Dressage For The Non-Horsey Boyfriend Part 8: Change Of Directions

Changing of direction seems to be an easy task and is definitely one that is pretty often overlooked (by me). Indeed, even the easiest forms of changing direction can be tricky. And not only the advanced forms are a good way to test whether your horse is really straight and supple.

According to the FEI rule book, change of direction can be defined as follows:
1. At changes of direction, the Horse should adjust the bend of his body to the curvature of the line it follows, remaining supple and following the indications of the Athlete, without any resistance or change of pace, rhythm or speed. 
2. Changes of directions can be executed in the following ways: 
  • a. Right-angled turn including riding through the corner (one -1- quarter of a volte of approx. six -6- metres). 
  • b. Short and long diagonal. 
  • c. Half voltes and half circles with change of rein. 
  • d. Half pirouettes and turn on the haunches. 
  • e. Serpentine loops. 
  • f. Counter-changes of hand (in zig-zag). Zig-zag: A movement containing more than two (2) half-passes with changes of direction.
The Horse should be straight for a moment before changing direction.

So, the horse should easily follow the indication of the rider, remain straight, supple, at the same rhythm and connection. Truth is, Hafl used to (and still does sometimes) to use the diagonals for gaining speed.

Right-angled turns are not too common in Austrian tests in the lower levels. Only a few times you are asked to turn right at E in the trot as a preparation for a halt at X followed by a rein back. Later, right-angled turns are the pre-movement for walk pirouettes.

Diagonals are still a nightmare in my head, especially when it comes to lengthenings (medium or extended trot and canter). As a result of a bad corner, Hafl oftentimes lacks contact, gets above the bit and thus, loses suppleness. I am especially afraid of short diagonals in canter as we used to have real issues with getting through that angle in a real and good canter. Not only once we were more or less traveling in a four-beat half trot canter and ended up in a terrible counter canter. Now, I am still not a huge fan of these diagonals though I have to admit that we became a lot better. There is just one thing that we will never get right: those arena letters! Still today, I have to look them up before riding a test - what a shame!

Half voltes are pretty common towards third level as they are often used in between shoulder/haunches ins. Just at the last show I talked to my barn owner and she claimed that most of the riders get the first half right and miss the second half of this movement. And it is true, most of the time, the first half volte is pretty round with a steady bend and rhythm, the second one is often too small or we loose rhythm due to the preparation for the following shoulder in (or whatever). Actually, you could easily get points here so what you need to do at home is: practice precision! In between those voltes, the horse needs to be straight for a few strides. A fact, that I did not realize in the beginning of my riding career. Controlling shoulders and haunches is essential when changing directions, even more when you are on a curved line.

Pirouettes and serpentine loops will be covered in an additional post.

Zig zags are one of the most beautiful movements when you ask me. A horse that is easily capable to swing from one side to the other in half pass is a proof of real suppleness and when done with ease it just feels like AAAHHHHHHH. Right now, our few trot zig zag attempts were far from supple and easy, thank God it will still take some time until we really need them. The most difficult part of these zig zags is definitely the one stride where you need to shift the haunches.

Changes of directions are a movement per se and not just there for changing rein. Some of them will even accompany you through your whole life as dressage rider - diagonals, be my friend, you will even be there in Grand Prix...

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