Honing flying changes


If you are competing in dressage competitions that require a flying change – a change in the canter lead, performed at the correct moment within the canter stride pattern – you will know how important it is to get the movements right, so they look smooth and effortless.

Remember, these are progressive schooling movements, so require long term training – introduce the basic elements gradually and you will be able ti simplify the movement, rather than focusing on the whole picture.

What preceding work needs to be done before flying changes are practised?

  • Schooling to develop the horse’s balance in collected, working and medium canter.
  • Preparatory work using canter/walk/canter transitions, to develop timing, self-carriage and obedience. A sharp, forward-going canter transition will make flying changes easier.
  • Flatwork training to develop both the horse’s ability to bend, and also work straight through the body in all three paces. A lack of straightness is one of the major causes of problems in horses having difficulty with flying changes, and is a very important problem to rectify. Put in plenty of flatwork training in canter, asking the horse to straighten through his body. Build up to incorporating work with an opposite bend (e.g. left canter with a slight right bend for a couple of strides), into your training.

Preparing for flying changes

  1. Level one – for inexperienced horses that can canter
    Start by moving between medium, collected and working canter down the long side of the school or arena, to help the horse ‘get off your leg’ and engage his quarters. Start with ‘bigger’ aids and downsize them as your horse responds.
  2. Level two – for more experienced horses with good balance
    Ride some simple changes – these are often used as a pre-requisite to the flying change. They are transitions from canter to walk, and back to canter on the opposite rein, with no trot strides in between. They are often carried out on a figure eight, with the change at X.
  3. Level three – for horses competent riding simple changes.
    Try the exercise below. This uses counter canter instead of a simple change to build up to a flying change. Before carrying out the exercise, ride some canter-to-walk-to-canter transitions – they will help to engage the hindquarters, straighten the horse and improve his balance.
  4. Move between medium, collected and working canter and ask the horse to ‘come off your leg’ and engage his quarters.

Honing flying changes using counter canter – an exercise

  1. Take a 15 or 20 metre circle on the right rein and ask for right canter transition from walk, at A.
  2. To canter, apply the canter aids – left (outside) leg back, right (inside) leg at the girth and a little more weight on the right (inside) seat bone, if you need to.
  3. Return to walk in between the canter transitions and repeat many times over, so the horse gets used to the repetition and always takes right canter at A.
  4. Change the rein and take left canter – ride a tear-drop shape back to the track so you are now in counter canter on the right rein.
  5. Go large around the arena and use extra outside (right) leg to support the horse.
  6. Don’t ride too deeply into your corners – cut them a little, so the horse is not unbalanced.
  7. At A, once again apply the aids for right canter. (Get off the saddle a little bit if required, to help the horse.) He should change leads.
  8. Give the horse a pat immediately after the change and then come back to walk.
  9. If the change works the first time, don’t do it again until the next training session.
  10. Eventually, repeat points four to eight, but don’t over do it, especially if the horse is responding well. Anticipation is good in many ways as it shows the horse is learning the exercise, but you don’t want him to get too excited.

In our exercise, repeatedly ask for canter at A. Add more weight on the inside seat bone, if you need to.


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