Monday, 15 August 2016

A Study in Transitions

I have been poring over the Karen Rohlf training videos in her video classroom searching for all things transition related. Savvy and I have been in a bit of a see-saw pattern of her being either too reactive and me tightening instead of relaxing or her shutting me out and me being too quick to skip phase 1, 2, 3, and going straight for phase 4 and feeling like a terrible rider.

I knew that I needed to step up my game and be more aware and thoughtful in my reactions: soft, consistant and proactive instead of reactive.

There were many videos I found helpful, but specifically the December 2014 video titled "Walk canter walk transitions" left me wanting to run out to the backyard and start practicing.

First, the concept of preparing the walk (or trot in my case) to the point where you do not have to push for the canter. This involves creating an active walk that is engaged and capable of doing what ever you ask such as half pass, or shoulders in, extend or shorten. Once your horse is in this actively engaged place, the canter transition will be more physically and mentally possible without running into it or flailing - both of which is my current state of affairs.

Karen talks about the balancing act of creating enough energy for the horse to physically be able to move into the canter, yet relaxed enough to be soft, using the correct muscles and not getting stiff or rushing.

I have ridden three times this week focusing on not just getting a canter, but spending a bit more time on thinking about the quality of each gait and playing around with my position and seeing how it affects Savvy's way of going and attitude.

What I usually do - the ever popular lean/grab/chase maneuver

In my playing around I found some facinating things that would happen. First, when I would sit up tall and specifically look at a point ahead of us rather than down at her (um, yes like we all know we are supposed to...), Savvy seemed to have an easier time with difficult tasks like shoulder in. I am not quite sure at this point if it is a result of me consentrating more on my body thus resulting in a better ask, or if her usual 'not quite right' just simply looked a bit better out of my peripheral vision...

What Savvy sometimes thinks of the idea.
Second, as I was looking up and feeling my seat bones and concentrating on using my inner leg rather than the back of my calf, I could get a much more active walk and the transition into trot was improved. This is all stuff I have been working on already, but I was really tongue-sticking-out type of concentrating on it for these rides.

Third, I found when I opened my hands a bit wider and higher and paid attention to keeping a following contact no matter where her head moved, Savvy was much more willing to reach into the bit and stretch over her top line. This resulted in a longer stride and a general feeling of more relaxation.

So then for canter, I tried so, so hard to keep myself unchanged in the ask. This is so hard for me. I want to tighten the reins, lean forward and chase - ugh.

After about three attempts, staying quiet and regrouping, I had the best canter depart from Savvy she has ever given.

Don't you love it when training advice works?


  1. I also REALLY like Karen Rohlf's video classroom. So many videos all in a consistent training program but over a wide variety of topics. Glad it's helping you out with transitions and you also might search under "sweet spot" videos. Super helpful as it gives you the three prerequisites for the sweet spot and the test of the sweet spot is if you can make clean, smooth transitions! Sounds like you are on your way...

    1. I am loving the classroom too - I just have to remember to take notes as I tend to lose bits here and there. I think I might end up buying her book as it sounds more step-by-step.

    2. Buy the book. The video classroom is great but the book builds step by step and explains the framework. Highly recommend...

  2. Yes! I DO love it when training advice works. And, when after hard work, stuff becomes easier, and with that, the horse happier and more harmonious.
    Sometimes I think we just really have to have faith in our horses. That they CAN and WILL do it correct. Really picture it happen. Expecting it. And then, by magic, one day it does!

    1. You are so right! I feel like my horse has so much talent and can do it right when I can figure out how to ask correctly. :)

  3. I have a hard time looking up too! Funny how a small change can really change the way a horse reacts! Karen Rolff is so awesome!

    1. Its funny how bad habits can creep in! When I was mostly jumping, I was always looking up but now I am doing all this fussy work, I am almost always looking at Savvy's shoulders...:/

  4. This is all fantastic stuff!! I tend to really over think the transitions and then seriously over aid... Sometimes I just need to soften up and let it happen haha