It’s interesting to me how certain videos pop up over and over again on social media.
I first saw this particular video (below) of Jo Hinnemann discussing what he considers the most important and most difficult exercise of riding: Trot Canter Transitions, a few years ago.
Watch the video here:
The moral to this video is what Jo Hinnemann gives us when he says that trot-canter-trot transitions is “the best exercises to get our suppleness.”
I’ve been reflecting on this almost to the point of obsession lately- and for good reason!
Aragorn and I are now training to show third level. To get to this point, we essentially have skipped showing second level in order to please my I’m-Bored-With-Simple-Work-And-Thrive-Off-Of-Learning-Tricks horse, Aragorn. Here’s the thing about Aragorn- he is a star in schooling, training, and clinics. However, in the show-ring he is the prettiest-damn-fire-breathing-dragon you’ll ever see! In other words, Aragorn is extremely stubborn and hyper-aware and has no respect for his snaffle bridle, but becomes soft as butter in a double bridle. I know, I know- you’re thinking “but proper training teaches the horse to become softer in the bridle and you shouldn’t need to ride a horse in a double to get his submission.” Well, you’re absolutely right- this applies to most horses- MOST HORSES. But not all. In fact, did you know the world famous Totilas was one of those horses that was quickly pushed through the lower levels? They pushed him through as quickly as possible and he did not begin to really excel until he was competing FEI. So, why can’t other horses be the same and still progress correctly- developing the top-line and core/hind-end strength and increasing suppleness systematically? Of course it can be done- Aragorn and I are doing it now!
Yes, Totilas’s training is surrounded by a lot of controversy and Edward Gal has been criticized for his use of Rolkur and LDR methods to force Totilas more quickly into submission. I am in no way a proponent of these training methods and I believe in following the training scale and respecting classical training methods as much as possible. I do not believe that there are shortcuts to training, but I do believe that it is important to listen to your horse and find what makes him or her tick.
As for Aragorn, the moment I tried him in a double bridle, he became the softest and lightest he’s ever been- and no, I am not riding the curb constantly! I am able to ride him mostly on the snaffle with only a light reminder with a curb when he becomes heavy, unfocused, or disrespectful. The problems in the show ring would come from his lack of respect to the snaffle even after years of conscientious training (6 years!!!!) were just not cutting it. With the help of my gold medalist trainer and an international level clinician, we were able to determine that Aragorn thrives off of challenge and that introducing him to a double bridle may be what helps him get over the boredom he was feeling and the behavior problems he was demonstrating with first and second level work.
With all that being said, we are facing a few training challenges as we prepare to show at third level. The main challenges we are facing right now is the sharpness of our transitions and maintaining the quality of our gaits through those transitions. Through my dressage journey, I am learning that everything needs to continuously improve because more advanced movements require a higher degree of precision, response time, and quality. Because of this, my rides have not only included exercises and practice focusing on developing more collection and improving lateral suppleness, but also expecting more through all of our transitions. Through this work, I have discovered that Jo Hinnemann is quite correct in saying that the canter-trot transition exercise is indeed one of the most difficult exercises to execute- especially when not only focusing on maintaining or improving gait quality, but also on promptness of response and the development of improved suppleness through this exercise.
When riding this exercise in the later part of my warm-up, I always begin by making sure I have a good quality trot with suspension. I make sure I maintain this feeling as I ask for Aragorn to canter and I expect him to jump up into the canter and maintain that jump within every stride. Oftentimes this takes a while- I may have to ride the canter at least a time or two around the circle to get Aragorn honestly on my aids and not trying to flatten out and run forward. Once I have a nicely cadenced uphill canter, I am ready to ask for the trot again, but I am careful to use enough leg to encourage him to step right back into the suspended high quality trot we had before we cantered. If the quality of my trot is where I expect it to be, I will again ask him to canter. As I stay on this exercise, I see him become softer to my aids, quicker to respond, and more focused on me and his work. Where I may have cantered a time or two around the circle during our first canter stretch, by the last time in the same direction we may be only cantering a few strides before I ask him to trot again. I am careful not to go into this exercise with a time limit or a number of times around the circle preset in my mind. Instead, I take the time it takes to get the desired response. I am noticing, since I’ve been incorporating this exercise into all of my rides the last few weeks, that I am having to spend less time on this exercise before we are ready to move on to more challenging work! Someone once said to me: “In training horses, if you take the time it takes, it will take less time,” and this exercise has certainly proven this to be true.
So, I close with saying that this will forever be one of those exercises that I will keep returning to and, when it comes across one of the pages I follow on Facebook, I will always watch the video and be reminded of how beneficial this exercise has been to us in the past, how amazing it is in the present, and how it will help us to improve even more in the future. Just because an exercise seems basic, does not mean it needs to be ridden in the most basic of manner- how can you make it forever better and better?