I’ve been working on transitions with Nilla. A lot. I’m still easing her back into full work so we still do a lot of walking. Then I ask her to trot without throwing her head up and leaping/skipping into trot. This is very difficult as she would prefer to use her neck as a lever and balance off of it instead of stepping under herself. She’s also a very forward ride and has a lot of pent-up energy from not getting ridden enough. So we go back to walk and ask again. And again and again. When she does it nicely, she’s given lots of pats and then I let her trot around a bit.
Then we go back to walk and start it all over again. It’s endless.
On Sunday, I put her on the lunge line and made her practice transitions without me on her and just side reins to fight with. Then we had a come to jesus argument. I was asking her to step over with her shoulders and she thought running through/almost over me would be an acceptable response. It was not and the repercussions were swift and harsh. Hate me if you want, but I don’t tolerate dangerous shit like that. It took me a while to even get her back into a non panicked mental state so we could continue working. We did some more turn on the hindquarters without running me over and then I put her out on a circle.
She was so on edge that she kept jumping around every time I moved. Like the mere movement of the lunge whip as it followed around the circle must mean I wanted her to burst forward into canter and run to the edge of the lunge line, hit the bit, then freak out and spin to a stop. Umm no. So I very quietly and constantly insisted that she walk calmly until I ask then trot calmly. If you burst forward, you will come back to walk and do it again. And again. And again. Then we did some cantering. Same rules. No exploding forward or upwards. Keep your head down and just canter around the same circle.
Because Nilla was nearly impossible to canter in the beginning, I really just pushed her to canter at all. The quality of the transition wasn’t as important. Once we established that she could in fact canter without crow hopping every single stride – really this was a phase – we started asking for nicer canter transitions. Getting her to go from trot to canter without bucking, falling on her face, flailing wildly, or picking up a weird cross canter became the new goal. We still weren’t asking for her to be on the bit or collected for this transition. It was like we graduated from bronco stock to shitty lesson horse no one wants to ride and the goal was lesson horse someone would actually want to ride. Like we weren’t even asking for dressage quality canter, just canter without histrionics.
So on Sunday, I worked on this for a bit until I finally got a nice transition in each direction. Trot to canter without any crazy shit. You know, something I’ve seen trainers get an OTTB or even a never before ridden horse to do in less than an hour. It just took me two years.
Then I rode her out on the trail on Monday and when we came back the arena was open so we popped in for a minute and low and behold, I could get canter without any weird shit. But maybe this was a fluke. She likes cantering on the trails. Could we reproduce this transition without the trail ride first?
On Wednesday I went straight to the arena and we tried it out. And we could canter.
To everyone out there that owns a normal equine that knows how to canter like all equines I’ve ever known and ridden before including gaited horses, I know what you’re thinking: This is not a very impressive looking canter transition. She’s on her forehand, she’s not stepping under, she shakes her head after a few strides, her tail is flipping around obnoxiously. I know, I know, I know.
And I don’t care.
Because as terrible as this looks, it is a massive improvement. I showed the video to my husband and his comment was “holy shit.”
And we can do it in both directions.
And, miracle of miracle, she can actually continue around an entire 20 meter circle at the canter without falling on her face, crow hopping, swapping leads, racing, flailing, or just generally looking like a complete reject.
Obviously we’ll be heading to nationals now. Or at least, we will as soon as I can get her to do it with her tongue in her mouth.
ha yay Nilla!!! canter transitions are hard, yo. and i'm all about celebrating those incremental improvements (head shaking and tail flipping be damned)
Oh man, I've been there and am still there. That canter transition is AWESOME, and her canter looks really balanced and nice. Obviously she has to stick her tongue out because she's thinking so hard about being awesome! 😉
Trot to canter transitions are my least favorite on ANY horse! Nilla looks great!
If I didn't celebrate the little stuff, there'd be nothing to celebrate.
Yes, I will just tell the dressage judges that the tongue is not a submission thing, it's a thought process thing.
I've never struggled like this though. I legitimately couldn't even canter her until about 6 months ago because it hurt my back. I had to have trainers and my husband do it.
Go, Nilla go!
Way to go 🙂