You may have heard the saying, "All training takes place in the transitions." Whether you have heard the saying or not, it is very true. Transitions are where we communicate the most with our horses. When we ask our horses to speed up, slow down, turn, change direction, etc. we are giving numerous cues to our horses. We ask them to discern what different cues mean, even if the cues are very simple. For example, you may apply pressure with one leg to ask your horse to move over in a lateral movement, ie a side pass, but applying pressure with the same leg may also cue for a pivot. How does your horse tell the difference between a leg yield and a pivot? What other cues do you use? What is the progression of cues to each maneuver? If your cues are inconsistent, patterns will help you focus on each maneuver and help pin point where your communication is off. If your horse is rushing though your cues, you may be rushing though your cues and you have trained your horse to bypass listening to you. By utilizing patterns you can focus on each transition and your communication with your horse.
Transitions not only help our horses but they help make us better riders. When a rider can flawlessly transition from a sitting trot, to a posting trot, to a walk or canter, we increase our balance and skills in the saddle. The increase of these skills assists us in making our cues smoother and our horses happier.
By focusing on a pattern, we allow ourselves to think of something other than just our horse. During the patterns, we have to think about what transition, hmmm those pesky transitions again!, is coming up next and which direction we should be going. By allowing some of our muscle memory take over, we end up being softer and more relaxed.
Horses do not like being picked on with the same thing over and over again. With an attention span of a human toddler, for horses, variety is the spice of life. When our attention gets hyper focused on fixing "that ONE thing" we are working on, we loose any hope of actually accomplishing that one thing. Instead, use patterns to randomly come back to "that ONE thing" over the course of the ride.
Patterns help us get off the rail. Whether we are riding in an Indoor or Outdoor arena or just a grassy area, humans have a tendency to stick to the perimeter of our space. We go around in endless circles, boring us and our horses. By utilizing patterns, we force ourselves off of the rail and infuse some excitement into our riding.
When riding patterns there are a few important things to remember:
1. All patterns, Beginner though Advanced, can be ridden by any level
Change the gaits - for example, if a Beginner rider wants to ride an Advanced level pattern then change the gaits. If the pattern asks for a canter and you do not feel comfortable at the canter, change the canter to a trot/jog or walk. In the same respect, if an Advanced rider wants to ride a Beginner pattern, change the walk to a canter or the posting trot to a sitting trot.
2. Take your time on transitions
Although the patterns show "instant" transitions, give yourself and your horse time to work though the transitions. If you need 2-10 strides of the walk to transition to the trot or canter, give yourself those strides in the beginning. As the communication increases between you and your horse, allow less and less until you can do a walk to trot or walk to canter transition "instantly."
3. Take your time after a halt
When the pattern asks for a halt, give you and your horse five, ten, fifteen seconds to regroup before moving on to the next transition in the pattern. These seconds give you both time to breathe, settle and prepare for what's to come next. If you rush through the halts, you aren't giving you and your horse enough time to smoothly transition to the next step of the pattern. Remember to take your time throughout the pattern - a slower pattern with better transitions, better communication will get you further faster than speeding through the pattern.
4. Don't over work a pattern
Humans and horses both love repetition. It is partly why we get along so well. If we both know what is coming next, we are both content and can relax. BUT horses are also super smart about picking up on patterns and they will start to perform the pattern before you have even asked for the next transition or the next turn. Only work on a singular pattern 4-5 times before changing up that pattern with different transitions or change to a different pattern.
5. Walk through the pattern a time or two before adding the transitions and different gaits.
Use the walk though as a way for you and your horse to familiarize yourself with the pattern. A walk though will help you get a feel for where the transitions need to take place, how much room you need for you and your horse, and allow for smoother pattern when adding the transitions and different gaits.
6. Make up your own patterns
After you get comfortable riding some of these patterns, start taking them apart and making your own pattern. The options are endless.
Similarly, the same pattern can be ridden in endless ways. Change up the gaits, add more halts, add more rein backs, take out some transitions, and add some transitions.
7. All patterns can be done in-hand as well as under saddle
All patterns, beginner thought advanced, can be done in-hand, i.e. leading on the ground. The whole pattern may be walked in-hand, trotted in-hand or both. The important thing to remember when working with your horse in-hand is that you control the speed and direction of your horse. Remember to keep your eyes up, your chin up and to pick up your own feet when going over poles!
8. The patterns are "fluid"
These patterns are written for an arena size of 60'x120' or larger but don't despair if your arena or the space you have to ride is smaller. For example, if the pattern says to do a circle around a cone and to successfully complete your circle you also need to go around a pole that isn't shown as part of the circle in the pattern, no worries! Go around the pole and complete your circle.