Category Archives: qotm archives

Past Questions of the Month are listed below in chronological order.  Just click on the Question to pull up Bill’s Answers.

Flying change ideas

QOTM: I need flying change exercises. I’m currently doing them sporadically whenever I can just pick up the canter and just go until he’s not thinking about it and then throwing one in. Ideas?

Flying changes are complicated “until they aren’t!” There are a whole bunch of exercises, but which can be most useful often depend on your horse’s attitude towards the whole project.
Yes, a balanced counter canter is a major steppingstone. You can take advantage of a certain amount of anticipation by doing them a few times in the same place, then changing things up enough that you are sure he will wait for the actual aids and not get too far ahead of you.
I prefer doing them in the beginning at a point where it is clear he should come to the other lead – that is either at a corner or at a turn where you can simultaneously change the direction and the lead. Examples: counter canter on the long side with the change at F before the corner turning towards A; cantering the diagonal and holding the lead through the corner. Changing before the second corner as you turn onto the next long side; turning across the arena on the perpendicular from E to B and asking for the change at the second quarterline before the right turn.
It’s also helpful to be pushing the horse a bit laterally into the direction of the old lead (which will become the new outside after the change). In a space larger than a standard arena, ride counter canter on the 20 meter circle. Ride an expanding half pass pushing the horse onto a larger circle and into what will become the new outside leg. Be sure to change your leg position a stride before you want to give the actual change indicator. That new outside leg behind the girth is the “cue,” but support it with the new inside leg active at the girth.
One thing to remember is that if you don’t get the change, most of the time the solution is NOT to use stronger aids the next time. instead, go back and use other exercises which will sharpen him without making him angry— quick trot/halt/trot transitions, leg yield and counter leg yield a few steps each emphasizing how promptly he will shift his balance and answer your seat; combinations of forward then yield then halt then back then forward then yield the other way. Anything that quickens him to the aids and makes his balance more readily adjustable.
Another good one is to ride counter canter and leg yield him away from the rail to the quarter line. Immediately half pass back out to the track. Do it twice and the third time instead of leg yielding, change the bend, turn onto the beginning of a 10 or 15 meter half circle and immediately ask for the change.
Asking over a ground pole In the beginning can also help him understand and not worry too much.
Try those for starters. Which ever ones you use—and there are plenty more—a critical factor is to be sure that your hips and the horse’s motion are in sync. Even just for a single change, always count down to it. Don’t just count down “intellectually,” but feel the count through yours and your horse’s bodies. “THREE TWO ONE CHANGE!” On the three and the two be making your horse straight and balanced with half halts in the rhythm of the stride. At “one” move your former inside leg back to become the new outside leg. At “change” firmly use that leg behind the girth while your new inside hip slides forward, your new inside leg at the girth activates the inside hind, and the new outside rein half halt makes the old leading foreleg wait.

Read More

What’s the right tempo for my horse?

BILL— The right tempo depends on what you are trying to accomplish at that moment. If you are in the show ring, there will be a tempo – not always the same for each horse – that shows off his gait the best. There are always a bunch of qualities which factor into your choice. While you don’t want your horse to be quick, sometimes one which has a less engaged, expressive trot will track up a bit better if his tempo is slightly faster. If you make it too rapid, however, it just looks tight and unsightly. At the other extreme if he has lift but not much thrust, he may appear to hover. Then a bit more tempo can invite him to cover more ground.

Read More

A Contradictory Clinician

I have a past middle-aged novice student with physical insecurities and a passion for over-reading and over-thinking about her riding. She has been progressing nicely – appropriately — but she recently rode in a clinic where both she and her horse were overfaced and overstressed well beyond their abilities. Roweled spurs, a lot of driving and struggling. Two unhappy campers. What should I do or say?

Read More

What about when it feels too heavy? Roxanne in MT

BILL— First, have someone whose knowledge you trust look at what’s going on with your horse and see if your perceptions are correct. There’s butterfly light, chiffon light, and “light truck” light. There’s heavy cream, heavy rain, and a 747 Heavy. If you’re tentative in your riding or new to dressage, it’s not unusual to err on the side of lightness, often to the point of barely taking a passive contact. In training, “lightness” is an ongoing goal, but you’ll run into instances where it can’t be your primary concern. You never lose the thought of it, but solving another issue short term may take precedence.

Read More

How can I convince my friend her circles aren’t round?

BILL— Everyone from time to time needs a visit from the Geometry Police. We see circles which are flat sided, ones which go into corners, and ones which begin and end at the wrong place. We draw our students elaborate diagrams of “tangent points” replete with eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one. We distribute the Cones of Shame in the arena. Sometimes none of it does any good because they have convinced themselves that their circles are already round enough.

Read More

Does it hurt them to have other people get on my horses?

BILL— It can be good or it can be bad pending on a lot of factors, namely what the riders are like and the temperament and level of training of the horse in question. The first thing to resolve is your motivation. Is this to benefit you, the other rider, or the horse?
One of the most memorable rides in my life was in December 1974 when one evening at the Poulins’ I was invited to have a short ride on a Hanoverian mare who had been the reserve horse on the Canadian team at the Munich Olympics. It was all carefully supervised of course, but it did great things for my self esteem as well as giving me a new, very meaningful reference point.
It’s a great gift to be able to bestow on someone if you have a special horse that they can learn from. That said, the most important quality that a rider must possess to be allowed to ride your horse(s) is judgment – knowing what she is capable of and what she should leave alone.
If it’s a question of allowing a person more knowledgeable than yourself to get on your horse, their judgment and your trust in them are still the operant qualities. From my personal viewpoint I feel that anyone who rides with me should-– if I deem it useful– be willing to let me on their horse. I think I know enough at this point in my career not to bite off a lump I can’t chew!
I can think of several examples, however, where a rider did not want a particular clinician climbing on their horse to show off in a way that could be detrimental to his ultimate training. That is a difficult circumstance! On the other hand, If the owner knows the horse has some dangerous behavior that hides under the surface and does not want anyone else getting on, that is understandable.
Ruling out such instances, by and large it is not only valuable to get on other people‘s horses but also to see a more advanced rider working yours. Sometimes a new slant on an old problem works wonders.

Read More

A Kind of Show Warm Up

At a show recently, I was watching my friend warm up for her first level test 3 class. Her horse, an OTTB, was being very tense and anxious with all the other horses. Her trainer took her to an outside, very quiet arena and told her to ‘just trot big’. She let the horse go very long and low in a pretty big trot doing circles and figure 8s. As the ride time got closer, they gathered and did a couple of trot to canter transitions. They really did not school any test movements. She actually scored high enough for a wild card invite to Nationals.
Should I consider warming up my horse like this?

Read More