From Endurance to Dressage
Izzy and I have been working on the flying changes for a what seems like a long time. We made really good progress during the spring, but then the wheels fell off the bus this summer. I wasn't discouraged as I long ago accepted that dressage is a journey with a lot of twists and turns.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, has shown me a lot of different exercises for helping the horse to understand the aids for the flying changes. First and foremost is that the flying change is just another canter stride. Another important element is straightness. Once those two ideas are in place, the rider cues the horse - in my case, I simultaneously switch my seat bones, sweep my new outside leg back, and half halt with the new outside rein.
For most horses, simply setting them up correctly will eventually get you the change. Speedy learned very quickly, but then he had to learn to wait. As soon as we would cross a diagonal, he would get very strong in the bridle and try to change as quickly as he could. I never discipline my horses for an unasked for change, but I did have to try to teach them to do it on my aid. Speedy eventually figured it out.
Izzy has not been nearly as easy to teach. As soon as I straighten him, even down a long side, he gets very anxious about even the idea of a change. He'll either plow through my aids in a quasi-bolt, start swapping leads, or fall into a trot. I've learned that he needs to feel very secure, balanced, and in control before he'll do a change. I can't rush it.
With Sean's help and a bit of my own creativity, I now have a pretty good list of ways to tackle the flying changes. In no particular order:
Do I want him to wait for my aids? Of course! But since he's so worried about it, I decided to let him make the choice whether to change or not. I reasoned that we would either do a counter canter, come back to trot, or do the change. I wasn't worried about the change. I was focused on setting him up correctly for the change so that he was balanced, and it worked!
I repeated the process to the other side, but this time, he let me ask for it. It wasn't pretty of course, but by waiting until he was truly balanced, he was able to do the change without any theatrics. The changes are definitely not confirmed, but I am loving that I can once again play around with them and get it more often than I don't.
On Saturday, the ranch owner watched while I rode. It was really helpful to explain to her what i was doing and why. At the end of my ride, we talked about how nuanced dressage is. There is no end to the variety of exercises that you can employ in a single ride. Things are never exactly the same from one day to the next which makes watching out the window of the journey such a pleasure.
You just never know what is around the next corner.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: