Changes are the mountain on the way to Everest

brett parbery dressage training Aug 10, 2022

If getting to Grand Prix is climbing Mt Everest, training flying changes is getting to one of the camps along the way... an achievement in itself!

Training flying changes can be a stressful few weeks months years. (Side note, one of my Grand Prix horses took two years to get reliable single changes. Two years!!).

Not only do flying changes have a lot of moving parts to contend with from the saddle, they also ask a question to which the answer is very black and white – either the horse changed or the horse didn't change. That clear cut 'yes' or 'no' doesn't have often in dressage. 

Another thing that can unnerve a rider in the changes is that it's not always pretty. In fact it's usually pretty ugly, and you have to throw out that idea that you're riding 'dressage' at that moment and just think about training the horse.

I often find that the moment the words 'flying change' sneak into a riders head, they completely forget about training the horse. Even though you're teaching something new, all the previously trained concepts still apply! 

Let's take the example of a horse that runs off when the aid for the change is applied...



What's going wrong? 

Let's say you're riding across the diagonal and you switch your legs over with the expectation that you want to do a flying change.

From the horse's perspective, he feels the pressure of the aids and he, who is not aware of what a flying change is (does it in the paddock when he falls off balance but that’s about it), feels the pressure go on and the only answer he's got in that moment is to run off. He's not associating (yet) that aid with the new canter.

Now what does that rider do when the horse runs off?

The rider TAKES THE LEG AIDS OFF! So the horse thinks 'ok yep I got it'. Legs on -> run -> reward.


What's a better way to fix this?

The first thing I'd say here is to change the line you ride when asking for the change.

I like to ride from the corner straight towards A or C. On that line you’re going to set the horse up for the change, but DON’T do the change. When you get to the other side of the arena turn onto the rein of the leg you’re already on, then ride it the opposite way. This is step one, to make sure that it isn't the line or diagonal itself that's making the horse anxious.

Step two is to ride the same line but this time switch your legs over and just place them - don't 'apply' the aids, and with no flying change in mind. If the horse goes to run away he is telling you that's what he thinks he's supposed to do. At that exact moment make him wait and say no that's not the correct response. Just keep repeating the line and this process until he becomes with the legs being in the change position without being on as such.

Then I would start to introduce some transitions in the place of the change. For example, do a transition through the walk to the new canter, just to get him used to the idea of changing something at that point of time to change the direction of the canter. This just works on changing the idea of running away to the idea of responding to an aid. 


Train the change!

NOW it’s time to start training to change aid.

What I'm about to say sometimes makes steam come out of riders' ears. You want to almost think about asking for a travers instead of a change aid. It’s the very first moment of the travers aid that you want to ride, where you keep the shoulders out and you ask the hips to step in. That will help you create a hind leg first motion. Of course, you don't go along riding a travers in the wrong canter, that’s not what I mean by saying that. You’re cantering along, you set up, keep your shoulders and you say ‘I want travers…NOW’. What you’re trying to achieve is to get them to flick their hips over, almost like you’re bumping the guy in the back of the horse suit off balance and he chucks his right foot forward, he lands and you keep cantering. 


Thinking about breaking down the training process is key to success, and just because you're training something new doesn't mean your previous training goes out the window. If you were cantering around on a circle and your horse took off you wouldn't accept that, so don't accept it when you’re training changes.

The mountain of training changes is definitely achievable for all riders. It can be steep with some horses and may feel like it might never end but if you stick to a system, break it all down and go one step at a time you will find your way over that peak and on your way to the summit.




Not entirely sure what to work on, especially when you're by yourself?

Unsure if you're focusing on the right things at the right time?

I challenge you to take on my 5 rules to making every dressage training session productive and enjoyable.

It's all in our free guide... 'Beyond the 20 Metre Circle'

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