Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flying Change Fix

I have not asked Harley for a flying change since the beginning of June.  That is about four months.  I wanted to take a break from this rather exciting movement and work on the quality of the canter: forwardness, obedience, straightness, and relaxation.  We also spent some time honing our counter canter.  I believe that is what you are supposed to do, when you are trying to improve a movement in dressage.  It is not about the movement itself.  It is always about the basics.

Four months later, my horse has no inclination to throw in an impromptu change.  His transitions in and out of the canter feel very nice.  His is relaxed and carrying himself.  I can throw in a little counter canter here and there without too much fanfare.  Admittedly, I have not practiced the counter canter as much as I originally intended.  The summer heat does not go well with lots of canter practice.

Yesterday we went on a trail ride.  I warmed him up in the ring to see how he was feeling.  He did not cough even once!  I was so, so happy.

I had been thinking that the time to ask for a flying change was near.  Apparently, Harley could hear my thoughts.  As we went to change direction in a figure-eight, I started to ask him to collect a little for a transition to trot and he offered a smooth-as-glass flying change from the right to the left lead.  It was gorgeous!  With the maiden change out of the way, I couldn't wait to get back in the saddle and try it again.

Today, we schooled flying changes.  I learned some interesting things.  Harley has not forgotten them and they still make him excited.  He is still much better at the right to left change than the left to right.  We did not get a really nice left to right today, but I can be patient.  After all, I waited four months with the hopes of improving them by working on just the canter and the transitions!

Harley bucked into the change a few times.  That is not gone, despite all the transition and relaxation work in the last four months.  I need to approach the change with more clarity.  I think "flying change" and he knows what that is, but what he gives me is not exactly what I want.  I want a balanced, calm change with his shoulders up, not his backside!  I need to start making that part of my mental image and riding the change like any other gait or transition that I want uphill.  I have been asking that of him for a while now.  I cannot forget it just because we are doing something exciting.

Things I Need To Do:
  • Ride for an uphill change.  Keep the backdoor of my seat closed and the front door open.  I know how to ride this way, but I tend to lean forward in anticipation.  I just need to stay focused on my position before, during, and after the transition.
  • Keep my legs forward and minimize the outside leg cue.  He does not change at all if I slide my leg back and push.  Just doesn't work.  I need to ride from my seat.
  • Imagine his shoulders up and ride them that way.  Do not accept a change that begins with his head, neck, and shoulders diving down.  I was able to stop him in the dive a couple times, because my position was really solid.  He was surprised and complained a little, but I need to make my expectations clear.  I want a healthy, balanced change.
  • Prepare for the change like any other transition.  The two best flying changes that he did were when I prepared like I wanted a canter to walk transition.  He stayed level and just swapped his legs.  He was light on his feet and it felt easy.  I tried to memorize the feeling.
  • Do not let him get too tired on the left lead.  He gets too heavy.  If he cannot do a canter to walk transition, he does not have the balance or strength to do a change.  Quit and try next time.
  • Praise him for the right kind of change and have fun!  Allow him to move out his canter or relax with a longer neck if he gets too tight.
I am really glad to be practicing these again.  So is Harley.  The first one that I requested had too much "fly" to it, but he was so delighted that he snorted with happiness several times.  We may never perform them in the show ring, but I still think that this is something within our reach.  I also love to make my horse happy and flying changes bring him joy.  His canter felt great.  I just need to remember my position and prepare like it is any other transition.  That is so much easier to write than to do!


  1. The bucking is probably just him getting his legs organized for the change. Sounds like a lot of fun!

    1. I agree. Keeping him nicely forward helps.

  2. Exciting! Winston doesn't like the leg back cue for canter either.

    1. Hopefully, we can maintain some semblance of calm amidst the excitement!

  3. Replies
    1. So do I!

      The video clip from June will have to do for now. I need some time to practice without the pressure of a camera. Pressure starts the tension spiral. ;)

  4. Sounds like it's all in the preparation. Isn't that the way with dressage? What do you mean you may never perform them in the show ring? Of course you will (assuming you want to). You guys are doing great!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement!

      What I mean is that "I do not really want to". I like the idea, but the intensity of preparation required for each level is exponential. I got a taste of that when I attempted to go out for Second Level this summer. I am just not sure that I like showing enough to dedicate so much of my time (and money) to work our way up to Third Level. If Harley and I can polish the single flying change and then tackle tempi changes, I will be so thrilled, even if we never perform them for a judge.

    2. This in no way halts our journey. I love the journey and the process of dressage, just not the showing part.


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