Question: I have a horse that jumps forward into the trot when asked to move from a walk to a trot. Any suggestions on how to make the transition smooth? Thanks
April Reeves: Hi Kristi! First off, the response from your horse to be “quick” into the up transition is actually a response I ask for, at the beginning. You do want a horse that responds to your cues immediately. I consider that obedience, and once that’s established, you can move on to refine the process.
Next step is to soften how you ask for the up transition. All your methods have to become lighter and softer if you expect the same from the horse, from the use of hands, legs, voice and seat. Get very familiar with what that feels like, because this is how you bring a horse into refinement and a finished bridle horse.
Work slowly, using your legs quieter at first. It should feel like a “whisper”; a subtle suggestion to move into a trot. Continue to try various levels until one fits, and stay with it. I believe a well trained horse must be a horse very few people could ride, because very few people ride exceptionally well or consistently.
Next, refine your hands. Don’t throw the reins away in an obvious manner. Work on a soft release, eventually moving into a frame where you don’t give them away at all. This now asks the horse to “engage”: to bring his frame into the bridle and soften at the poll. This is where connection starts, and where collection will follow.
This is where you stop using any and all voice commands as well.
Seat: keep your body straight and tall but not stiff. Rather than bringing yourself forward, you will now suggest the transition by moving your “energy” forward. This is not always the easiest concept to understand, but it is the keystone to all great training. You hear it in the jumping world all the time, “look ahead”!! This is not simply because you need to know where the next jump is: it directs the horse as well to follow where you’re energy is moving. Horses are being of energy, like all life, but unlike us, it is their first “language” they use during flight or fight.
I watch riders fight their horses and get into all types of trouble, but the “fix” is often very simple: they lack the knowledge of where they are sending their energy, and their horses are getting mixed signals and “acting up”, when all the horse is doing is asking you to be clear about your intentions.
I will be writing a lot more on energy work and how it applies to riding, but until then, we need to get you and your horse on track with your up transitions. Horses ask us to be conscious and clear when we partner with them. All our issues begin when we lose the way, not the horse. This is the biggest hurdle for humans to get through: this relationship insists that we maintain our intentions and direction at all times, and most humans are not that inclined. But if you work at it, it gets easier and easier until it becomes intrinsic. That’s the tipping point to greatness, and I’ve seen this in riders who had no idea they possessed it, and I’ve not seen it in many trainers who still don’t get it…
Go over this a few times and soak it in, then get back on and work on this for a few days. Don’t overdo it, just ask until you become soft enough for your horse to make a change. Once he/she has given even the slightest amount, do something else, then go back and see if it “stuck” with him/her. I repeat this a lot in my answers to people, but what may feel like a very small attempt to you, is a very very BIG deal to the horse. Baby steps are always faster.
Good luck Kristi and let me know what happens!
Horseman’s Park Alberta