Down­ward Lope Tran­si­tions

Horse & Rider - - Private Lesson -

The key to ac­ing your tran­si­tions from a lope to a slower gait is to be com­pletely in tune with your horse’s move­ment and the tim­ing of his foot­falls. Pay­ing at­ten­tion to where each foot is dur­ing your horse’s stride takes you from pas­sen­ger to rider. It’ll al­low you to iden­tify the best time to ask your horse to change gaits, plus helps you learn when to change leads and how to get him over a set of poles or logs.

Start by en­list­ing a helper to count your horse’s strides from the ground. Once you get the tim­ing, you can count out loud as your helper lis­tens to en­sure that you’re on track. Even­tu­ally, the count will be­come a voice in the back of your head.


To start, you have to iden­tify your horse’s foot­falls when lop­ing. In this les­son I’m lop­ing on the right lead. Beat 1 of the lope, about to oc­cur here, is when my horse’s left hind foot comes for­ward and reaches un­der­neath his belly. You can see here that my horse’s left-hind foot is ad­vanc­ing for­ward.


That’s fol­lowed by beat 2. This is the di­ag­o­nal phase of the lope. When my horse is on his right lead, this means his right hind and left front ad­vance to­gether. My horse is just en­ter­ing that beat here, with his di­ag­o­nal legs reach­ing far un­der­neath his body and in front of his out­side shoul­der.


Fi­nally we have the third beat, just about to oc­cur here. That’s when the lead leg—my horse’s right-front leg when he’s on the right lead—comes for­ward. When it lands, it’s called the “down stride.” This is when you’ll want to ini­ti­ate the down­ward tran­si­tion so your horse lands in the new gait. If you can com­mu­ni­cate to your horse dur­ing this “down” stride, he can stay more col­lected and give you a more bal­anced down­ward tran­si­tion, lead change, or stop. Count each beat of the lope—1, 2, 3—un­til you can read­ily iden­tify the third beat with­out hes­i­ta­tion.


The di­ag­o­nal right-hind/ left-front feet are on the ground, and the “down stride” right-front foot is land­ing to push off into the sus­pen­sion phase, com­plet­ing one lope stride.

Once you have the 1, 2, 3 of the gait fig­ured out, chal­lenge your­self to say “down” when your horse’s lead leg is land­ing in­stead of count­ing each beat. If you still need to count the beats, try 1, 2, down to start. It’ll get eas­ier to count only the down stride with more prac­tice.


Now you can work on per­fectly timed tran­si­tions. Choose a num­ber—let’s say five—and count the down stride five times. When you reach five, ask for the change in gait. Count 1-2-3-4-5 for each down stride, and when you reach five, slow your body and use your other slow-down cues to ask for a jog or walk. It won’t be easy to start; it takes rep­e­ti­tion, as with most things in­volv­ing rid­ing. Re­peat the process un­til you can get three good tran­si­tions in a row. Stick with it, and you’ll reap the ben­e­fits.


Now in­crease the dif­fi­culty. Place a few cones in your rid­ing area. At­tempt a tran­si­tion at each cone. Your count­ing will come in handy as you plan to slow your horse at the cone. If you start to strug­gle, go back to the be­gin­ning and work your way to pro­fi­ciency through rep­e­ti­tion and con­sis­tency.

Seth Fen­der, Love­land, Colorado, spe­cial­izes in pre­par­ing all-around horses for youth, am­a­teur, and open com­pe­ti­tion of all lev­els. He’s a life­long horse­man who un­der­stands the need to tai­lor train­ing and coach­ing pro­grams to in­di­vid­ual horses and rid­ers. He’s trained and ex­hib­ited world cham­pi­ons and top-10 fin­ish­ers in both AQHA and APHA com­pe­ti­tion. Learn more at seth­

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