Friday, August 12, 2011

Permission For Lift Off: Flying Change Tips

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. 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. 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. 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.


  1. Flying changes ... someday. Although Speedy G will do them on his own on the trail, so I know he can do them. I've also seen him do some pretty spectacular ones during turn-out.

    I certainly agree with the idea that there doesn't have to be a prescribed set of steps that a horse must master before doing the next skill. I think some horses are more talented at certain things and if we can cultivate those talents, it might help the horse to be better in his weaker areas.

    And I can't see the benefits of teaching a dressage horse to make the change over poles (not that my opinion on that subject has any weight. I am a bit timid over poles anyway!). Yikes! That would make Speedy G very anxious. As it is, we're working on relaxing the canter transition.

    Any way you can post some video of Harley's changes?

  2. I bet Speedy will do them undersaddle sooner than you might expect if he does them on the trail and in turnout. I agree about cultivating talents and it can be very un-fun to constantly work on weaknesses. Horses need to feel good about themselves by practicing what they are good at, like people. ;)

    I have some video of some rough changes from November, but I would like to have some examples of nice ones in hand, too. I was thinking about trying to get some more video before the school year begins.

  3. Very informative post - thanks! I dream of the day we do flying changes... seems far away at the moment :)

  4. You will get there! And some cooler weather will definitely help. :)

    Harley and I have been learning together for going on five years. Time is an essential ingredient.


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