Transform your transitions – by Castle Leslie Estate’s Jenny Richardson, BHSAI

Is 2019 the year you will step up from Novice to Elementary, in your flatwork? In this article, we will look at some key areas and tips:

In Novice, the horse is asked to demonstrate the ability to lengthen the stride in trot and canter, advancing from the working paces seen at prelim (see pic below), and complete small, balanced circles; but Elementary is the first level to require collection and also some lateral movement. Medium trot and extended canter are also introduced, to showcase the horse’s ability to move between transitions within a pace.

dressage pic


It is vital for the Elementary horse to have ‘throughness’ (fluidity through the quarters and back) and a relaxed outline, to perform these transitions well, be ‘off the leg’ and also demonstrate a little more self carriage than at Novice. In my mind, honing transitions is the main key to showcase these points to the judges. Transitions help develop balance, suppleness and impulsion, and are a good indicator of a horse’s willingness and confidence in the rider’s timing of the aids.

Check out our film below with top tips for improving your transitions within your home-schooling, with a view to achieving pleasing Elementary work, and read more tips below:


dressage horseNo matter at what pace you’re working on, try to aim for consistent strides in the pace, especially when you’re making transitions. For example, when you make an upward transition from trot, the first stride of canter should be same as the third stride; it shouldn’t speed up or slow down.

Utilise ‘quarters-in’ exercises, where the quarters come onto an inside track and the horse is positioned towards the direction of travel, as an engaging exercise. It’s great for stretching the muscles through the horse’s body and creating swing through his back in the early stages of your riding session. The mobility in the horse’s quarters pelvis that quarters-in creates will be useful for improving your canter transitions, and also for honing half pass; they’re essentially the same movement, as half pass is travers on the diagonal.

Try to ‘change gear’ every few minutes when schooling, e.g. make a transition, to keep the horse ‘on the ball’, and take his mind off any repetitive movements. If you’re riding movements in the short ends of the school, use the long sides as an opportunity to use a smart, energetic upwards transition. It can really revitalise your movements, especially if you let the horse enjoy a forward going trot or canter in a relaxed frame.

Try to hone the subtlety of your aids with the downward transitions, making them more subtle as the session progresses. Can you focus on the movements of each ‘ring’ finger on the reins, for example, or a small movement in your lower back?

Transitions help develop balance, suppleness and impulsion.

Transitions help develop balance, suppleness and impulsion.

If you’re working on your simple changes, don’t fret about a canter to walk transition too soon in the horse’s education; we are still wanting to focus on ‘forwardness’. You can come progressively down from canter to walk from trot, if your horse is new to the level, without losing too many marks.

You must then show some clear walk strides in between, before making your direct, upward transition to canter on the new rein, from walk. It’s more important to maintain straightness through the downward transition, in my opinion, than achieve a direct canter to walk transition that could be a bit ‘stuffy’ or backward.

Utilise rising trot when test riding, unless you are very mobile through your back and pelvis, to avoid ‘blocking’ the horse.

As the horse needs to have ‘throughness’ or fluidity through the quarters and back at Elementary level, rising will help develop nice lengthened strides, and some cadence.


Check out Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, where I work as Head Instructor – we offer a range of equestrian training breaks, ideal for dressage enthusiasts, as well as relaxing riding holidays.

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