Transitional Period: The Unavoidable Equestrian HIIT Training You NEED to Become a Better Rider

There will come a time in every horse or rider’s training where they may a struggle or a halt in improvement.  You may have started out as a novice, and then improved very quickly over time, but then gotten to a point where you’re not getting worse, but you’re just not getting significantly better.  You’ve plateaued with your every day training.  You get to a certain point where you get stuck and can’t accomplish or move past a certain obstacle in your riding, or you simply just don’t advance.  You come to your lesson, you walk, trot canter… maybe you jump a few cross rails or do a dressage test.  And it’s nice.  I mean, the framework is there, your flatwork is, for the most part, pleasant, and you genuinely know how to ride and steer your horse around a ring.  Not a beginner anymore, you’ve moved past novice into the basics to more abstract and advanced riding methods.  But there are still a few hangups that are keeping your riding at a mediocre level.  You’re good, but maybe not great.  Maybe you have a few balance issues and confidence issues that are holding you back.   Maybe you have control or fitness issues that are getting in your way.  Or maybe you simply hang on your horse’s face and have a lack of effectiveness in your seat and leg, hindering your ability to use your aids properly.   By all means, you’re a good rider, but maybe you’re not great.  Your seat is not bad, but it’s not fantastic.  You show up several times a week to lessons, you do your homework, you practice, you ride often but you are in a plateau of confidence, skill, balance, and technique and you’re just not progressing.


What could be holding you back from improving your riding?

Here are some of the common causes listed between most common to least, with the first 4 sort of intertwining with each other:

Lack of Cardio Fitness and Strength – you get tired quickly and don’t have the physical strength to allow you to maintain your seat and effective aids.

Lack of Balance and Coordination – directly related to lack of strength and fitness.  You can acquire both by increasing fitness.

Fear or Lack of Confidence – a pretty big one, but truth be told, it comes from instability in the saddle, because, exactly what are you afraid of? You’re most likely afraid of falling off your horse and getting hurt.  If your horse spooks in the corner, you are going to fear the corner.  If your mare likes to buck into or during the canter, its understandable that you will develop a fear of cantering.  It’s a valid concern, especially as we get older.  And it’s a very intelligent concern.  This concern will come from either your own fear, or lack of confidence as a rider, to your fear you’ve built up on the particular horse you’re on.  If you have a horse that constantly refuses fences, it’s natural to be nervous or fearful of jumping.

Lack of Adequate Time in the Saddle Needed to Improve – not everyone has the luxury of owning a horse.  It’s expensive.  Sometimes once a week is all you can afford as a rider.  And that’s totally fine, as long as you make the most out of your time when you do get the opportunity to ride, and even when you can’t.

Difficulty in Understanding Concepts, Techniques and How to Execute Them – not everyone is an athlete, or athletically inclined.  Some people just have an easier time understanding the execution of the aids, reading and adjusting to their horse, and have the ability to grasp the timing involved to be an effective rider.  However, by working on the first four, you improve your chances and ability to fix this.  Sometimes you can’t understand or execute the techniques properly because because you lack the balance and strength to apply them.

Mismatch Between Student and Trainer – If you are riding with a teacher that is unable to address the first four roadblocks listed above, its possible you are mismatched with your trainer.   It doesn’t make them a bad trainer, it just makes your way of learning and your individual needs as a rider (and your horse’s) and their style of training a bad fit.  Do not be afraid to try out a different trainer if you do find that you are struggling to improve.

Mismatch Between Horse and Rider – The best and most innovative trainers can find ways to help riders learn with MOST horses, even if their is a mismatch between the rider’s abilities and the horse’s disposition and level of training.  It may not be that you’re getting to do exactly what you want on your horse, but that they find a way to work on you within the limitations they have.  For example, if you have a green rider on a green horse, you may not be able to canter or jump that horse just yet, but there are ways to help you improve at the walk and trot and even lunge line sessions to improve your position so that you can eventually canter.  However, if you are on a horse that is causing a mental block, taking away your confidence as a rider or causing fear while riding, you may not be ready for that horse, and it can absolutely hinder the learning process.  Sometimes an unconfident horse needs a confident rider.  Finding the right mount pairing can be critical to your progress and understanding of riding, and after you’ve developed the skills you need, you can return to your horse and apply those skills as a more confident rider.

Outgrown Horse – It happens.  Sometimes a rider has exceeded the limits of what their horse can teach them, to no fault of the horse.  You may have an older horse with limitations who cannot canter for very long or isn’t able to come on the bit.  You may have a horse who would be over-faced if you were to jump higher than cross rails or small verticals and you’re ready to raise the bar.  And on a positive note, your horse may be so well trained and easy going that you never get the opportunity to experience and work through the issues that other horses can throw at you, making you a better rider.  There are times when you can plateau because of the horse you’re on, and that is always something to consider with your trainer.


Fitness Equals = EVERYTHING

So while I can’t necessarily address the last few reasons your riding progress has slowed down (out growing your horse, or mismatch between trainer or horse) but I can definitely address the first four because they all are mainly contributed to your true fitness level in the saddle.  Just because you have worked up your riding stamina and can walk, trot, canter your horse around a ring for 30 minutes to an hour does not in any way whatsoever, mean you are in “riding fitness”.   I repeat, just because you can ride your horse for an extended period of time without tiring does not necessarily mean you have true core riding fitness.   And this is the base of what we’re looking to address because your fitness is linked to your balance, stability, coordination, use of aids, confidence, timing and ultimate understanding and execution of technique.   We are looking to tap into, engage and strengthen those muscles you didn’t even know you had, or needed to use for riding.  


So how do you improve your overall riding fitness and get back to a forward momentum in progress?  You’ve got to go through an extensive “Transitional Period.”


The Transitional Period – What is a Transition? 


The Transitional Period, as I call it is named that because of what’s involved in the long-term training to make you a better rider…  an extended period of relentless, exhausting, never-ending transitions.  Not just transitions as you know them (transitions between gaits – walk/canter, trot/canter, etc…) but transitions defining any change in your riding, position, speed, direction, horse, aids, that requires an application of strength and a transfer of balance and coordination.   Anything you can think of.  Walk to trot, trot to canter, canter to walk…  but also, collected trot to extended trot back to collected trot, two point to seated in your position, any change of direction that changes balance (both left to right and laterally zig zagging), and even half-halts and the effective use of inside rein to outside leg.  It even means the transitions within the transitions within the transitions.  Transition Inception.  Any change in your horse to any application of a riding aid, to self enforcement of proper riding form past your comfort zone can be considered a transition in this aspect.  Think of it as any time you use resistance and balance within your body to alter the momentum, direction, energy of you horse.   Any change in you and your horse that results in a change of the use of muscles, resistance, balance and coordination.

I also call it the transitional period because it’s the necessary suffering you must endure to transition from being a mediocre rider, to being a great one.  And not to get really deep on you, it transitions your personal understanding, respect and appreciation for correct form, fitness and application of the aids.



Quick and Active Transitions are the High Intensity Interval and Strength Training of Riding 


So what happens during the “transitional period” is a lot of “pain” for “gain”.   It’s not for the faint of heart, or for people who don’t want it bad enough that they’re not willing to endure a little discomfort in exchange for improvement.  It’s not for people who want riding to be easy or are looking for instant gratification, although it will become easier afterwards.  And it’s definitely not for riders who feel like they are “above” or “beyond” taking a step back in their riding.  For example, in leu of your horse back activities, lets say cantering or jumping, you may simply have to spend extensive time working at the walk and trot.  If you truly want to improve, you’ve got to be willing to go back to the basics to strengthen your foundation, literally and figuratively.  And you’ve got to be ready to push yourself past the point of exhaustion and slightly beyond your comfort zone.  By strengthening the basics, you improve your capacity to handle the weight of more advanced training and riding.

What it’s really all about is filling in the holes and connecting the dots that are missing during every instance of your riding that leads to your struggles and roadblocks.  Building the fitness and technique for maintaining flawless and seamless execution of the aids at all moments in time.  For eliminating the brief moments of failure or ineffectiveness in position and use of aids that take you out of the driver’s seat and allows your horse to do whatever he wants.


You are looking to execute flawless techniue and build strength, coordination and muscle memory in the process.  When you go through a transitional period, you are going to be actively and intentionally engaging your core stabilizer muscles through repeated practice of constantly changing and quickly executed transitions and aids.   These transitions are essentially going to work as a form of full-body resistance training on horseback improving core strength, position, balance, stability, confidence, reaction time and muscle memory.


Instead of riding around the ring each lesson, doing a walk, trot, canter in both directions at a steady pace, jumping some fences, then calling it a day, you are going to work with your horse (and your trainer if you have one) on very specific transitions that you are going to repeat until you’re sick of them… and until your abdomen and thighs are burning off each lesson.  Not only are you going to practice these transitions every time you ride, you’re going to continue to do it for months, and months.  The more proficient you become at the specific transition or exertion over time, the more you will push yourself out of your comfort zone the next.


The best way to think of how it works to improve your riding is to think of it as being the self-induced, resistance training or “high intensity interval training” (HIIT) to regular riding being a standard cardio.   You can even think of it as yoga on horseback because you’re using your muscles to hold a position of resistance.  The posting trot around the ring is the equivalent to your body being on an elliptical.  Your body gets used to it and it becomes easy that you burn calories, but you don’t necessary gain strength or muscle.  By practicing weeks, months and even years of transitions, you are pro-actively doing the weight training that builds your stabilizer muscles and core, which will enhance your overall riding abilities.  The more transitions you do the more your body builds the strength and ability to keep you stabilized and balanced during every faucet of riding.


To make it more clear, if you’re still confused, I’ll ask you a question.  Which do you think will help you to strengthen your ultimate position at the trot?   A. Just going around the ring at a beautiful steady trot and memorizing your position, (because practice makes perfect) OR B. actively engaging your core and stabilizer muscles, and aids to sit up, half-halt and negotiate the changes in speed, balance and position as you change what you’re doing every few strides from walk, trot, walk, trot, walk, trot, extended trot, trot, extend trot, collected trot, walk and engage your seat, half-halt, closed leg and your core to create the downward transitions, about 30-40 times?    In option A, you are patting your head 90% of the time, maybe throwing in a rub on the stomach when your trainer asks you to do something.  In option B. you are learning to actively pat your head, rub your stomach and chew gum, while you’re on a roller coaster, 100% of the time.   One will condition you to stay on your horse when he’s perfect.  The other will help you build the strength and coordination to allow you to handle your horse and maintain your balance, and allow for effective use of the aids, no matter what pace, speed or direction your horse is going in, and no matter how quickly it changes.


Take your canter seat for example.  Technically, yes, you can improve your seat at the canter by, cantering, because, yes, again, practice makes perfect, but what the constant transitions do is work twice as hard develop the fitness you need to hold and maintain your own position and balance at all stages of the canter.  Many riders don’t necessarily struggle to ride their horse’s canter, they struggle not falling apart when they ask for the canter, and they struggle to not keep it together when their horse is anything else but perfect.  The upward transitions and the downward transitions require a different set of muscles than the canter itself and anything your horse wants to throw at you in-between.   The ability to maintain balance at the canter and use your hands and legs effectively and independently without negatively impacting your seat, requires an entirely new set of muscles.   If you only used the muscles you need to hold your position in that brief moment as you go up to the canter, the few times per lesson you asked your horse to canter, it will take you awhile to develop the strong conditioning needed to maintain your seat through the gait, let alone the muscle memory you needed to do it very seamlessly.  By forcing yourself to condition those muscles much more aggressively 5, 10, 15 minutes each lesson, you are building your own strength, stability and muscle memory much faster by using and engaging those muscles much more often.  You are training your body to handle the changes and negotiate your balance, freeing up your ability to not rely on your reins or legs for balance so that you can half-halt and apply leg properly.


So besides frustrating our horse, and making sure he looks nice and balanced going from the trot to the canter, these repetitive and  monotonous transitions are providing 5 tremendously positive benefits that you will not achieve quickly, by simply by trotting or cantering your horse around the ring on the rail.


How extensive and repetitive transitions help to improve your riding. 

  1. They develop your fitness and stability muscles.
  2. They develop your balance and confidence.
  3. They develop your coordination independent use of the aids.
  4. They develop your muscle memory and reaction.
  5. They develop and establish your relationship with your horse as the pilot, instead of a passenger.


Developing Your Fitness


A big part of the problem with many riders is their fitness level.   You can be a very fit person, you may possess the ability to run a marathon, but still lack the exact muscles you need to maintain your balance on your horse at all times.  Without strengthening the right muscles you will struggle to find balance and security in the saddle because you’ll collapse every time your horse changes gait, direction or pace or every time you need to effectively use your aids.   Every time you correctly maintain your position as you go from one gait to the next, or you ask your horse lengthen or shorten his stride, using your core on the downward/upward transitions and collections/extensions, you need to engage your stability muscles in your legs, back, shoulders, arms and abs.   If you do nothing but go around the ring at a steady trot, never asking for a change of gait or pace you’ll get great at just that, but struggle to be effective the more dynamic your riding becomes.   By doing extensive transitions per ride, you are forcing your body to fire passive muscles that are vital in maintaining your seat and leverage, as well as the ability to use your seat.  You are drastically improving your fitness level which leads into benefit #2 improved balance and confidence.


Developing Your Balance and Confidence 


Through concentrating on strengthening your body and position in the saddle through transition work, you improve your balance.  Lack of balance, through the transitions is a huge key that holds riders back.  You may be able to trot and canter, but you struggle to keep your body strong and in your saddle through the transitions.  You pinch with your knees causing your upper body to fall forward when you ask for the canter.  You flop around and extend your arms for balance at the trot if your horse goes to fast.  You collapse momentarily as you come down to the trot and need a second to hang on your horses face.   You lose your entire position every time you try to use your leg on a lazy horse.  This is a lack of strength that contributes to a lack of balance which, you guessed it, contributes to a lack of confidence in the saddle.  The stronger you become through transitions, the better your stabilizer muscles will allow you to maintain your balance no matter what your horse is doing.  The more secure you feel, the more confidence you will have, and the more you’ll be able to ask your horse for.

Confidence comes through balance.  It comes through the ability to feel and stay secure.  It comes from the fact that even though your horse just spooked, bucked or bugled, your position stayed solid and kept your aids free to regain control of the situation without hanging on your horse or having the need to hold on to rebalance.   Unless the rider is fearful of a specific incident that happened with them or their horse, a majority of rider fear or insecurity comes from instability in the saddle.  If you work to improve your balance you’re soon going to realize that no matter what your horse does, you’re locked into that saddle and not going anywhere.  It’s when you worry more about holding on, using your reins to balance or stay with your horse you are unable to do the rest properly.


Think of repetitive transitions as weight training reps for your muscles.  As your strength improves, your balance and ability to let go of your knee/leg, to keep your upper body back, and to keep your arms where they need to be improves.  Repeat this a few thousand more times and your improved balance leads to benefit #3, your ability to use your aids effectively and independently of your entire body.


Developing  your coordination and independent use of the aids.


You will find, that after weeks and weeks of practice and conditioning, your improved fitness, improves your balance, which then improves your ability to maintain your seat properly, while executing your aids.   You develop the ability to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.  Without the conditioning of your fitness, improving your balance and stability, when you go to use your aids, the entire pyramid collapses because you were using your legs or arms to support you or even hold on.  Riders that hold on with their knees, when they go to use their leg to move their horse forward, they pinch with their knee to maintain balance, which drives their knee up and their upper body forward.  You’re now out of balance, yet still expecting your horse to go into a balanced canter.   If you haven’t strengthened the muscles you need to maintain your seat and upper body in-between fences, you’ll never be able to sit back and gain the leverage you need to collect your horse and nail your next distance.   Instead, you’ll end up hanging on your horse’s face for balance which actually drives them forward.  By improving your balance, you allow your stabilizer muscles to keep your core and body where it need to be, while allowing freedom of your thighs, calves, heels, arms, shoulders, core, seat and back to balance and adjust, to move independently to apply aids and to maintain the leverage you need in your position to use those aids effectively without collapsing or falling apart.   You’ll have the stability you need to release your half-halts, instead of hanging on your horse’s face.   Now that you have strength, which has led to balance, and effective use of the aids, the more you continue to practice your transitions non-stop, you then bring yourself to benefit #4, muscle memory and improved reaction time.


Development of your muscle memory and reaction time.


You can stare at your horse all you want while you ride, but your eyes will never tell you what your horse is about to do,  or what your horse needs, faster than your body can feel it, and your muscle memory can react to it.   Your horse will have missed his mark 3 strides too late before your brain can process the messages from your eyes and send them to your muscles.  The only way you get muscle memory and improved reaction time is through repeating and repeating and repeating your transitions while maintaining the proper aid reaction.   The more times your stabilizer muscles fire and repeat their reactions to responses in changes in your horse’s movement, the faster your brain will learn to react to those signals.  Before you know it, it will feel like your body is doing things on it’s own, including firing stability muscles preemptively as you begin the transition.   Your inside hand will automatically lift up as it feels your body go around turns.  Your inside leg will automatically apply pressure as your horse sucks back and gets behind the bit.  Your upper body will lean back, engage your core and sit deeper into your saddle to stabilize your position during gait extensions and breaking.   Through strength, balance and freeing up your body to effectively apply aids in endless and repetitive transitions, the muscle memory your body develops overtime will allow your entire body to become so in-tune, balanced, and responsive  to your horse, your riding will become begin to become extremely consistent, immediate and effortless,  No matter what your horse does or what he throws at you, your body will instantly react to the change and then respond before your brain even knows what’s going on.  And it will be a miraculous and breakthrough moment in your life to realize that you are truly a pilot in that saddle and not just a passenger.   You will look back and not even be able to comprehend why you struggled to ride properly in the past.


Developing and establishing your relationship with your horse as the pilot, instead of a passenger.    


You can’t balance your horse if you’re not properly balanced yourself.  You can’t gain respect from your horse if your aids are not effective, timely, strong and consistent.  You can’t be sure your horse is listening to anything you’re asking him to do, if you’re unable to stay balanced and strong through all changes and transitions and ask him to do it properly.   Catch your horse in the mouth and hang on him every time you ask for the trot or canter and you’re going to train a negative response in him.  By strengthening your body’s ability to stay strong and balanced through the changes in tempo, pace, gait, direction you improve your communication and use of aids to your horse.  Finally, you are not leaning forward, pinching with your knees, restricting his movement and getting in his way.  He can now now pick himself up into the canter, because your upper body is balanced back and you’ve finally let go of your knees.   He can now open up his stride and move more freely into the extended trot, and he can now get off his forehand during the downward transition because you’re not flying forward every time he stops.  Your horse can now stay balanced and round around his turns because you’re able to keep your inside leg long and use it to drive your horse into your outside rein.   Your horse no longer can hang on you or pull you out of your tack because you’re now strong and balanced enough to let go of his face and maintain your position, while taking and releasing with your half halts that utilize your outside rein and core.   The more effective, correct and consistent you are, the better your horse will respond.


Not only do transitions work to help strengthen and condition and improve the muscle memory of the rider, they do the same things for your horse as well.   Horses are trained through repetition and pressure relief and the transitions will not only improve his fitness, but also strengthen his ability to use his body correctly and to respond to your aids faster and faster.  Also, a constant change up of transitions is a fantastic way to keep your horse listening and in tune with you.   Because he won’t be able to take control or anticipate what’s coming next, you are always keeping him guessing.  Your horse will become more responsive to your aids and it will keep his mind working in more productive ways than just mindlessly circling the ring on the rail.   He’ll be more “awake” and in tune to the changes and shifts in your position and develop a much clearer picture of what you’re asking when you ask.  He’ll also develop more consistent reactions to your aids.  His brain will also stop working and his muscle memory will develop beautiful responses to your style of riding.


How many transitions and what type do I need to do?  

Depends on what you’re doing and what you’re looking to accomplish, your fitness/ability level as well as your horse’s.  Basically, without-over facing or injuring your horse, you want to practice transitions until they hurt.  They are boring and painful, mentally and physically but muscles are not built when things are easy.  They are built through the repeated struggle and the resistance.   If you’re not in pain or you’re not sore, you’re probably not building muscle.  They need to rip and repair to strengthen.  When you finally reach the point when you’re exhausted and everything hurts, thats the time when you need to push yourself just a little more and a few steps out of or beyond your comfort zone.  Do two or three more.  Hold it for a few more seconds.   If you don’t engage and fatigue the muscles you need to build strength and stability in the saddle, guess what, you wont.


What types of transitions should I be doing?  

Some of it will depend on what you are trying to accomplish, but there’s a general set of transitions that can absolutely improve your strength and position in every way possible.   If you’re struggling with balance and confidence at a faster gait like the canter, the transition conditioning can even come from slower gaits like the trot.


Common transitions to practice and repeat: 

Changes of gaits – walk/trot, trot/canter, canter/trot, trot/walk, walk/canter, canter/walk, walk/halt, halt/walk, halt/trot, trot/halt

Changes within the gaits (trot can be both posting and sitting) – collection to medium to extended strides at the walk, trot and canter.

Changes in direction (right & left turns)  – circles, figure eights, serpentines.  Constant and repetitive changes in direction help the rider strengthen their ability to coordinate their change in balance while they change the aids.  It improves a rider’s ability to handle imbalances horses throw them while maintaining proper position with independent aids, and helps generate consistency and muscle memory while reacting to shifts in your horse’s movements.

Changes in direction laterally (Zig zag or leg yields or spiral in/outs) – Great exercises to help a rider activate alternative sides of their body to move the horse to the right or left off their leg.

Dressage movements – If your horse knows shoulder-in, shoulder-fore, counter canter, lead changes, turns on the forehand or haunches, tempis can all be transitions.

Drunken sailor – Turning, moving and driving your horse all over the ring with quick and sharp changes in direction with no rhyme or reason.  The crazier the better.  Change balance and direction as often as you can.  Turn right for a half circle, then immediately make a left hand turn and then another right.  Change the bend.  Change the balance.  Big circles, small circles, squiggly lines.  Your horse will think you’re drunk but these quick and constant changes in balance work to help you maintain your position and balance through changes in your horse’s direction and balance and activate alternative aids.  They improve your ability to maintain consistency and coordination at all times and to transition back and forth, alternating your inside leg and reins.

Rider’s independent position transitions in the saddle – Going from two point to sitting or posting trot, or seated canter.   Posting trot to sitting trot to posting.   Leaning/over extending your upper body back (and even at a pace) further than your comfort zone, at the walk/trot/canter.   Transitions to riding with/without stirrups.  Stretching your arms out in any direction and returning them back to their proper position.   Transitions where you sit trot while lifting your entire legs from the hip off your horse and hold it in the air for as long as you can to help you build strength and balance independent of your legs.  Asking your horse to slow down without the use of your reins.

Other – The transitions can be anything you or your trainer can think of that causes the constant  engagement of core stabilizer muscles in different ways and directions.  Anything that causes a change in resistance or a change in balance or use of aid that can be repeated in intervals can help to build fitness.


You’ll want to throw them into your training as often as possible, and as soon as you get good at it, push your limit and comfort zone just a little bit more.  Repeat them 20-30 times a lesson or more.   Repeat them for 5 – 10 minute spots in 30 second intervals.   Repeat them until your muscles give out and you’re praying your trainer lets you walk soon.


The transitions you practice at every gait will help you in all areas of riding.  


The best part of transition training is that it helps to improve weaknesses in all areas of your riding, and can be used to prepare you for more advanced riding and horses


One of my biggest struggles was sitting back and maintaining, holding my position into the canter, because my horse liked to throw his head and pull me right out of the tack as I asked for it.  My upper body would go forward, my arms would get pulled out of my sockets, and my leg and seat would become completely in effective.  He’d throw is shoulder, and just trot faster and we’d begin a pulling and balancing match that accomplished nothing.  Then during the canter transition, coming from a hunter background, I had zero ability to get go of my leg and get my butt into the saddle.


To fix my transition up to the canter,  I worked on strengthening my position through the trot transitions.  By repeating endless transitions from the collected trot, to the medium trot, into the extended trot, and then back down to extremely collected trot, I was conditioning my body to stay balanced through the change in pace, gait and tempo.  I’d start out at the sitting trot at a pace I was comfortable with, and then I’d ask my horse to extend, out of my comfort zone, working hard to maintain my position.  I’d hold it until my abs and thighs were burning, then I’d bring him back to a collection, readjust and rebalance in a 10-15 second rest period, and then move him back out again.  As my core and independent use of the aids improved, as well as my stronger response to changes in gait, I was eventually able to own my position and leverage in the saddle while effectively asking for the canter.  Instead of getting thrown forward and out of my tack as he threw his head and increased the pace, the security and balance I had developed was what made it possible for me to maintain control and push my horse to pick himself up into a balanced canter, instead of throwing his head, me off-balance and running off with me at the trot.


To fix my seat at the trot, nothing was more effective than doing figure eights and serpentines at the canter, breaking to the trot every time I needed to change direction.   In order to get the downward transition to the trot to change leads, I’d have to really get my upper body to lean back and sit deep and half-halt, and then maintain balance as we went back up.  But I realized the more and more I got the hang of maintaining my upper body during the downward transition, the deeper and more correct my seat became, and the easier it was to go right back up into the canter, maintaining a great seat around the next turn.  Not only that, by correcting my own balance my horse was beginning to give me the most amazing, uphill and collected canter strides and transitions to and from the canter that I’d ever gotten from him.    It was helping us both to sit down and lift up and remain balanced.


None of this happened over night and my transitions in the beginning were messy.  It took days and weeks and months to improve, doing transitions constantly.  But the more and more we repeated them and pushed my comfort zone, the more my riding improved on all levels in all facets.


Additionally, transition fitness training helps you build strength for stronger riding, even if you’re on a well trained horse that stays calm at home, but may get hot during a show, which can be something that is difficult to train for since you can only ride the horse that shows up each day.  You’re allowing yourself to build and condition beyond your needs of every day hacking at home that will prepare you for the higher levels of exertion you’ll need off property.


No pain, no gain.


I’m not going to lie to you, it’s going to hurt.  Transitions are difficult in their own right but doing them repetitively day after day, lets just say, you’re going to feel it.  After using my core and inner thighs extensively in my “transition interval training” by the end of my full training week, I was about ready to cry in pain every time my trainer asked for a transition down to the walk.  My body began to cringe and due to soreness and tenderness of my muscles, wanted to  “avoid” the transition the way you avoid ripping off a bandaid because you know its going to hurt, but doing it gingerly hurts for longer.  But on the plus side, the challenge of pushing myself past my comfort zone does make it fun, while the rewards of a strong, balanced and confident position in the saddle and more effective seat bring a immeasurable amount of joy to a rider that they will never know until it happens.   It’s game changing, trust me.  Developing the fitness to have a strong and secure seat in the saddle builds confidence you never believed and makes you feel like an Olympic rider.   It just does not happen over night.


You aren’t able to ride often but you still want to improve, so what can you do?   The best way to improve your riding is always going to be on your horse.  But if you aren’t able to ride often your next bet is to do yoga (great low impact option) or to take classes at a cross-fit gym which mixes cardio, calisthenics, interval training, weight training and resistance training.   Exercises that strengthen your core, back, triceps and inner thighs and groin… especially like planks and rows and seated rows as well are great to add into your routine, even if you do get to ride your horse every day.


At all times, please consult with a trainer to talk about how to incorporate transitions into your riding based on your weaknesses, and your horse’s fitness and training level.  The last thing you want to do is injure or over face yourself or your horse and end up being counterproductive.  It’s a long and intensive process but keep with it and you’ll be thrilled as you see the improvements.  Good luck, stay safe, know your limits, work with a trainer, and HAPPY TRANSITIONING!