Monday, January 6, 2014

Ask the Judge | 1/6/2014

Questions About Dressage

With Amy McElroy

Amy McElroy is a USEF R judge, qualified to officiate at any USEF recognized show at all national dressage levels. She rides, trains and teaches at Fairlane Farm in Aiken and judges about a dozen dressage shows and events each year. In her popular Ask the Judge column, she answers readers' questions about dressage.

Dear Amy,

I have a lot of experience competing at dressage shows, but I have never done a test that requires a flying change. My horse seems to have a knack for flying changes. Can you recommend a good test for us, and tell me what judges are looking for in this movement?

                                                                                       -Flying High

Dear Flying,

If you are ready to attempt a flying change in the show ring, that means you are ready to compete at Third Level, the level at which flying changes are introduced. There are three tests at Third Level and they all require the flying change.

In Third Level, Test I, two flying changes are required, one in each direction. Each flying change has a coefficient of two, meaning that they have double points, so they are a very important part of your score. Both changes come after a 10-meter canter circle followed by a half diagonal. The flying change occurs when you are on this half diagonal, between the center line and the return to the track. There is not an exact marker for where you should do the flying change, which helps bring ease to the movement. Anywhere between the markers is acceptable and will be considered accurate, but you should strive to perform the change close to the midway point.

In Third Level, Test II, there are four flying changes, two in each direction. Only the first two flying changes have a coefficient of two. The first two changes come after a canter half pass from the center line to the long side, and are asked for on the long side, between the last two letters. Again, there is not an exact marker for where the change should occur. Anywhere between the markers is acceptable and will be considered accurate, but you should strive to perform the change close to the midway point. The second two changes are asked for one two consecutive half diagonals: for example K to B, and then B to H. The flying changes are asked for near the centerline - again, there is no exact placement required. To be considered accurate, the change may occur a horse's length before or after the centerline, but you should strive to have it as close to the centerline as possible.

In Third Level, Test III, there are only two changes called for, and they do not have coefficients of two. However, these changes are much more challenging because they come after a canter half pass from the long side of the centerline. The flying change is asked for on the centerline anywhere between the last two letters. Again, you should strive for a change as close to the midway point as possible, although anywhere between the letters will be considered accurate.

What is a correct flying change of lead:

The change of lead is performed in one canter stride, with the front and hing limbs changing for one lead to the other at the same moment. The change of the leading front and hind leg take place during the moment of suspension, when all four legs are off the ground. For example, the horse goes from left lead to right lead without breaking to a trot or a walk.

Good qualities:

  1. A clean change. This means that the front and back legs change leads simultaneously.
  2. Good ground cover. This means that the horse continues to move forward through the change.
  3. Straightness. The whole body stays straight throughout the movement.
  4. Accurate placement. The change occurs where it is called for on the test.
  5. Maintenance of rhythm and tempo before, during and after the change.
  6. Uphill tendency. This means that the horse carries himself and does not fall on his forehand. 
  7. Ease and fluency. The movements should appear effortless.
  8. Balance. The horse should stay balanced in a collected canter.

Possible Scores; Common Pitfalls & Problems

These problems might result in a possible score of 4 or below (insufficient to not performed):
  • The horse changes "late" behind, meaning that he changes leads in front a stride or more before he changes behind.
  • The horse becomes very crooked in his body or wings from side to side.
  • The rider loses connection with the bit: the horse becomes way above or way behind the bit.
  • The placement of the movement is very inaccurate: it is much too early or too late, meaning that it does not occur between the two markers.
  • The quality of the canter before or after the change suffers greatly.
  • The horse breaks to a trot or a walk.
  • The horse is disobedient: he stops, bucks or rears.
  • The change is not preformed.
To get a 5 (marginal) the change might have some of these problems:
  • The ground cover is very short.
  • The hind legs are too close together.
  • There is some loss of quality of the canter.
  • There is some loss of collection.
  • The change is performed inaccurately; it is either too early or too late. 
  • The change happens, but needs more control.
To get a 6 or a 7 (satisfactory to fairly good) to change might have some of these qualities:
  • The change is clean.
  • The changes is mostly straight, the horse is mostly obedient, although he might need more engagement, uphill tendency, or expressiveness.
To get an 8 to a 10 (good to excellent)
  • The change is clean and very expressive with lots of time in the air.
  • The horse is very straight, very accurate and quite willing.

I think any of the Third Level tests would be a good introduction to the flying change in competition. I would suggest examining the tests and choosing the one that best suits your horse and will show off his changes to the best advantage. Third Level Test I is the simplest because it only asks for two changes, and the canter circle that comes before the change will naturally help collect your horse for the movement.

If you are feeling really confident about your changes, you might prefer Third Level Test II, which will give you four opportunities to show them off. Third Level Test III is the most challenging. Although the flying changes in this test do not have double the points, they are more difficult to perform correctly: you must keep your horse absolutely straight as you are right in front of the judge on the center line. A balanced turn off the center line comes up very quickly after the change. In addition, the expectation of a quality change can be higher, because this test is designed to show the judge that you are ready to move up to the next level. In Fourth level, the changes are more demanding: you much perform them in exact places, and as you progress through the tests, you will begin to do tempi changes. Tempi changes are several changes performed in succession.

Flying changes are fun to do and you are lucky that you and your horse can do them easily. Good luck on your tests.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.