Simple changes are a precursor to the more advanced flying changes.
Here’s a helpful guide on how to ride a good simple change.
What is a simple change?
A simple change is a way of changing the canter lead. The two canters are punctuated by three to five clear walk steps, resulting in a change of canter lead.
In essence, it’s canter – walk – canter.
This movement is first required at elementary level in British Dressage dressage tests. However, building exercises are demonstrated in the preliminary and novice tests.
In the preliminary tests, the horses must canter onto diagonal lines to test their balance, coordination, and relative engagement.
In the novice tests, the horses must transition into canter from walk and make serial transitions via trot on straight lines, again testing whether the balance is coming onto the hind legs.
If the rider has trained these movements diligently, the simple change is a natural follow-on to the horse.
The quality of the canter
Before the rider can teach their horse to perform a simple change, they must first analyze the quality of the horse’s canter.
The canter must have a clear three-beat rhythm and a moment of suspension.
The horse must be prepared to flex the joints in the hindquarters and bring the hind legs more under the body towards the center of gravity, whilst enabling the rider to regulate the tempo (speed of the rhythm) and suppleness.
The rider must have independent use of their seat and core, leg and rein aids.
The rein aids must be suitably refined to enable the rider to use small half-halting motions through the fingers in a closed wrist, whilst not becoming tight in the elbows and arms.
The rider must be able to use their core to stimulate and maintain the exact degree of impulsion they require, whilst encouraging the horse to take preparatory, shorter canter strides.
By now, the rider should have some ‘ratchets’ in the canter – more than just forwards and back; the horse needs to understand more closure of the frame and more forwards ground cover in the canter, for simple changes to become a success.
Teaching the horse the simple change
Think about teaching the horse this movement in two halves. The walk to canter, and the canter to walk.
Some horses respond very well to learning to transition from walk to canter. This should be encouraged, and the rider should be reactive enough to keep the horse looking for and accepting the contact so as to maintain a forwards transition, whilst enabling the horse to learn to ‘push’ off the hind legs.
Try to avoid the horse staying too upright in the walk to canter and hence not really covering enough ground forward. The ‘pushing power’ of the hind legs will then become stronger, and the hindquarters will become more weight-bearing for the downward transition to walk.
The horse will quickly ‘find’ the transitions when he clearly understands that more of the rider’s weight in the saddle, and that the precise distribution of their weight, requires a spontaneous reaction. These transitions demand an instant reaction to the aids, and a subsequent closing of the frame.
The transitions to walk and canter can be ridden around a square to enable the rider to intuitively use the right angles to close the horse, as well as maintaining a relaxation in the walk. From this, the horse will instinctively develop more balance and engagement, as well as a trust in the movement – particularly the walk steps. From this, the timing and flair will develop, which in turn adds quality and self-carriage to the canter which brings high marks in the dressage tests.
Common faults seen in simple changes
There are a number of common faults and problems that are seen in simple changes including:
- initial canter out of balance and against the rider
- horse not really through into the rein contact
- horse not really responsive to the leg, seat, and core aids
- horse hollowing or coming behind the contact
- horse too tense to show any/correct walk steps between the canters
- horse lacking suppleness and preventing the rider from maintaining straightness through the transitions
Any of these faults will lead to large deductions from the marks allocated for this movement in dressage tests.
Simple changes are useful to teach the horse to be reactive to the aids and to test the trueness of the connection through the back to the contact.
Simple changes should always be ridden more from the seat and leg than from the hand.
Use the tips outlined above to perfect your horse’s simple changes and improve his canter as you progress through the levels.