Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Show Is 24 Hours Away

And my flying changes stink!

And it's totally my fault.....

Spider had a flying change when I bought him.  But, because he was a jumper, he had been taught to change automatically whenever you changed direction.  In dressage, this isn't really desirable.  Dressage tests call for counter canter and flying changes at specific points, the horse can't just do them by himself as soon as you change direction.

So, I spent a couple years teaching Spider not to change (Yes, it took years. He was really well programmed).  During that time I didn't touch the flying changes.  Even after he had a solid counter canter, I didn't touch the changes. He had them, and surely they would still be there when I needed them again.

Last year when I decided to move up to 3rd Level, I played with the changes a bit.  They were OK, a little flat, but there.  We did our 3rd Level show and he missed one change, but there were extenuating circumstances.  I wasn't too worried about it. Then winter set in and I abandoned the changes.

Last week I had my trainer out to put some polish on our movements for my upcoming shows.  The shoulder in and half pass were great.  The turn on the haunches was lovely.  The trot was elegant, the walk marched, the canter jumped.  And then we tried the changes. The changes were disunited.  I was horrified.  We tried several different approaches, with no success. The changes were no good.

It's not the fault of the exercises that they didn't work.  It's the fault of the rider.  I didn't train the changes.  I spent years training the changes out, but never put them back on.  Sure, I played with them a couple times last fall, but I had a horse who was in good shape last fall.  He had the strength, and he figured it out.

Now it's spring, and he isn't as fit.  And he's still confused about the changes.  And that's why he's disunited.  He needs more strength, I need to be a lot more clear about what we're doing.

My trainer left me with homework: Practice the changes every ride.  And I've been doing that, but nothing happens overnight with horses (if it does, be very suspicious).  My changes are still a bit dodgy, but they're getting better!

I have to concentrate on keeping him straight, not letting him anticipate, and being crystal clear with my aids.

These are the exercises I've been using for the changes:

1) Pick up a counter canter on the short side of the arena, counter canter through the corner, then ask for the change on the long side.  This one is nice because you're changing to the "correct" diagonal and the edge of the arena helps keep the horse straight.

2) (In canter) Ride a 10m circle on the long side, then ride across the short diagonal. After you cross centerline, ask for the change. (This is the exact movement from 3rd Level Test 1)  This exercise is good because the 10m circle helps the horse collect, but you don't have the long side to help you keep the horse straight.  Plus, for Spider, the trek across the diagonal causes him to anticipate.  To combat his anticipation, I abandon the change and ride a volte every time I feel like he's getting rammy.  The idea is that he'll learn to wait for my aids, and the volte re-balances him.

3) (In canter) Down centerline, half pass back to the long side, straighten, ask for the change.  (This is the exact movement from 3rd Level Test 2)  I really like this one, because the half pass sets him up for the change nicely, and the edge of the arena helps him with his straightness.

We're not at 100%, yet.  But Spider's strength is building and he's starting to understand what the aids are for a flying change.

Hopefully his new show pad will distract the judge from seeing our terrible changes.  I bought it because it has a flame pattern embroidered into it.  It's either a metaphor for us setting the dressage scene on fire, or for us going down in flames.


  1. Good luck at the show! We're currently teaching my horse to accept cantering on whatever lead I want whenever I want and changes of bend/rib cage/haunches how I want leading toward changes of lead. He used to do easy clean changes if I shifted weight or changed directions even from the shallow serpentines. Hopefully once we start re-training the changes they will be less anticipatory and more on aids than they used to be! He was taught great changes by someone on the track, though.

  2. You and Spider will do great! Have fun - can't wait to read all about it. :D

  3. Good luck at the show!

    It is always tough when you have to retrain something and I think flying changes rank up there as one of the toughest. Thanks for sharing the exercises. I have had to put changes away for the time being, but look forward to getting back to them after baby is born!

    I think you pretty much hit the name on the head. Once his fitness has returned after the winter, he will be able to jump through like he did in the fall.

  4. Good exercises. I was going to suggest the half pass to the rail as that's how I actually taught my PJ to fly the change from the first.

    If you don't get good ones in the test by some remote chance, don't fret about it. You will not be the first nor the last to have an issue with them in the show arena. However, I am fully confident Spider will do you proud!!

    No matter what happens, HAVE FUN!! And yes, I shouted that! *G*

  5. As someone who isn't good at flying changes and needs to be more educated about how to train them, I found this post very helpful. Good luck at the show!

  6. Ooo! Good idea - when in doubt, by a cool saddle pad to distract the judges from any little errors. :) Good tips for the changes. I think I'll try them with my boy who doesn't know them at all. haha.


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