May 6, 2021

Lesson Wrap-Up: OLGW Fixed the Simple Changes Without Even Seeing Them (!)

Last night in my weekly virtual lesson, when GP trainer asked what I wanted to work on, I said simple changes, and the first one I did, I barely had to try for and it was effortless and flawless in a way I have never felt before.

"Holy shit!" I said probably too loudly into the microphone, "What just happened?!" 

"Balance," she said, "He was in a good balance from the moment you did the upward transition and he wasn't leaning on his underneck or either of your reins. The moment he uses his underneck against you, you're cooked."

He looks SO GOOD right now. Even over video GP trainer noticed how much muscle he's put on in his butt lately, and he has dapples and this gorgeous chocolate chestnut color that only lasts a month.

She had had me start the movement from the halt, where I briefly asked him to "look into a bucket," one of OLGW's phrases. I ask him to go slightly behind the vertical for a moment and completely release his underneck and make sure he's following his nose in both reins before asking him to walk on and then canter.

But I didn't just let him walk off however he wanted. I was to make sure his "breastplate" stayed up and that he didn't plow forward and down into the walk in a poor balance. If we didn't do the transition right, we stopped, did a reinback and did it again until it was good, because it mattered to the quality of the simple change that much. Connor naturally wants to initiate walking off from the halt with his front feet, which means I have to fix the balance of the walk first thing (and I often don't and just deal with the consequences).

I don't really have a good picture of it, but in this one you can see his weight is a little more over his forehand than his hind end, although this is way better than it can be. He's very comfortable keeping his feet where they are in this picture, but moving his bodyweight and torso more forward, to where the front legs aren't so perpendicular to the ground. If he walks off like that, we're asking for poor quality from the moment he steps off.


I asked for some first toolkit instructions for how to get him to walk off in better balance and start the transition from the hind feet, and she told me to ask the front feet to stay stationary by holding the reins steady while telling the hind feet to step toward the front feet by closing my legs.

Balance wasn't the whole problem though. Olivia really identified a key issue last weekend (which, credit where credit is due, my GP trainer has also harped on me about this for a year now, but her solution wasn't quite as crystal clear to me as Olivia's). If he's not supple enough to follow each rein, particularly the inside rein in turns, that means he's locked up against me in one or the other rein, and I have no chance of riding the simple change from my inside leg to my outside rein, which IT TURNS OUT is very important and I have not been doing that this whole time.

So while cantering, I would be on a circle, asking his body to follow his nose a la the Olivia exercise from last weekend, while also really exaggerating my inside leg to outside rein aids to prepare for and execute the transition. To the point that I was almost leg yielding him out of the circle in canter, which, I won't always do it that extremely, but it sure helped me understand the feeling of what I should be doing.

I still haven't found a reliable way to screen record virtual lessons, so how about another pic of the kid?


We probably did 15 simple changes total in both directions last night, and 13 of them were flawless. The two that weren't were both in his tough direction, and in both times she immediately said, "What rein did he lock up on during that?" and I said "Inside" and she had me get him following his nose again, try again and then it was perfect.

I'm trying not to let myself attach too much importance to last night or get too excited, because this is horses and Dressage: odds are I'll come out tonight and not be able to ride a single one. But it really feels like I'm starting to understand how the basics affect things like simple changes, and it feels like I'm really learning how to RIDE Second Level all of a sudden, which has me so excited for the future.


  1. So exciting! Riding: so simple, yet so hard.

  2. I taught several lessons about the breastplate yesterday! So glad to hear you're having some lasting effects from these lessons!

    1. I definitely am, the yo-yo of learning something, forgetting it, and re-learning it six months later hasn't happened in a while.

  3. Inside leg to outside rein is SO freaking hard. And SO freaking important. Ugh! lol
    Sounds like an amazing lesson!

  4. I love it when fixing something in another area dramatically improves a movement you weren't even working on. I can get so stuck in my head about certain things that sneaking up on them from another direction can sometimes be the best way to untangle the mess. Also, definitely don't mind the baby pics thrown in!

  5. I swear that we have the same struggles. I liked reading about your lesson. it gave me something to think about.

  6. Such a great recap of your work- thank you! I think what you're describing here is a really common "hole" that many of us, definitely me included, find we have to go back and muddle through more thoroughly as we progress due to not being quite picky enough (or educated enough) when learning transitions the first time. And talented horses make everything feel "correct" even when they're cheating a bit, so knowing the difference takes time and is tricky. I've found it crucial to have my cob truly in front of my leg and hot off my aids, or else he just does not move into the contact correctly and literally nothing works. It's like a car coasting in neutral rather than being in gear. It's a pretty little sports car either way, but it's not going anywhere unless it's in gear... ;)

    Another thing we struggle with too that you mentioned–"lifting" with the lower neck. Cobs with their strong, nicely attached necks that make that particular vice all too easy...It's a long road to break that habit and develop the necessary muscles for them to stop doing that, and it relates back to them being in front of the leg enough to move out and into the contact. Of course they usually look beautiful and "on the bit" even when they're cheating, so I have found that some trainers don't press the issue.

    I have to always think "shoulder fore" in every single transition with my guy to keep flexion in the poll and softness through his neck. Riding voltes with a thought of haunches-in is also helpful, and leg-yields where you make sure the RIB CAGE is leading (not the shoulders and definitely not the haunches), to increase engagement and suppleness (holding in the neck can be a compensation for stiffness through the mid-body.) One more to play with–turn on the haunches at the walk, or a small walk pirouette, and then changing bend and cantering off on a 10 or 15-meter circle in the new direction. That ones REALLY gets them UNDER themselves and helps with balance. And they're not allowed to used their necks--keep the flexion, keep the softness, keep the relaxation, keep the activity in the walk.

    You're working on stuff that will come into play with your flying changes and just about every other upper level movement, so keep at it and rest assured it's all important even when it feels repetitive or basic. That's the beauty and the pain of Dressage!!

    1. Holy cow, I've been blogging for a decade and I think this is the best comment I've ever gotten, thank you for taking the time to type out such an insightful response. You're so right on everything you said, particularly the need for him to be in front of my leg for anything to work and how they can look on the bit even when they're not. There's such a fine balance to having enough forward/in front of the leg and the balance quality suffering for it, which I think is one of the things that has made him so tricky for me to ride.

      Thank you SO much for those exercise suggestions! Some of those we have touched on in the past but I haven't done in a while, and some of those I've done something similar but not that exact thing, and I'll certainly give them a try. The leg yielding ribcage first - my former home trainer had us do that, I called them "crappy leg yields", lol, but they really helped unlock his body. Maybe I should add those to my warmup.

      Thanks you again for all of this, I very much appreciate the insight from someone who has a very similar horse and knows my pain (and joy)!

  7. I feel like simple changes are a rite of passage, even more so than flying changes! Still hate them lol

    1. They really are. Blogger Karen once said the same thing to me, and it made me feel a lot better about struggling with them for so long.