Up until now in our Riding level one test we have done everything — adjusting tack, mounting, and mounted exercises — from a standstill. Now it’s time to move off, but before we do, a few terms need defining.
Aids: These are the physical and verbal language used to communicate with the horse.
Natural Aids: The rider’s voice, legs, hand, seat (body) are all natural aids
Artificial Aids: Whips and spurs, used to reinforce natural aids.
Legs: The lower leg creates impulsion (gas pedal)
Hands: Through soft ‘contact’ with the bit, the hand influences bend and direction of travel (steering) and for beginners is the main ‘brake’ to halt or decrease speed.
Seat: The position of the rider’s body always influences the horse. For beginning riders it is important to sit as softly and evenly as possible so as not to inadvertently give mixed cues. Once you progress to more advanced riding the seat becomes an important, if subtle, aid.
Paces: The four natural gaits of the horse are walk, trot, canter and gallop. Paces are more finely tuned variations within these gaits, such as working trot, medium walk etc.
Walk: The slowest pace, with four individual footfalls. The sequence of footfalls is left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore.
Trot: The next ‘gear’ up, the trot is a 2-beat pace. It is faster and more jolting to the rider than the walk. The sequence of footfalls is left hind & right fore together, right hind & left fore together.
The Trot by Eadward Muybridge, 1897.
The first actual riding we ask you to do in level one is show simple, progressive transitions.
The word ‘simple’ in here is slightly misleading. It refers to a progressive change of pace, such as walk to trot, or walk to halt. If you were driving a car, this would be like changing from 2nd to 3rd gear, or 2nd to 1st. (A non-progressive transition goes from 1st to 3rd, as in a walk-canter — but we get to those at higher levels). Transitions of all kinds, however, are anything but simple. They require an understanding of pace and the coordination aids.
Before any change of pace use a half-halt, or prepartory aid, to alert the horse that you are about to ask him something. A half-halt is performed by slightly increasing contact with the seat and legs with simultaneous light squeezes on the reins.
Halt to Walk Transition
1. Increase contact on the reins, warning the horse you are about to ask him to move (ie, half-halt)
2. Look in the direction you wish to move (generally forward).
3. Give a gentle squeeze with the legs. If the horse does not move promptly, you can ‘cluck’ or ‘kiss’, say ‘walk on’, give a firmer squeeze with your legs, and as a last resort use your artificial aids.
Walk to Trot Transition
1. Half-halt, increasing leg and rein contact.
2. As #3 above, using ‘trr-ott’ as a voice command if necessary.
Trot to Walk Transition
2. Sit tall (but not back) in the saddle, settling your weight on your seat bones.
3. Give a gentle squeeze on the reins. If the horse does not come back to walk, reinforce the the cue with ‘easy’ or ‘wa-alk’ and stronger squeezes of the reins.
Walk to Halt Transition
1. As above, using the voice command ‘whoa’ if necessary.
As you can see, the half-halt features in all of these transitions, but at level one we don’t expect your half-halts to be particularly polished or effective, or your transitions to be smooth and light. Simply being able to walk, trot and halt your mount when asked is enough at this level. However, knowing there is always room for improvement in transitions — no matter what level you attain — allows you to constantly work on making them better.