- Julia Buckle
Simple changes are ridden at Elementary level dressage, and they are not that simple to ride! To ride a simple change the horse must canter on one leg, make a transition to walk, and after three to five steps make a transition to the other leg. It is a really difficult exercise to ride.
Firstly the horse must make a transition from canter directly to walk, with no trot strides (except at elementary level). He must not halt, but show a clear 4 beat walk.
Secondly the horse has to make three to five walk steps, with 4 beats, on the bit without anticipating the next movement. Thirdly, the horse has to strike up into canter on the other leg, directly from walk without jogging, trotting or becoming tense. The first stride of canter should be exactly the same as the other strides of canter.
Where will your horse have a difficulty? Is he able to make an upward transition directly from walk? Does the horse have to do a few trot strides first? Or does he hollow and come above the bit to make the transition? Can he strike up equally as easily on both reins?
Look at where the problem is and tackle the problem to make the simple change better. If the problem is with the strike up in to canter, first practice lots of strike ups until your horse is consistently able to strike up on both legs easily. It is repetition, repetition, repetition to teach your horse.
Can your horse make an easy downward transition from canter to walk? This is usually the biggest problem. The horse has to learn to listen to the half halt, without becoming hollow and above the bit, without making his rider pull harder.
What is the quality of your horse's walk like after the canter? Can he go forward rhythmically? Is he anticipating what is coming next and start to jog? Is the horse so against the hand that he paces?
If you have problems with all three steps don't try the simple change, your horse isn't ready to do it yet.
Try to unpick what your horse has difficult with, and then put in exercises to help him to progress and develop his balance, responsiveness, obedience and thoroughness.
Start off by riding simple transitions from walk to halt, and expect your horse to stand relaxed. Once your horse can do that easily move on to making the transition from trot to walk, and only walk for 3 steps and then pick the trot up again. This is usually where the first problems start to occur. Firstly, the horse does not stay round and soft through both transitions. And also that the rhythm in the trot is not consistent, and also that the work may become tense and hurried. Frequently the horse will become hollow as he makes his upward transition to trot.
Work with one problem at a time! Wherever you have a difficulty assess where the difficulty is and then work at improving that difficulty.
The canter starts from the outside hind leg which is brought more forward underneath the horse's centre of gravity. It is easier for the horse and rider to find the exact moment during the slower walk than the trot. The rider will then learn to feel the exact moment in the walk when to ask for canter.
It is always easier to learn a new exercise on a horse that is established, but that is not always possible. Make sure that you have an active walk, and that you give a correct half halt (with your weight, legs and reins) to get the horse's attention, and put the balance back to the hind legs. You must be able to give the correct strike up aid as well.
Move your weight towards the inside seat bone. The inside leg is close to the girth, to ask for the strike up. The outside leg is further behind the girth to support the quarters. The rider's weight and leg aids stay in the same position all the time the horse is cantering.
The inside rein asks the horse to flex to the inside. The outside rein allows the flexion, but controls the outside shoulder. The inside rein must soften as the horse makes the strike up to allow the horse to come through on the correct leg. The co-ordination and timing is so important, because without that the horse will not be able to make a smooth transition. This is necessary to teach the young horse to strike up on the correct leg.
Use small 10 metre circle to help teach the horse to make the correct strike up. Use the same place several times so that the horse learns from the consistency. The horse will start to anticipate the canter transition, and this anticipation will be a good thing, as it will help to teach the horse the canter transition.
It will also be useful to use the voice to help the horse make the upward transition. Say and canter just as you apply the aids to canter.
Another good exercise is to have 4 walk poles on the centre line, to encourage the walk to be active. Ride over the poles and make a canter transition to the right canter every time after the poles. When your horse can walk over the poles and canter right without coming above the bit, running or losing balance, then do the same with the left canter. Once the horse can do that staying round, balanced and not coming against the hand, go on to making a simple change.
Firstly perfect the walk to canter transitions first. Then work on the canter to walk transitions. With time and patience, you will be able to teach your horse to make a simple change. Always analysis where the problem is, go back a step and practice something that the horse finds easy, and then move on to tackle the harder problems. Praise good work and effort, correct every not so good transition and repeat. A horse learns through repetition.
- Julia Buckle. British Dressage trainer. Tel 0781 8096113