Relax Rein, RIDING Transitions and Diagonals

Today I had a great lesson with Sarah Brady ** on her horse Angel, which she is kindly allowing me to achieve the rest of my Level 4 with! How cool is that?! Angel is a fantastic teacher. I can tell she is really going to teach me what it means to ride – not just to stay on the horse.

Today’s topic was the relax rein and riding transitions.

The relax rein basically means that as you are riding along the rail you ever so slightly tip the horse’s nose towards the rail until they stretch down. Once they stretch down, you return to neutral. If the head comes up, you do the relax rein again. There are different rein positions to do a relax rein – one rein, two reins, sliding rein, sliding reins, etc. As Pat says:

“It’s not the technique that matters, it’s the respect that follows.” – Pat Parelli

Sarah explained something about the relax rein to me, that I hadn’t heard before.

The relax rein is not just about getting the horse to stretch down, it’s about active hindquarters and tracking up.


After achieving that shortly – to know the feel I am to aim for – we moved on to riding transitions. In Level 2 Free Style, Pat teaches us live up and live down to ride transitions. I learned today that most of us have the tendency to interpret that in a very different way. I don’t know why but I always thought that meant if I want to make a transition from trot to walk, I would quit the trot and then the walk would fall into place – and so did my friends. I have heard Sarah say something about transitions that has really stuck with me:

“Don’t quit the trot, start the walk.” – Sarah Brady

Now, how exactly do you do that? When riding a trot-walk transition you squeeze with your core, seat and thighs during the sit (and the sit only!) on a rising trot. You do this for as many strides as needed until the horse transitions to a walk. If the horse chooses to ignore you, or does not yet know what this means, you go onto a small circle. Mind you, the circle is not to slow the horse down physically, but rather to say: “Hey, don’t ignore me.” or “Look for a different answer.” A small circle translates into this for a horse because a circle is more difficult to trot than a straight line and therefore creates discomfort – horses being prey animals that naturally search for comfort.

The transitions I rode today with that in mind were softer and smoother than any transitions I have ever ridden before! An entirely new feeling. When I got into horses as a child, I was taught that coming from a rising trot, you have to sit for a few strides to let the horse know something is coming and then you go to a walk. Usually what that does though is cause the horse to brace because in those few strides of sitting trot the human generally tenses up. I don’t know how riding a transition down translates into going from a sitting trot to a walk yet, but I will write about that once I figure that out. I am guessing that you probably still squeeze on the same down beat only this time it’s harder for you to figure out which one that is because you aren’t rising.

An upward transition, say from a slower to a faster trot, or a trot-canter transition is basically the opposite. You squeeze with your core, seat and thighs on the rise (and the rise only!) of your rising trot.

If the horse decides to ignore you on the upward transition or again doesn’t yet understand this, you can add rhythmic pressure with your stick by tapping on your leg during – you guessed it – the rise of your rising trot.

It is much easier for the human to learn this whilst riding with a soft touch and then getting it refined to the point where you don’t need your reins and can do it Free Style. Simply because with a soft touch your horse has more connection to you and can feel you more intensely.

Set your horse and yourself up for success. Exaggerate to teach and refine as you go along.


I also asked Sarah about getting the correct diagonal right away when going into a trot and she said that will be the next lesson’s topic, but gave me a short task to prepare for it. I walked on the rail and was feeling when the barrel of the horse – or the ribs – swing into my inside leg. If you find it difficult to feel it put your inside hand on your inside thigh and that will exaggerate the movement. The goal would then be to ask your horse for the trot transition as the barrel of the horse swings into your inside leg – which happens when the inside hind leg is under the horse (see 1. and 2. in the image below¹). Then you would rise with the trot as you ask for it and automatically be on the correct diagonal every time.

image008.jpg
Footfalls at the Walk

This information is a whole new level of conscious incompetence for me and I said to Sarah after the lesson: “I’m amazed at how tolerant horses are of our incompetence!”.

Thank you Angel, for being so tolerant and allowing me to learn so much!


¹Equestrian Sports New Zealand. “Rules of Dressage in New Zealand.” Dressage. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Jan. 2016.

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