How to ride and train flying changes like a boss – It’s not that complicated


How to own riding flying changes – It’s not that complicated

So, it is not my place to comment on four-star riders’ dressage. But after watching the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event CCI5*-L and Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials CCI5*-L on the live stream I realized eventers are still struggling with flying changes. Sure, ultra-fit event horses get tense in that big atmosphere in the dressage ring, and a horse with a usual great change could suddenly have a meltdown. But there were a few horses that looked like they had never been schooled in their changes. Now, I am not claiming I am some flying change guru, but I do feel like perhaps riders are overcomplicating changes. To back up this claim, Karen O’Connor also said last year on the live stream that some of the horses at Kentucky should’ve had better changes because horses have no problem doing them out freely during turnout.

Recently, I was coaching a woman who competes in Third Level Dressage, which requires a flying change. She wanted some help with her changes. After having her ride a few, it became clear to me that she was making a bit of an ordeal about them. She was only riding about two to six per ride and set up for them meticulously then cautiously asking. As a result, the changes were not as good as I felt they could’ve easily been. This is when it hit me that some riders almost have a bit of a phobia about riding flying changes.

Riders will school shoulder-in and leg yields like these movements are going out of style, yet shy away from working on changes. It is hardly surprising so many horses struggle with them in the show ring. I only have three horses right now – a six, nine and 10-year-old. The nine and 10-year-old have been doing clean and calm changes in dressage since they were seven. The 6-year-old can counter canter for days and is just about to start his serious flying change education although he does change when we are jumping. I am nowhere close to a gift from the ‘Dressage Gods’ so if my horses can all do flying changes then so can yours. Just keep it simple and follow these steps:

1) Make sure you have a balanced and adjustable canter: First things first, your horse has to have the strength and training to be able to collect and lengthen its canter while keeping its body straight. This is why most four-year-olds are not wheeling around doing flying changes on command. If your horse’s canter isn’t balanced and adjustable yet, that’s okay keep working on those transitions within the gait and staying straight until it is. Then you can revisit this guide when you are ready to start working towards those changes.

2) Master the art of counter cantering: Make your life easier by teaching your horse how to counter canter before you start drilling flying changes. Otherwise, your horse will do brilliant changes when you are supposed to be counter cantering in your dressage test. Your horse should be able to canter a three loop serpentine in a full-size dressage arena (20x60m) before you declare it ready to start training changes. Remember, there are few to no tests that require flying changes but no counter canter so this counter canter training is invaluable. It will also help strengthen your horse’s canter and improve its rideability.

3) Start over poles, lots of poles: The best way to introduce your horse to flying changes is over a pole on the ground or even a cavaletti. This forces your horse to get its legs up in the air, so you have enough suspension to execute the change. Event horses are also already accustomed to the idea of changing leads over jumps, so it helps with the learning process. Start with two poles, one set on each diagonal. Then you can ride figure-eight type figures in your arena asking for the change over the pole.

You will need a balanced canter with as much ‘jump’ as you can get. Think high energy, low rev. When you are a stride out from the pole, you want your horse’s neck and body completely straight. As you are going over the pole slightly change your horse’s bend and switch your leg position. If you are changing from left-to-right you will swing your left leg back and your right leg forward and vice versa if you change from right-to-left. Please, don’t swing your legs with gusto and wildly whip your body sideways. Your horse is doing the change. Not you. The only reason you switch your leg position is because that is the ‘aid’ for the flying change and you should always canter with your inside leg more forward.

Unless you have an exceptional horse, you will spend many schools working over poles on flying changes until your horse is comfortable enough to do them without poles. Get creative your pole placement, the skies the limit and you don’t want your horse thinking it only changes going across the diagonal. Set up poles in the middle of the arena, on the long sides, etc. There is no rulebook for where you can ride changes.



4) Ride them on straight lines: Once your horse has the hang of doing flying changes over poles it is time to yank the poles away and start riding changes on straight lines. Straight lines help you keep your horse balanced and give you more time to prep for the change.

5) Switch to counter canter and back: For some reason, a lot of riders only ride a change to go from counter canter to true canter. Don’t do this! You can ride down the long side of the arena in a true canter and then switch to a counter canter via a flying change. Own those flying changes and counter canter.

6) Ride them on curved lines: Once you can do flying changes all over the place on straight lines you can start riding them on curved lines. There is no reason your horse cannot eventually do a change or two on a 20m circle.

7) Incorporate them into your schools on a regular basis: Quit only riding and schooling flying changes on special occasions… like when you have to in the show ring. Your horse can do flying changes everytime you ride it. The more your horse does changes, the more comfortable it will get with them. You don’t have to ride them endlessly like some tempi changing maniac, but you can do a MINIMUM of six every ride. Avoiding changes because your horse doesn’t ‘like’ them isn’t going to make your horse like them any more or perform them any better in the show ring. You gallop over massive cross-country fences, quit being so hesitant about riding flying changes.

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