Changing Direction, According to Stephen Birchall

Thanks to The Elusive SprinklerBandit, I remembered one last bit of information from the Stephen Birchall clinic. (Part 1, Part 2) Namely, how to properly change directions and bend.

Since we hit first level and ran up against the hateful 10 meter circle figure-eight from hell, Pig and I have struggled with changing bend calmly.
Oh yeah. That looks reaaaaaal smooth... Though, looking at this video now, I can see his haunches are falling in to the left and I have totally lost the outside shoulder and that is why he is not able to make the change in bend nicely. Oops.
Birchall didn't know this going into our lesson (he hadn't seen me change direction yet when I started asking me to do this exercise), but he explained how he works to teach a horse to change bend right at the start.

Here's the method:
  1. Say you are tracking right. Weight the inside (right) stirrup. Sit heavier to the right. If the horse is reluctant to bend his ribcage, use the inside leg to get him lighten up.
  2. Ask for flexion with inside hand. Important: flexion IS NOT bend. Flexion enhances bend. Get the bend through the body, not with your hand.
  3. Lower the horse's head to make the change of bend easier.
  4. Over X, sit evenly and straighten for a stride.
  5. Step down into new inside stirrup (left) and slightly weight the left more. Use the left leg to get horse to lighten up with ribcage and actually bend. 
  6. Ask for flexion with inside (left) hand. Remember, again, that flexion is not bend.
Boom. It's that simple.

Okay, okay. I won't say that Pig and I went through this flawlessly at first. But, the weighting the inside is something I had totally forgotten, and the refresher was very helpful. It certainly helped us get much looser in our changes of direction, and avoid the Stress Monster. After all... no one wants a visit from the Stress Monster.

Other things to remember:
  • If you lose the outside shoulder, use the outside leg/hip/thigh to get it back. Don't pull back on the outside rein.
  • Change your posting diagonal if posting.
  • If not posting, use your thigh to help guide the horse in the straightening/bend.
  • If your horse tends to get tight and stiffen through the poll/jaw/base of neck keep your fingers moving to keep him loose.
  • Don't forget to keep trotting/walking/cantering with your seat, or the horse will lose impulsion.
Okay. Your turn!
This has nothing to do with this post. I just like watching this consistent working trot.


  1. I don't htink I can do all that in a stride. Yet.

    1. Then take two, or three, or four. And slow down the gait so you have time to think. It's okay to slow it down to make more sense of the whole movement. I had to ride the shoulder-in at a slow poke pace for a year until Pig really understand and I had my aids together.

  2. Interesting. I love the info about changing the weight in your seat.

    1. That's something I never learned in the hunter world, but you can still totally use it by shifting your weight in your stirrups. It really works!

  3. nice point about the weight. changing direction without going hollow is not really something i can do right now lol.... we try tho!

  4. When I did my working student program they really emphasized the influence of how weight is used in different movements, but it doesn't seem like there are a whole lot of trainers out there that do. Maybe they just assume we know? Anyway, this was a really good refresher for me to read too.

    1. There really aren't. My Indiana trainer was really great about that, but it was a hard concept for me to really get when I was a training/first rider.

  5. Love how you break down the info into understandable explanations. Now to bookmark this post for when I get our butts back in the arena and try circling again lolz. I've been spending too much time strolling in the woods lately while the weather has allowed... I'm sure I'll make it back into an arena some day ;-p

    1. Haha, I love strolling the woods, so no side-eye here! You can work on things while out on the trails, too. I really makes Pig work hard when I ask him to do dressage things while out hacking. Silly horse.

    2. I ride Nancy and haul Kika on a lead line, the three of us go on adventures...sorry, Nancy & I go on adventures and Kika has a nap *sigh*


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