In an earlier blog I mentioned that because of limited riding time, my goals in the saddle are to have fun and appreciate whatever time I can spend with my horse. Riding twice a week, I felt that was really all I could expect of my horse and myself. Lately, though, I've added another goal: Riding better transitions. It sounds simple, but since I took up dressage a few years ago, they've been a challenge. I come from a hunter/jumper background, and in that world, transitions have to be smooth, but I never really worried about whether or not they were "through." Until recently when I asked for upward or downward transitions, Merlot would poke his head up for a step before resuming his balanced, relaxed gait and rounded topline. They weren't horrible, but we definitely were losing some connection and throughness. About a year ago, I really tried to focus on transitions, but Merlot just got tense. I figured I was using too much leg or hand, but I couldn't figure out the balance, so I decided to just make him as relaxed as possible when we did them until I could fit in some lessons. While lessons are still high on my "to-do" list, I recently started playing with transitions again, taking them slow to figure out what I was doing wrong. Over the winter I'd been watching several dressage riders at my barn and reviewed some articles we'd written about transitions in Practical Horseman. I began to notice that when I "focused" on transitions, at best I would keep my usually soft hands immobile?almost like a wall?and add leg to make sure the transition was forward. At worst, I would take back ever so slightly while closing my fingers on the reins. I also realized I wasn't consistently preparing for the transitions. Finally, I figured out that my sensitive Thoroughbred probably didn't need quite so much leg in the transitions?he pretty much stays forward by himself. I really began to focus on letting Merlot know that downward transitions were coming with half-halts over three strides and upward transitions were coming with leg squeezes (and releases) over three strides. Also, when I asked for the transitions, I imagined a wall in front of my hands that I had to press against to keep from taking back even a little. I also didn't use as much leg as I had been. I've been doing these things for a few weeks and our transitions are improving. Sometimes the balance of my aids is still off and Merlot gets tense, but we're making progress. He's staying more rounded and connected during them. My goal is to keep improving them through the summer until we're consistently making balanced transitions. What I'm happiest about though is that even with my limited riding time and lack of lessons, I've been able figure out what I was doing wrong. Even better is I realize I can set training goals and expect more from myself. Sure, the goals aren't as "big" as trying to qualify for a championship or jump a larger fence, but they are allowing me to strive to become a better rider.