The Progression of Downward Transitions

When I first started riding Estella, our downward transitions were on point. Even with only a handful of rides under our belt, she was responding effortless to my energy from trot to walk to halt. At some point while we were still in Ohio, we lost all ability to go from a trot to a walk.

I call it the “snowball effect.” She pushes so much with her hind end, that she totally pushes us both on her forehand and like a snowball down a hill, we just gain more and more speed and momentum and before you know it she physically can’t stop us. Back in 2015, the last time I was riding consitantly, this was on and off a problem. Some days she would respond to my energy, some days I just could not get her to stop. I figured this was a combination of a few things: her lack of balance, her lack of strength, probably some pain, and definitely a lot to do with me. That’s when I decided to give her the next year off and address all of those things. Since 2015, she has grown a ton, is much, much stronger, understands balance, and is comfortable and loves to play. These past few months I have felt really good about the changes and felt that we were ready to start riding again.

We’ve had some good and some not so good rides, primarily revolving around the same “snowball effect” issue. Prior to our year break from riding, I had tried everything I could think of to help our transitions and they just weren’t there. So after addressing all the things I thought might be affecting the transitions, I was pretty disappointed to realize that they were still an issue. I was frustrated, I cried a lot, I pondered if maybe she just didn’t want to be ridden, I wanted to give up, and most of all I felt disappointed and defeated.

I was really confused and so I stopped riding again. But thanks to my love and my best friend who encouraged me to stay positive and open, I “shook off” my expectations and fears and felt ready to try again. Estella always stands perfectly still while I tack her up at liberty, always comes to the mounting block, and seems to enjoy cruising around together. So what is happening is causing the trot to be such a disaster? With this in mind, I started riding again by setting my intentions on just to enjoy it and just walk. The trot and transitions felt heavy and I know that forcing things never work, so I just let it be.

So I got back on and just walked! We played with leg yields and bending and turns on the haunches and just had a really lovely time. We didn’t do anything fancy and that’s totally okay. Sometimes I think I get in my head that I need to get on and “do things,” which is exactly what I have let go of on the ground which lead to so much growth. But there’s something back getting back in the saddle where old habits die hard. Growing up as a competitive dressage rider, the idea of “doing things” and progressing and training hard was the essence of my whole experience for years. Even when I was a Parelli student, it was the same thing. It was that ride that I realized I have never “let go” of the expectations, rules, ideas, judgements, perfectionism, and so on in the saddle like I have the ground. It’s easy for me let her be loose in the arena and be open to new experiences and to just have fun together and think that everything is great and beautiful. It’s a lot harder for me to be in the saddle and let go of the control, “trainer mode,” and expectations of what should happen when ridding. We need transitions and 20m circles and bending and flexion and thoroughness and on and on and on!!!

How is that the same person who from the ground is so open, connected, and in the moment? It’s simple: it’s not. When in the saddle, I become my past experiences, not my True Self. Although I am still figuring out “Who am I?” on a spiritual level, I can take an objective seat and see that I am not my experiences. I am just the observer of all the experiences. When I get caught up in my past experiences of expectations and rules, I am removed from the consciousness and awareness of the present moment. I am no longer me. And if anyone is aware of that shift, it most certainly is Estella.

After that ride, I had the breakthrough with Bella. It was almost as if Bella knew I was ready to grow in my awareness and provided me just the right lesson at just the right time. When I let go of expectations and past ways of doing things and right vs. wrong, I can be open to all things. And things come out of my awareness that go above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

I rode for the first time last night since the previous ride and since the lesson with Bella. This ride I just set my intentions on be aware. To notice when I let my expectations take over, when I lose my seat in reality and get caught up in past experiences. And with those intentions we wandered around the area and had a really relaxed ride. Estella yawned and yawned and yawned which I took as an indication that I was on the right track. Just as I felt ready to be done, she started trotting. I was thrilled with this, and wanted to reward her right away. Not worrying about the transition, we just stopped and I gave her some treats. Before I knew it, we were off trotting again and again I just asked her to stop to give her some treats without worrying about the hows of the transition. By the third stop for treats, our transition was drastically different. It didn’t feel tense and like a struggle. By our fourth one, I felt like we stopped together for the first time in over a year. I immediately got off and thanked her profusely.

I am thrilled with the ride itself, I couldn’t be more thankful that she was persistent and bringing me back to the present moment. I realize, for maybe the 100th time (I even wrote about this same lesson from the ground no to long ago: The Bottom Line), that it isn’t about what we do together. It doesn’t matter if we do a perfect transition or a perfect 20m circle or a perfect leg yield or a perfect flying lead change. It doesn’t matter if we do any of those things ever. It matters who we are together, what we experience together and how we grow together. Thanks Estella, for always keeping me true and never giving up on me.

The transitions from my recent ride:

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