do you ask your horse to transition from walk to trot? Would it be weird if I share with you that I trot my horse from the movement in my nose? But is is true, I do. And I ride my trot transitions from collected trot to extended trot and back to collection from my nose too.
When I like to transition from a walk to a trot, what I really want is to change the rhythm of the walk into the rhythm of a trot. Picture the spine and rib cage of the horse as a pendulum. What I want to do, is change the three-dimensional swinging of the horse’s spine by influencing the pendulum in the right moment. If I hit the pendulum in the wrong moment with my seat or legs, I block the movement of the pendulum. I restrict the three-dimensional swinging of my horse’s spine. If I catch the pendulum in the right moment, I can positively influence the energy and swing of the pendulum. I can change the three-dimensional swinging of my horses back from walk to trot.
I could do this by changing the rhythm in my seat: moving my seat bones and hips faster. A well responding horse would follow my movement almost immediately and pick up his own rhythm to match it with mine. However, as there is always a delay between my increase in rhythm and the horse’s response, there would always be a brief moment where we are working against each other and my seat bones and hips are not moving together with the horse. This is unpleasant for the both of us. And I don’t like to teach this to students because it takes time to train the horse to respond properly. So the ‘moving against each other’ moment is too long. So instead, I let my hips follow the movement that is there. I stay in the ‘now’, together with my horse, in my hips always. I start the increase in rhythm somewhere else. My preference is my nose, but it could also be in the ankles. When that part of my body starts to increase rhythm, my sensitive horse that is tuned into my seat and rhythm, will automatically pick up his own rhythm, match it with mine and start trotting. It is the same with transitions within the (sitting) trot. The amount and speed of the movement of my nose determines the length and rhythm of the horse’s steps.
When we follow the movement of the horse’s back, our hips lift and drop in the rhythm of the horse’s hind legs. When the horse’s ribcage gets lifted, so is our upper leg. On the other side, the rib cage swings down and our leg drops. Because the belly of the horse is swinging left and right, we have a lift and drop in the horse’s spine and the horse is taking us forward, the movement in our seat becomes a three-dimensional movement. This movement gets into all parts of your body, so when I ride a walk or sitting trot and my head is relaxed balancing on my neck, even the tip of my nose follows this movement. By nose, almost invisible, moves up and down and left and right, drawing a little horizontal figure eight in the air in front of me, Also my legs swing in the horse’s rhythm down, which is especially easy to feel on a bareback pad on a well moving horse. When we release our ankles without stirrups, we can feel how even our feet swing in little figure eights. When we follow the movement of the horse, we swing in his rhythm. When we want to change the movement, we need to change our movement. But my butt is always the last thing to change, as that is the part that is physically connected with my horse. I don’t want to do something the horse is not doing, as that means going agains the movement. Instead, with the rest of my body I guide the movement to what I like it to be and my hips follow when my horse responds. My hips continue to follow the horse. They stay in the ‘now’ and ride what is there.
The difference can be very subtle in a good rider with a sensitive horse. Your change and the horse’s change will happen practically instantaneous. So it is hard to decide where the change started. In your hips or elsewhere? But in a not so advanced rider and/or horse it is very clear. When we start with changing in the rhythm in the seat and the horse does not follow, we see riders pushing into their horses back. Or we see people pushing with the lower leg instead. But any time we feel we have to push a non-responding horse forward, we will find ourselves tensing somewhere in our body. We block the swing of the pendulum, because we catch it in the wrong rhythm. That does not help to get a horse forward. So instead, see if it benefits you to release your head and ankles and increase the movement from there. Feel how the pendulum in the spine of your horse makes your entire body swing. Increase this swing with your nose and/or ankles. Almost like ‘bobbing’ your horse from walk into trot. If your horse does not respond, kiss with the lower legs but stay in the rhythm. This means, NOT with 2 legs at the same time, but left/right in the swing of the horses stomach. Is it not enough? Apply a small tap with the stick just behind your leg to explain what you mean. But even the tap with the whip needs to be in the correct swing of the pendulum. And.. it should never stop the movement in your body. Your neck and ankles stay released. Your nose continues to swing. Stop your body and you stop the back of the horse from swinging. Keep your body released and in rhythm with your horse, and then see if you can guide the rhythm into a trot rhythm. Picking up the walk into a trot. And let it start in your nose. See what happens!
Is an accomplished rider, clinician and published author who combines her extensive knowledge in classical dressage, biomechanics, ethology, human anatomy and zen principles to guide riders on their journey to self-improvement. The goal: harmony & lightness in the cooperation between human and horse.