Teaching Downward Transition on WP Horse

February 12th, 2013 8:48 AM | No Comments

Q. Hi Dana,

I have a new, three-year old Western Pleasure gelding that, because of previous riders training differently, both he and I are confused! The area is on downward transitions and stopping and backing up. When I ask for a downward transition, especially from the lope to the jog, he hollows his back and throws his head up. I was told one trainer used the spur training method and the other trainer would constantly bump him with her legs for every stride at the walk and the jog. What cues and exercises would you recommend to teach a western pleasure horse a downward transition and to stop and back up on a loose rein? What DVDs would you recommend as well?


 A. Hi there!

I often use downward transitions to tell me how collected my horse is in the forward gaits. From the sounds of your horses downward transitions he is probably not very collected at the jog or lope and is very resistant in his downward transition. His resistance may be due to a bad experience in the downward transition (such as someone getting to aggressive with him when he was green or didn’t understand the cue) or it may not be that at all. He may just be spoiled and responding wrong, or that he just doesn’t understand your cue. Whatever the cause you need to establish a relationship with him and define your cues to him so that you and him can become a team. Right now you are going off of someone elses training and cues and you are a bit lost. I would decide what word you will use, such as “here” or “whoa” and be consistent by using that word when you want your horse to come down to a slower gait. Use your word cue and then use your reins and stop him and ask him to back up.

Feel your horse through your hands when you stop. Is he pushy and wanting to go forward or is he softly coming back to you? I would keep backing him until he gets soft in your hands. I would also do a turn on the haunches and head off in a new direction after he softens in your hands. This will redirect his body weight onto his haunches and give him a new direction to go off into. Don’t jerk his face or scare him in the face. One of the main causes for horses that don’t want to stop is they are anticipating the punishment so they keep going forward. Its fine to back him firmly and clearly until he is thinking stop but if you attack his face at the same time, he may want to throw his head and leave. It sounds like you do have an issue with him throwing his head and that is not okay, but I would first deal with and correct his forward motion and his hollowing his back. Repeating your cue over and over will clearly establish it in his mind. As you ask him to back in the correction remember to release him when he is soft. After he understands your cue you can start refining his downward transitions. When you back him, don’t release until he is soft in his body and giving his face. My hunch is a lot of the head in the air may be due to his hollow back, and his anticipation of getting in trouble.  After awhile he will start coming down willingly and you will be able to cluck or cue him forward into the desired gait. Even if for a short time he thinks quit if he does it softly and willingly then you can work on smoothing out the downward transitions. This exercise will help teach him how to back on a loose rein. He needs to be listening to you and waiting for the next cue. Ultimately your goal will be to softly pick up on your reins and ask him to back.

I believe Maximizing Your Western Pleasure Horse Volume 1 will really help you. I go into great detail on developing body control and acceptance of the cues as well as transitions and collection. If you are having trouble with his head set another good DVD set is Take Control Volume 5, 6 and 7. In these I go into great detail on the headset, your hands and hand position as well as how to use your hands and how to correctly put the horse in the shank bridle. If you want to learn more about leg control my Spur Control Done Right will answer a lot of your questions about your leg and spur cues.

Good Luck!


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