I’m teaching my horse to do flying changes. Any ideas please?

Posted by in balance, canter, canter execises, canter exercise, flying changes, Q & A, straightness, transitions on Aug 22, 2015

“I’m trying to teach my horse to do a flying change and I’m not sure how to go about it. A friend suggested I use a pole on the floor but I’m worried he’ll think it’s a jump and start to rush. Have you got any suggestions?”


Flying changes can get over complicated. Although not easy you need to remember they’re just another transition – and one most horses can do once they’re balanced and strong enough. Some just don’t get the concept and will counter canter beautifully all day long but if your horse is well schooled and listening to you you’ll get there in the end.

Before you start introducing changes work on the centre line asking for two or three transitions between walk and canter. Don’t always swap the lead you’re asking for so you make absolutely sure she’s doing what you ask. The fewer strides of walk and canter you do the better but don’t rush things. Clear calm and straight transitions are what you’re aiming for. Working on the centre line will show up any crookedness from you or her – it’s so easy to lean towards the leg you want and find yourself heading off on a tangent. If you’re happy to working without stirrups can really help you to focus on your body weight (really useful when you’re working on half pass too).

Now onto the actual changes. What often happens is the focus goes entirely onto the sudden change of bend; involving too many rein, body and leg changes; which will only confuse your horse. Imagine a simple transition into canter – usually you focus on staying soft, sitting as still as possible and using as few aids as possible. Then think on to what you’re doing when you ask your horse to do a flying change. When learning or teaching changes most riders (me included!) will still quietly until the exact moment of the change – and then swing their body to the new rein, use their reins to change bend and suddenly spring the new leg aids on too! Quite a difference to a simple aid to canter – and when you think about it it’s no wonder it doesn’t get results!

Obviously your horse needs to learn what you’re teaching them so; as you would with a young horse when teaching them to trot or canter; you do need to use firm aids BUT you also need to stay balanced. And that means not tipping or violently ‘swinging’ to the new rein. Just remember it’s just a transition (albeit a new and exciting one).

You can ask for a change from counter canter onto the ‘correct’ lead in a corner or as you turn onto a circle. (More on counter canter here) This is ideal for a horse who naturally likes to change. They’re relaxed about it and will think little of it as long as you’re clear with your leg aids. I ride counter canter with a fairly straight head, neck and body; making the emphasis for the change the pressure from the new inside leg (a good push with it will ask your horse to bend around it, go forward and as she bends around it she’ll change to the new lead). Be careful you don’t use too much outside leg with it too far back as it’s going to make you sit crooked and affect her balance as well as yours.

A pole can help but I’m with you on the avoidance of leaping the pole into the new lead. If your horse doesn’t naturally offer a change of leg then it’s well worth a go. What I do is place the pole straight on the track at one of the corner markers – as opposed to on the diagonal before the turn onto the new rein. This means you won’t ride across the diagonal towards it worrying about how you’re going to meet it and your horse won’t see it as an obstacle. Instead you can ride across the diagonal as you would if you were about to counter canter, turn onto the track between E/B and the corner marker and ask for your change from a balanced, straight canter.

Raising the inside of the pole can help to encourage the leg change because it lifts the inside shoulder, encouraging it to stretch forward and (hopefully) take the lead. (People often do the opposite thinking if the outside shoulder is lifting over the pole the horse’s weight will fall to the inside and off balance them onto the new leg but remember any time your horse is unbalanced she’ll flatten and run which is the last thing you need.)

Remember – it’s just a transition. Keep your contact. Keep her straight and balanced. Ride forward into, through and away from it. Moving in the saddle – lightening or sitting heavier – is going to upset her so imagine you’re asking for trot (you wouldn’t change a thing them would you?!)

Three things can happen –

1)      She changes. Woohoo and yippee! Stay relaxed and use your voice to congratulate her – avoid over enthusiastic patting and tipping forward even though you’ll be chuffed to bits as it’s only going to unnerve her.

2)      She goes disunited. This is actually a good thing. It means she understands that a change needs to happen but she can’t quite work out how to go about it. Stay calm. Come back to walk as soon as you feel it’s wrong and correct it – as you would if she struck off on the wrong lead.

3)      Nothing! If that’s the case don’t worry. Walk to change leg and come again and again without changing a thing. The more you get uptight the more she will and that won’t help at all. Make sure you’re staying relaxed in the saddle, keeping your contact and looking ahead. At this level even the slightest difference in your weight can make a big difference.

The speed you correct an incorrect or non-existent change will be key in this. Stay calm but firm. She’ll know you’re stopping her for a reason and start to listen harder. It’s important to keep it enjoyable – nobody (horse or rider) learns well under pressure.

Good luck!

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