"What is a transition?"
That question asked by Sarah suddenly made me think. I know what a transition is, but how am I supposed to describe it correctly? I knew what was in store for the lesson ahead now, but was eager for it because transitions, particularly downward ones, are a difficulty that Milo and I share (probably just me).
Sarah explained as I rode Wesley that a transition is any change of energy be it upward, downward, even a change of rein. A halt and a back were transitions as well. She also described the importance of consistent contact throughout all transitions. Sarah added that it is very common for riders to want to drop the contact in forward transitions. I must admit to this one. Furthermore, forward is key in every transition, back to front.
She had me transition from walk to halt to back to forward. If Wesley hollowed his back and stopped hard, he was disconnected. If he dropped his back in the back up, we lost connection again. They key was to find the downward transition from my body and keep the forward energy throughout. A few tries in and I found it from the walk to halt to back - fluid throughout as if there was no transition between. We moved it to the trot, remembering to stay forward, but not quick. From trot to walk forward was again emphasized. As I prepared for the downward transition, I stayed as soft and allowing as possible in my body, while keeping the same consistent connection through the reins and my legs. It took about the length of the long side of the arena before Wesley finally came to a trot, but what the difference was between just a late transition and this one was how "high" or "tall" those trot steps were before coming to the walk. In an effort to stay connected and engaged from the rear, Wesley slowed his trot way down, but didnt loose the energy, so the movement was much taller since distance wasnt being used. Sarah commented how nice of a transition that was. By finding the right cue through my body but not allowing Wesley to fall into the transition, we maintained our forward energy down into the walk. It was incredible.
Next was adding a third gait to these transition exercises - the lope. Forward but not rushed was the goal in the upward transition into it, and it was very nice. As we loped along, Sarah wanted me to stay aware of Wesley's neck, moreso the spinal column of it. While I was maintaining consistent connection through the wall of my outside rein, Wesley's eye was just tipped off of center allowing his inside shoulder to fall into the inside, and subsequently, lose the hind end. Sarah asked for a "twirl" of the neck, not a dramatic tip to the inside, but just a reminder, a request really, to come to straight and "twirl" that spine of the neck to straight if not slightly tipped. If I demanded the twirl of the neck, those muscles I was specifically pinpointing would lock down and Wesley would never come back to straight and engage his hind. It was a "pretty please would you use those muscles" request, and it worked. It was extremely subtle in the visual change in his neck, but I felt the difference as Wesley came back onto his hind end and moved straight.
Working with our transitions again, we went forward into the trot, and when Wesley was quick and disconnected after a few strides, Sarah suggested trot and turning, trot and turning left and right to loosen his shoulders and unlock the base of his neck that he was now bracing. She emphasized that it was the quality of the movement that mattered, not speed in his steps. Trot and turn, trot and turn, left and right, right and left, and I got softer in my body directing Wesley from one direction to the other with my seatbones and only the smallest of requests from my reins. When da Weez finally lowered his head almost right to the ground and lifted his back more than I had ever felt from him before, our trot circles were relaxed and fluid and I went back onto the straight-of-way. Tempted to move back into the lope, instead I did the opposite and went forward into the walk, then the halt and back. That Western Riding pony parked his big tushy like he hadnt done before with me and stayed soft and in connection throughout the transitions. That was the time to get off.
What had I taken away when I climbed aboard my own horse three hours later? Forward into transitions, a twirl of the neck when needed, and staying consistent in my contact through all different transitions. I also remembered to utilize the trot and turning when needed after my horse was rushed and locked at the base of the neck after some lope work. Remembering to come off "pattern" when needed and get my horse back to soft, fluid, and engaged before resuming is a concept I needed to hear again as I know I can get stuck in an exercise. I was not perfect by any means, but we had some great work, and more homework to work on as well. Forward into transitions, finding them through my body and maintaining connection. Come off pattern.