Shifting Gears


Riding Level 3: Effective Transitions

As a beginning rider you drove with an automatic transmission.  You knew ‘go’ and ‘whoa’, and, if you were lucky, somewhere in there was ‘slow’.  As your riding has improved you have gained the ability to use at least three different gaits and make accurate transitions between them. At level 3 we want you to demonstrate

4. Effective upward and downward transitions.

pruneAn effective transition is not merely accurate; it is smooth, seamless, and light.  That is, the horse changes between gaits without fighting the bit or leg, becoming strung-out, or ending up on the forehand.  To do all this you need to switch your driving from an automatic to a manual gearbox.

Manual vs Automatic

In an automatic car you don’t shift gears to go faster.  You simply step on the gas and rev the engine till it shifts itself.  It doesn’t require any skill from the driver, but it wastes a lot of gas and takes a long time.  This is how a beginner’s canter transition often happens.  You kick and kick the horse who trots faster and faster, and finally, reluctantly, lumbers into a disorganized and front-heavy canter.

Now imagine driving a sports car with a stick shift.  When you want to go faster you depress the clutch, slide up a gear, and take off with a beautiful growl, leaving the automatics in the dust.  This is the rider who is trotting in rhythm, performs a half-halt, then gives the cue for the horse to perform a balanced, prompt, and rhythmic canter depart.

The Half Halt

The half halt is the key to smooth transitions.  It is the clutch of your manual transmission: you use it before you change gears, whether you are going upward or downward in pace.  It is your universal signal to the horse that says ‘hey, we’re about to do something different now.’  Describing the half halt takes far longer than it does to perform one, and half halts vary in length and intensity depending on the purpose and the horse.  However, it can be broken down like this:

skyler 2

  1. Support with the legs.  This seems counterintuitive, especially when preparing a downward transition.  However, especially with a horse that tends to fall onto the forehand, your leg support will help keep her balanced in the new gait.  This is like pushing up the RPMs with your gas pedal so that when you shift the new gear engages smoothly without lugging or stuttering.
  2. Sit deeper. This is very individual.  I like to think of my seat becoming heavier and more still.  I very slightly block the movement of my pelvis to stop following the horse’s rhythm and alert her that a change is coming.  For some rare horses this is all the half-halt that is necessary.  This is the moment of driving when you take your foot off the gas before shifting.
  3. Support with the outside rein.  The outside hand gently stops following and becomes a holding rein.  It keeps the horse from speeding up in the old gait, or from moving to the new one until she is balanced.  It also supports the shoulder and maintains straightness.  Although firm, the hand is considerate and uses only the minimum pressure needed.  The more educated the horse, the softer the aid can be.  This is your clutch, the mechanism that disengages the gears momentarily so the new gear can be applied.
  4. Supple with the inside rein. Squeeze and release the inside rein.  This is also very individual. Some riders use two or three slow squeezes, while others may use very slight quick touches, almost like vibrating the rein.  You will discover what works best for your horse, and probably have to change it with each horse you ride.  This motion does several things: it indicates to the horse that you are signalling a gear change rather than a full halt; it indicates the direction of travel in the new gait; and it softens the jaw, allowing the horse to relax and engage her muscles from haunches to poll, which in turn allows her to bring her legs underneath her for a better transition.  Along with the leg aids for the new gait, this is the trading of clutch for gas pedal, where the old rate smoothly gives over to the new.

Although these actions are broken down sequentially they take place almost at the same time.  The half halt is in fact much faster and subtler than changing gears in a car.  However, like driving, using the half halt requires practice and conscious, sequential thought to turn it into muscle memory.  You will go through a lot of stalls and jackrabbit starts before it becomes second nature.  Fortunately horses are smarter than cars, and even if you only perform one or two parts of the half halt your horse will probably oblige you with a better transition than if you’d done none at all.

Caretaker Position at Red Colt

The position of caretaker at our stables in Richmond will be open as of March 31st.  If you would like to live in the house at the farm in exchange for looking after the horses, send an email to info@redcolt.ca or call 604 304 0201.

Current & Upcoming Classes

Most of these courses have already started.  However, you can still register on a single class basis, or sign up for the series and take a credit for classes you have already missed.

Mounted Combat SkillsChris & Greg
Saturdays 7 – 28 Feb, 3:00 – 4:30pm
Academie Duello, 412 W Hastings St, Vancouver
$120 + gst

Cavaliere Assessments
Sunday 1 March, 1:30 – 4:30pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$50 for partial assessment (Horsemanship, Riding OR Mounted Combat)
$80 for full assessment (2 or 3 of the above elements)

Beginner Riding & Horsemanship
Sundays 8 Feb – 15 March, 10am – noon
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$300 + gst

Level 2 Riding & Horsemanship
Sundays 8 Feb – 15 March, 10am – noon
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$300 + gst

Horsemanship Level 3 or 4
Sundays 8 Feb – 15 March, noon – 1pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$130 + gstDRC May 2009

Riding Level 3+
Sundays 8 Feb – 15 March, noon – 1pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$200 + gst

Mounted Combat
Sundays Sundays 8 & 15 March, 12 & 19 April, 1:00 – 2:30pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$200 + gst

Intro to Mounted Combat
Sunday 5 April, 10am – 1pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$149 + gst

Kathleen & Yam stick peggingMounted Combat Playday
Sunday 5 April, 1pm – 4pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$15 + $15 for use of school horse

Beginner Horseback Archery
Saturday 2 May – 10am – 1pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$149 +gst

Intermediate Horseback Archery
Saturday 2 May – 2pm – 5pm
Red Colt Equestrian Farm Co-op, 12320 No 2 Road, Richmond
$75 + gst

 

 

 

Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
Read more from Jennifer Landels.