I have quietly given Harley permission to perform flying changes again. This is not a decision that I have taken lightly, as the "flying change machine" can be a double-edged sword. Since then, he has obliged me with clean, smooth changes in both directions. I am so proud of him, but I have to remind myself not to be greedy. I watched a video by a dressage professional who explained that flying changes often elicit strong emotions in the horse. Some horses experience excitement, others fear. Through my readings and experiences with Harley, I have developed a list of Do's and Don't when it comes to the elusive flying change.
...foster a forward canter with a good amount of jump.
...ask for balanced canter-trot-canter (or canter-walk-canter) transitions in the place where you would like to change.
...experiment with different amounts of seat pressure. The half seat gives your horse room to explore his own coordination.
...engage the outside hind in the current lead, because it will need to be farther forward under his body when he changes leads.
...switch your leg position to change leads.
...as little as possible with your hands.
...sit centered with slightly more pressure on the new outside seatbone, lifting the new inside seatbone, but only as much as your horse prefers.
...encourage your horse to change on a straight line, like a short diagonal or straight segment between two large circles.
...read articles and watch videos by professionals from many different disciplines. I found some very helpful tips about how to control the hindquarters from trainers of reining horses.
...expect your horse to express himself, but keep safety a priority.
...be patient. Every horse has his or her own timeline and unique set of talents. Explore without making assumptions about what your horse can or cannot do.
...expect a change everytime.
...ask for a change unless it feels like your horse understands the game plan.
...use strong aids, especially the outside leg or inside hand.
...slow the canter excessively. Race horses change leads in full gallop and reining horses change leads at speed. Slowing the canter tends to decrease the airtime unless the horse has a very strong collected canter.
...try to get a change by disrupting your horse's balance (i.e. sharp change of direction or bend).
...punish a horse for changing leads, even if you were trying to practice counter canter. Assume that you shifted your weight and try again.
...drill counter canter before teaching the flying change. Your horse may think that changes are not allowed.
...change over a pole. I know that this one is popular, but after lots of reading and video review I decided not to use a pole. This encourages the horse to change in front first, which may not be a problem in showjumping, but if you want a dressage-y change, the horse must begin the change from the hind legs. From what I have read it is very difficult to correct a horse that has learned to change in front first. According to Jane Savoie, changing late in front is the lesser fault and usually corrects itself with practice. Ride your horse's hind legs!
...underestimate yourself or your horse. Although a balanced position (horse and rider) is paramount, don't worry too much about the "prerequisites". According to lots of dressage sites and books, a horse should be able to perform walk-canter-walk transitions and canter half-pass before he can perform a flying change. However, Harley did not read any of the sites or books that I read, so when we were practicing simple canter figure-eights, he anticipated that we were going to change leads through trot and decided to skip the trot. I praised him like crazy, but did not actually ask for a change until months later, when I had done some research and it felt like he was in a place to offer them at my request. I believe that this was a situation where his tendency to anticipate and his energy level were in our favor, but this also leads to the last very important tip.
...practice changes in the same place every time or practice them every day.
I hope that you found these tidbits helpful for now, later, or other training objectives. I am not an expert, but I feel that Harley has given me some very educational feedback on a beautiful movement that he clearly enjoys.