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How to Ride a Simple Change

simple change dressage


The simple change is a movement that appears in some dressage tests. 

Contrary to what its name would have you believe, there’s nothing “simple” about it. 

As the rider, you need to be very clear and coordinated with your aids, and your horse needs to respond to them almost instantaneously for this movement to be smooth and seamless. 

So, in this article, we will look at what a simple change is, why you would want to ride one, and the steps on how to ride a simple change correctly, along with some bonus training tips.  

What is a simple change?

A simple change is a way of changing your horse’s canter lead.

In essence, it’s canter-walk-canter.

The two canters are punctuated by three to five clear walk steps, resulting in a change of canter lead.

For example, you would be cantering on the right leading leg, transition to walk for a few steps, and then pick up canter on the left leading leg. 

Why ride a simple change?

Aside from being an efficient way to change your horse’s canter lead, the main reason for teaching and training your horse to execute high-quality simple changes is that this exercise is a precursor to the more advanced movement of flying changes. 

If your simple changes are straight, balanced, and relaxed, with your horse continuing to work forwards into the bridle, then, more than likely, your flying changes will also have these qualities. 

Conversely, if your simple changes display tension, crookedness, and a lack of balance, you will find flying changes very difficult. 

Other reasons for simple changes include the following:

  • To teach your horse to be reactive to your leg and seat aids. 
  • To encourage your horse to close his frame and flex his hind legs. 
  • To test the trueness of your connection through your horse’s back to the contact.
  • To test and improve the coordination of your aids. 
  • To test your ability to influence your horse. 

The simple change dressage test progression

The simple change 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, you must canter onto diagonal lines, which tests your horse’s balance, coordination, and relative engagement.

Related Read: How to Keep Your Horse Balanced When Cantering Across a Diagonal

In the Novice tests, you must ride walk to canter and make transitions via trot on straight lines, again testing whether your horse’s balance is coming onto his hind legs.

If you have trained these movements diligently, the simple change is a natural follow-on for your horse. 

Before teaching your horse the simple change

It’s best to teach your horse this movement in two halves; the walk to canter, and the canter to walk.

You should be able to ride both of these transitions correctly and individually before attempting to string them together for the simple change. 

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On top of that, for your simple changes to be a success, you also want to have the following qualities. 

  • Your horse’s canter must have a clear three-beat rhythm and a moment of suspension. 
  • You must have an independent use of your seat, core, leg, and rein aids. 
  • You must be able to ride an effective half-halt, and your horse must respond to the aid correctly, i.e., by bringing his hind legs more underneath his body towards his center of gravity. 
  • You must be able to regulate your horse’s tempo (speed of the rhythm) while maintaining his impulsion. 
  • You should have some ‘ratchets’ in the canter that allow you to close and open your horse frame, showing increased flexion and power of your horse’s hindquarters.  

If you can tick all those boxes, teaching your horse the simple change should be a doddle. 

Where to ride a simple change

During a dressage test, you cannot choose where you ride your simple change. But during training, you have the luxury of being able to ride the exercise wherever you like. 

If it is the first time you are training simple changes, then you want to set your horse up for success and make it as easy as possible for him to respond to your requests correctly. For this reason, it’s best to start teaching them on two half-circles or via a figure of eight

For example, ride a half 10-meter circle to the left in left canter, transition to walk, and then transition into right canter and ride a half 10-meter circle to the right. 

The circles help to engage and balance your horse’s canter, and they also assist in helping you get the correct canter stride off when changing leading legs. 

Riding a simple change on a straight line is more challenging because you must change the canter lead without the assistance of changing direction. Therefore, you should only ride this exercise on straight lines once you and your horse are more proficient. 

Alternatively, you can train the exercise around a square, with the transitions to walk and canter ridden in the corners. The right-angle corners will help you close your horse’s frame and maintain relaxation in the walk. It will also help your horse to develop more balance and engagement. 

How to ride a simple change

Here are three steps to help your ride a simple change. 

Step 1 – Canter

As you approach the area where you want to ride a simple change, prepare your horse’s canter for the downward transition to walk by collecting it through the use of your seat and your half-halt. 

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You don’t want to slow your horse’s canter down. Instead, focus on maintaining the activity of your horse’s hindlegs, with your horse’s shoulders becoming more elevated and the canter strides covering less ground. 

TEST TIP:

If a dressage test asks for a simple change over X, you need to transition to walk before X.

If you transition at X, you’re too late. You need to transition to walk before X, walk over X, and then transition to canter. 

Step 2 – Walk

Ask your horse to transition from canter into walk by moving your outside leg from behind the girth forward to its neutral position and sitting deeper and taller in the saddle. At the same time, close your hand into a fist and stop following your horse’s movement with your hips. 

NOTE: The terms “inside” and “outside” do not refer to your horse’s position within the arena. Instead, they refer to the direction in which your horse is bent and/or flexed. For example, if your horse is in left canter and bent to the left, your inside would be your left, and your outside would be your right. 

This transition must always be ridden more from your seat than your hand. Dragging your horse into walk by the reins will only cause him to come against the bit, to hollow, and become tense, possibly leading to jogging in the walk and crookedness. 

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Once your horse transitions to walk, although the walk should remain collected, you need to allow him to move forwards by allowing with your reins, relaxing your seat, and following his movement once again with your hips. 

Do not keep the handbrake on because, again, this could cause tension, crookedness, and jogging. As soon as your horse walks, let him walk! 

Next, you need to change your horse’s flexion and prepare your horse for the transition back into canter on the opposite leading leg. 

TRAINING TIP: 

During a competition, the dressage test will specify how many walk steps you must perform, usually 3-5. In this case, you need to count your horse’s steps, as doing more or less will lose you marks. 

However, during the early stages of training, it’s best not to focus on the number of walk steps and, instead, only transition back into canter when your horse feels balanced and sufficiently prepared. This will help ensure you have a correct and balanced canter depart. 

Step 3 – Canter

Once your horse is balanced and ready, ask him to transition into canter by sliding your new outside leg back behind the girth, giving a downward-forward push with your new inside seat bone, and applying your inside leg at the girth. 

Avoid your horse staying too upright in the transition to canter, thereby coming off the contact. Instead, you want your horse to execute a forward transition, continuing to cover ground and stretching into the contact, so you need to ride forwards throughout the transition.  

Common faults with the simple change

There are several faults and problems seen in simple changes, and we’re going to go through three of the most common. 

Fault 1 – Horse pitches onto the forehand 

This fault usually happens because the initial canter was out of balance. So, as you transition to walk, all your horse’s weight goes onto his shoulders, leaving you with a literal uphill battle to get your horse off his forehand in preparation for the transition back into canter. 

The best way to avoid this is to take your time in preparing your horse’s canter beforehand. Ensure he is suitably balanced and in a relative degree of self-carriage before asking for the downward transition to walk. 

TIP: You can test your horse’s self-carriage by riding a small give and retake with your inside rein. 

Fault 2 – Horse jogs during the walk

Jogging during the walk can be caused by several reasons, but most commonly due to tension, anticipation, and/or the rider using too much hand. 

Tension

If your horse is not mentally and physically relaxed, he will not maintain a correct and clear 4-beat walk sequence. If this is the case, you must establish your horse’s relaxation before re-attempting this exercise. 

Anticipation

After a few attempts, your horse may begin to anticipate the walk-to-canter transition and, therefore, start to jog. 

If this happens, ride the exercise in different places of the arena and don’t always transition back into canter. For example, you could transition to collected walk and then allow your horse to walk on a long rein for a few steps. 

By changing it up, your horse won’t know what is coming next and will be less inclined to anticipate. 

Rider using too much hand

As mentioned above, if you use too much hand when transitioning into walk, that backward pressure can cause your horse to hollow and become tense, leading to jogging. 

The downward transition must be ridden more from your seat aids than your reins. 

Fault 3 – Horse picks up the incorrect canter lead

This fault usually occurs because you have asked for the canter transition without first preparing your horse and/or aiding correctly. 

During the walk, you need to flex your horse in the new direction and be clear with your canter aids for the desired leading leg (i.e., inside leg at the girth, outside leg behind the girth, and weight in your inside seat bone). 

If, after the 3-5 walk steps specified in the dressage test, you do not feel your horse is ready to transition, then don’t. Take an extra step or two to ensure you are both prepared for a clean canter strike-off. You may lose a mark for the additional walk steps, but you will lose many more marks if your horse strikes off on the incorrect leading leg. 

Perfecting the simple change

Once you and your horse can do canter-walk-canter, diligent practice of this movement will add quality to your horse’s overall way of going. 

This is because, during the downward transition to walk, your horse is encouraged to “sit” more onto his hind leg, with his hindquarters taking more weight. And during the upward transition to canter, your horse should “push” that weight upwards and forwards. 

So, the downward transition encourages the hind legs to become more weight-bearing, and the upward transition promotes more power. And these two qualities work together to improve each other. So, your canter to walk will improve your walk to canter and vice versa. 

These qualities will also improve your horse’s overall balance, strength, collection, and self-carriage, tune your horse into your seat and weight aids and add quality to your horse’s overall canter.

In conclusion

Simple changes are canter-walk-canter. They are used as an efficient way to change your horse’s canter lead and to prepare him for the more advanced movement of flying changes. 

It’s best to start with the walk-canter and canter-walk transitions individually before attempting to connect them to create the not-so-simple simple change. 

During training, it’s best to introduce this exercise on two half-circles, focusing on the quality of the individual transitions instead of the number of walk steps. (You can count the walk steps once your horse becomes more proficient at the exercise.) 

And finally, remember that simple changes should always be ridden more from the seat and leg than from the hand.

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