Collective Marks: Transitions and Navigation
Crisp, accurate transitions between gaits. Effective course lines, correct leads and bend for the course lines.
In March, during one of the Tarrin Warren clinics, Tarrin asked the riders if they could estimate the number of transitions a typical Ease of Handling course required of the horse and rider. Her answer may surprise some riders: a typical Ease of Handling course could require forty to sixty transitions in a five minute ride.
Forty to Sixty transitions in a five minute ride, depending on the competition level.Think about that . . . . how many of us do that many transitions in an hour long lesson?
By comparison, the Intro dressage test has nine transitions.
In the Introductory dressage test, the transitions are trot to halt, halt to trot, trot to walk, walk to trot, trot to halt, halt to reinback, reinback to walk, walk to trot and trot to halt. By comparison, at HCWE’s July show, the Intro EOH had at least twenty transitions, depending on how the obstacles were ridden. That’s twice as many as the dressage requires.
The more complicated the EOH course, the more transitions.
The EOH course for the PVF show in June, at Novice B, had more than sixty transitions in a seven minute ride. Those transitions are what make up the transition part of the score in collective marks.
We can see transitions are something Working Equitation riders need to be very good at and should practice every ride. Transitions are an integral part of basic dressage, whether western or English, and every working equitation rider should make sure they are a part of every ride. An upward transition should look fluid and easy, while maintaining both rhythm and balance. In a downward transition, the horse should shift both weight and energy to his hindquarters so that s/he is able to lift the front end, otherwise the horse will lose rhythm and appear awkward as they transition downward. The cool thing about transitions is they can happen anywhere: in the arena, in the back pasture, or when riding on trail. Instilling and maintaining good, solid transitions, and practicing them a lot, will improve performance around the obstacles.
Our WE trainers, and the WE clinicians brought in to teach, do not recommend riding the obstacles every day. Instead, riders should focus on basic dressage movements, ground poles, gymnastics, and other exercises that improve the mechanics the obstacles require. Instead of riding around a pole or barrel, a rider should focus on the exercises that will help the horse turn without dropping a shoulder, help them move off their haunches or keep them from diving into the circle. Good mechanics will strengthen and improve the horse’s performance, without riding the obstacles.
Riding between the obstacles and the route a rider chooses is what is scored in the navigation part of the collective marks.
So, how does one ride a good course?
First, the rider needs to evaluate the approach to the obstacle. The approach is always going to be straight. That needs to be a given. For example, when the rider approaches the Drum obstacle, the horse needs to enter the obstacle straight between the two front drums. Then, when they are between the first two drums, they begin their circle around the right one. But that approach has to be straight if the rider has any hope of achieving good geometry around the first drum. That first circle sets the expectation of the judge for the following three-quarter circle around the top drum, and the full circle around the left drum.
Second, the rider needs to evaluate the departure from the obstacle. Which direction should the rider take to approach the second obstacle straight? What is the proper lead for departure? What is the proper lead for approaching the second obstacle? Does the rider need to change lead/bend at some point in their trajectory? If so, where does that transition/change of bend need to occur to make the most sense in their approach?
Third, instead of practicing the obstacles, riders need to practice and ride courses. Tarrin suggests WE enthusiasts should practice riding courses two to four times a month to develop this ability. The obstacles shouldn’t be ridden every day, and should never be drilled, but riding a course once a week is good practice. A rider must develop the ability to see the correct approach to an obstacle and put their horse in the correct position to set themselves up to succeed.
Do not ride the same course every week. Make sure you have the minimum number of obstacles for your level. Even if you are lucky enough to have obstacles set up all of the time, riders need to move things around and shake things up. No EOH course will ever be the same: that is one of the joys of this discipline. Keep it fresh.
The Course Designer for any Working Equitation show will take this into account when designing the course. There should be multiple paths to approach multiple obstacles, thus challenging the rider to both understand the questions being asked, but also understand their horse and riding ability when walking their route. It would be considered poor course design for the obstacles to be laid out one after another, with simple lines between, and no real questions for the riders to answer.
At the Plane View Farm show, in June, there was some question about the placement of the gate. Riders wanted the option of being able to finish the gate and go forward around the side of the obstacle closest to the wall. That route was blocked because the obstacle was set too close to allow safe passage around the back side of the obstacle. That placement was intentional. The question being asked required a rider to think through their transitions and bending lines between the gate and the garrocha pole without interfering with other obstacles.
The judge will have a good idea prior to the posting of the course map, both the best approach to each obstacle and the possible alternate routes each rider might take. The judge will have walked the course prior to the show to look at possible changes of bend, correct leads, and the most effective course lines. The most direct route, if ridden well, should score higher than the more indirect route, if ridden well. A more indirect route may showcase the horse’s transitions and bend better than a shorter route, however. This is particularly true if there are is more than one transition in the route between obstacles.
The rider must know their horse, recognize their ability and put together a course that benefits their skill level.