I do a lot of exercises with riders changing the bend, such as the bow tie sequence and serpentines as it improves a horse’s balance and suppleness, as well as improving the rider’s feel and symmetry.
So let’s talk about how to change the bend.
With green, inexperienced or stiff horses, I aim to have the change of bend take four or five strides, but as horse and rider improve, it should only take a stride.
Changing the bend is the process of switching from position left in the rider, and left bend in the horse, to position right and right bend. Or vice versa.
Let’s say you’re on the left rein. For the rider, they’ll have slightly more weight in their left seat bone; the left leg is on the girth encouraging the inside hind leg to come under to propel the horse forward; the left rein asking for left flexion; the right rein supports the outside shoulder and the right leg directs the horse.
The horse uses their inside hind leg to propel themselves forward in trot, and the act of bringing that limb under their body causes them to lift through the abdominal muscles and use their back correctly. On the left rein they will have the left hind engaging and be slightly bend to the left throughout their whole body. On the right rein, it is the right hind leg coming under, and right bend throughout their body.
Ride out of the left turn, and straighten up. Balance the horse with the current outside rein (right in this scenario) and then use the new inside leg (right) to push the horse into the new outside rein (left) to create right bend. As you do so your weight should shift slightly into the new inside (right) seat bone and you need to balance your horse with the new outside (left) rein to stop them sidestepping. This is why I like my riders to change their diagonal as they cross the centre line as sitting helps shift their weight into the new inside seat bone.
Initially, you don’t want to rush the change of bend otherwise your horse will wobble and fall out through the new outside shoulder as they aren’t utilising their new inside hind correctly and are losing their balance.
As the rider becomes more adept at shifting their balance and refined their aids, and the horse develops their strength and balance the change of bend can be done in fewer strides, and from a greater degree of bend. For example, an easy change of bend is E to B, and a harder change of bend is between two half ten metre circles.
I recently talked about this with a client and her 18hh giant horse. As he’s big we’ve kept school movements large and simple, but now that he’s getting stronger and has much better balance I’m getting my rider to up the ante: ride the change of bend in fewer strides. I don’t want him to do too many small circles because of his size, but equally we’d like to improve his suppleness so by making the changes of rein across the short diagonals, and adding in the odd smaller circle. When my rider realised that she could change her horse’s bend in two strides rather than four, she could further his suppleness without too much stress on his joints.
Have fun focusing on your changes of bend you’ll be able to fine tune your horse’s positioning, and increase your awareness for how they’re carrying themselves, as well and improving their balance.