Training Tips with Hannah Bown

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Hannah Bown is an amateur dressage rider who switched from eventing just over two years ago to concentrate solely on dressage. Her young horse, Sandro’s Storm (Stanley) has been produced entirely from scratch by Hannah herself, working up through the levels of affiliated dressage. The highlight of their career so far is being crowned British Dressage Novice Restricted Winter Champions earlier this year. Here Hannah shares her first-hand experience of teaching the preparation stages of the flying change…

Producing my own horse (with the help of some very good instructors) has taught me a great deal, not least that ensuring all the basics are in place before beginning to teach them a new movement. This is highly necessary. Rushing them without adequate preparation can be counterproductive and undo a lot of hard work! As we have our sights set on top hat and tails we have recently begun the journey to teach Stanley flying changes.

It is a common mistake for the fore limbs to change on one stride and the hind legs a stride later, however a true, correct change will all happen within a single moment of suspension.

Once we were happy that Stanley had an active, engaged working canter it was important, before introducing the flying changes, to carry out a range of exercises to teach him to collect, take more weight onto the hind legs and elevate the forehand to create the moment of suspension that allows the change of canter lead.

It is a common misconception that collection is about asking the horse to go slower; instead it is important to create a more compressed canter whilst maintaining the same activation. We started teaching collection on a 20m circle, asking him to move forward for half a circle in medium canter and then asking him to collect, moving him slightly shoulder-fore which helps to compress the canter whilst using my inside leg to keep the rhythm and activation of his hind leg, not letting it become slow and laboured.

At this time, it is also good to ensure that they are reactive to the aids. Stanley tended to drop behind the leg when he found the exercise hard, we corrected this by using a sharp, fast aid ‘out of time’ with his stride to wake him up again. It is important that the horse reacts to the aids but does not overreact as this can create tension and prevent the relaxation and suppleness needed to create the change.

Leg yielding, both from the centre line to the track and from the track to the centre line, is another exercise we use regularly to encourage weight to be taken onto the outside hind leg, again improving the strength and ability of the horse to sit and collect.  

As he learnt to truly collect in the canter we introduced simple changes to further develop his ability to ‘sit’. We started teaching him this exercise on a circle, collecting the canter with half halts and spiralling in to a small circle before asking for walk. Using a circle helps to keep the hind leg engaged and moving forward at all times. It is important to collect the canter before the transition, preventing them becoming unbalanced onto the forehand in the downward transition creating jog steps rather than a direct transition into the walk.

Once he was consistently doing these transitions well, we progressed this exercise to doing them on the centre line in the middle of two half 10m circles ensuring that Stanley stayed forward and straight during the upwards transitions. Over time it is possible to decrease the number of walk steps done, the horse is then listening to the aids and learning quickly to change the bend and balance to allow for a flying change.

Balance in counter-canter, not only on straight lines but also whilst doing counter-canter circles, is also incredibly important before asking for changes. It is important to make sure that the horse is still flexible in the jaw, bending in each direction equally, and able to remain supple over the back without carrying any tension. This allows greater activation of the canter. We frequently ask for Stanley to move forward and back in the counter-canter to ensure that he stays in a true balance and has a good connection into the rein.

Once these basics are in place, your horse is listening, light on the forehand, in true balance and remaining soft and active in a collected canter then you can move on to asking for the flying change itself. With Stanley, because he is still competing at elementary level we did not want him to forget about his counter-canter and therefore our initial changes were done from counter-canter itself.

We begun by riding a half 10m circle at H and returning to the track at K, doing counter-canter around the end of the arena and down the next long side keeping the canter collected and sitting but with activity. As we approached M I asked for the change and subtly changed the bend, still ensuring we kept the new outside rein to maintain straightness and prevent the quarters swinging out as this often causes them to be late behind in the flying change.

As with every exercise it is important to praise the correct changes, but to ignore the ‘bad’ changes, which may include a range of acrobatics whilst they are learning. From experience horses work far better from positive rewards and if the basics are in place it won’t take long for them to work it out.

Hannah feeds Stanley on Fibre-Beet, a Super-Fibre conditioning feed with added high quality alfalfa for optimum condition and to provide quality protein for muscle tone and function. Alfalfa can also help with topline or simply help maintain weight and a healthy, shiny coat.