Well, I know that you can change directions just by turning around and going the other way! That's not exactly what I'm talking about! 😉
There are four basic ways you can change directions in the dressage ring. The figures are designed to help you and your horse change rein without losing balance or forward energy. There are several goals for these figures:
- smooth change of direction (no cutting corners or diving)
- allow time for the horse to go straight a few strides between bends
- allow time for the inside hind leg to come deeper under the body to help in maintaining balance through the change
- allow (encouragement) for energy to be maintained
Across the Diagonal
The key to the change of rein across the diagonal is to ride a good corner. Instead of cutting through the corner on an angle, go straight so that you have the 3 or 4 strides to prepare for the turn. You can do a shoulder-fore as you turn so that you are already bent slightly in the direction of the turn that's coming up.
Then ride out to the corner letter, aim straight into the diagonal line, and head off in a powerful trot through to center line. You will have plenty of time to establish flexion for the new bend, long before you get to the rail at the far end. Then go into the corner again, shoulder-fore position to set up for the new bend.
Through Center Line (E to B or B to E)
You can also change reins across center line. This line is shorter than the diagonal lines and requires a tighter turn going into and out of the line. However, the set up is exactly the same.
According to this diagram, you'll be on the right rein coming toward E. Three or so strides before E, establish flexion and set up the shoulder-fore position. This will help your horse engage the inside hind leg, create a small bend, and position into the turn, before turning.
Then turn before you get to E. If you wait for E, your turn will end up drifting too far off the line, and you won't pass over X.
Straighten as you go over X, then prepare for the turn at B, exactly as you did for E.
This change of direction is more difficult simply because of the smaller space available, but it does help you and your horse learn to bend, balance and bend again.
I use this type of change of direction on the S-change pattern.
The Tear Drop
I personally love the tear drop and use it many times in a riding session. The straight line up the rail allows your horse to develop strength and momentum, and the half-circle after S helps to contain the energy. You can do a 10 or 15-meter half circle at the top of the tear drop, depending on your level of training. Leave the rail after S and keep the circle even. You might notice that the horse has a tendency to drift on the turn, either going too far towards C or to the opposite rail.
That is the fun of the tear drop! You will learn how to use your outside rein to contain the size of the circle, as there are no walls to help you!
After the half-circle, you head back to the corner letter (V in this example) on a straight diagonal line. Then you have the corner again, this time in the opposite direction.
Lots there to keep you and your horse attentive!
You can then go on to doing a new tear drop on the opposite rail in the new direction.
Well this one is a given, but it's not necessarily easy to do without enough practice. The line is long! It takes even strength in the hind legs and even aids from the rider to move straight for that many strides.
The tricky part of making your center line land ON the center line is that you have to start the turn long before you get to the letter (A or C). Just like the E to B line, if you wait for the letter, you'll overshoot the line by several strides.
If you are using a regulation size ring, you might be surprised at how quickly you have to turn. It's only 10 meters from the corner to the middle letter, so you basically have to start turning as you complete the corner, and keep turning until you are on the straight line. Many riders drift on these turns and it might take some time for you to get a good feel of the size and shape of those turns.
Well, there you have it!
You can use these changes of directions at any gait. If you are in canter, you can do a simple change through trot or walk. Or if you're advanced, you can do a flying change at the middle point of the line. The key is to stay on the line while you change leads.
The next time you want to change directions, think of one of these figures and plan ahead to make them smooth, balanced, strong in gait, and accurate. Work those bends so that you develop your horse's lateral suppleness.
And most importantly - have fun!
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If you like this article, here are more fun patterns to take with you to the barn: