The flying change: we all know what it is, we all know what it looks like, but rather like the half halt we can become confused on how to execute it.

There is no more mystique to this part of riding than any other aspect of it, if certain prerequisites are met. The primary one being the ability to feel / know where the horse’s feet are in the canter sequence. But this is a basic requirement of anyone riding classical dressage and should already be instilled by the time you come to ride flying changes. (It may help you to bring up the Canter page of The Gaits article to help with the visualisation of what I am about to describe.)

 young horse can be taught to change leads via a flying change fairly early on, as is seen in the jumping world. Very often these changes are far from fluent, relaxed or straight; the result being achieved by unbalancing the horse and causing him to alter his lead, rather than asking him at the correct moment in the stride pattern, when it becomes physically (biomechanically) easy for him to change.

That is why the Masters place so much emphasis on the correctness of the preceding work leading up to the flying change and not treating the change in isolation.

In classical riding before beginning work on the flying change there are usually several prerequisites that must be met:

    • Can the horse perform collected, medium and extended canter?
    • Is the horse established in half pass—in trot both and canter—on both reins?
    • Can the horse counter canter a 10m circle?
    • Are the walk to canter / canter to walk transitions solid on both reins?
    • Can the horse calmly manage simple changes though the walk?

If these criteria are not met, the danger will be that the horse changes leads because he has to, through becoming unbalanced rather than through aiding that tells him: ‘prepare to change—change’.

Do not try to teach lead changes on both reins in the same session. This is something to bear in mind when introducing anything new. Horses do not transfer learning as humans do. They cannot take something they have learned on the left rein and apply it to the right—they have to be shown again.

The Timing of the Aids

There are six phases to the canter stride and when asking for a change we are concerned with phases five and six.


Phase 5

Phase 6

In phase 5 the horse’s inside leg is grounded prior to the moment of suspension, at which time it changes its leading leg.

As the horse above is cantering on a left lead he will be ‘bent to the left’ (slightly flexed left at the poll). The horse is straightened and the flexion is changed to the right, before the seat and weight aids that follow, but the horsemust wait for the aids from the seat/legs and not change from the repositioning of the poll.

As the single foreleg is grounded prior to the suspension phase, you quietly slide your Old Inside leg backwards, remaining in contact with the horse’s barrel throughout the move, indicating to move his croup over. At the same time the Old Outside leg moves forward passively, ready to take over as the active driving aid in the next stride.

To prevent the outside hind coming through to alight, as it would if the horse were to continue in left lead canter, we must imperceptibly add more weight on the Old Inside leg, to get it to alight first and in so doing cause it to become the New Outside leg. You may also half halt on the Old Inside rein when the Old Inside hind is grounded as this keeps it on the floor for a slighter longer time that allows the other hind leg to come further forward and alight later—effectively swapping roles.

For the change to be smooth you must remain upright through your torso allowing the change to happen underneath you. Contorting yourself, as is often seen, in a misguided attempt to help your horse will lead to more problems than solutions. The change through the seat contact is the clearest indication to the horse what is required of him.

Some of the common ways to introduce the flying change are:

    • Ride in counter canter down the long side asking for a change as your come into the short side.
    • Change through and out of the circle
    • Out of a half pass
    • In a serpentine

It should be noted that the early work is done from counter canter to true canter before attempting true canter to true canter changes through changes of direction. He can then be asked for them on straight lines.

Prior to starting work on tempi changes the horse should be fluent in changes from counter canter to counter canter.

When starting to introduce the tempi changes a good test of how many strides the horse currently needs before executing a change can be determined by striking off into canter and then asking the horse to return to walk. The amount of canter strides that the horse needs to do before returning to walk is the indicator of how many tempi he can do. i.e. if the number is higher than six he is not yet ready for tempi changes.

The Flying Change


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