There are a number of common problems people have when training flying changes, but there are ways to work around them.
Don’t chastise spontaneous flying changes
Firstly, as Roger, mentions earlier, do not chastise horses for making flying changes by themselves. “If during the counter canter, for example, they do happen to make a flying change, it’s not the time to chastise them or discipline them; it’s just a time to re-establish the canter lead that you’re on.
“One has to be careful that a horse doesn’t feel that once it’s in that one canter lead, it doesn’t have any option to change from one lead to another. This is why if you ride persistently in counter canter and chastise a horse if it makes a flying change, it eventually decides it’s just not going to do anything in case it gets into trouble.”
Don’t be too forward
One of the biggest mistakes Roger sees with flying changes is that people ride them too forward: “It does not need to be more forward than the canter that you are in. So, for instance, if you are cantering at 10km/h, then you make the flying change at 10 km/h and you land at 10km/h.
“When you first make changes and you put your leg on to make the change, often a horse will interpret that it’s time to get faster and just canter away rather than make the change, so you’ve got to have a very good half-halt that gets the horse to wait and bounce a little higher in the air so you can make the change and stay in the same speed. Don’t ever chase the horse forward after the change unless, of course, the horse is very backward.
“If you ride too forward, often the horse will just charge off”, says Roger — and this isn’t just problematic in terms of the control factor. “When they charge off, they often just jump off the hind leg and change the front leg, and don’t change the hind leg. You’ve got to keep the horse very contained with an active hind leg and the feeling it wants to change the hind leg first. So your rein aid actually says, ‘don’t change the front leg’, and your leg aid says, ‘now change your hind legs’. That feeling makes the horse stay more collected and more balanced and together.”
Don’t worry if the counter canter or half passes become tricky
When some horses first start making flying changes, the counter canter may go away for a while, or become a little bit difficult to control — but Roger says this is not something to worry about. “Again, don’t discourage the flying change, but just go back and simply explain again the correct canter lead that you wanted and pick a good line for the counter canter that’s easy for the horse to stay in balance, for example, the counter canter loops of just five metres or 10 metres in from the wall and back… not half 10-metre circles in counter canter where it’s difficult for the horse to keep its balance and adjustability.”
In the early stages of learning flying changes, horses may start popping them in during the half-pass. “Don’t be concerned if when you start flying changes, as soon as you start doing half-passes they want to put changes in. Don’t ask me why they do that, they just do. It’s a very common problem and something that happens, and it goes away. Just be persistent; come back to walk after the half-pass, pick up the canter lead again and continue.”
BE PATIENT, BE CONSISTENT
Training flying changes can be great fun. Just remember that no two horses are the same; some find flying changes easy and natural, others don’t. Some are better learning it earlier, some later. Be patient, be consistent — and keep in mind that we learn by making mistakes, as do our horses! EQ
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE TO READ:
Will My Horse Make it to Grand Prix? – by Roger Fitzhardinge (Equestrian Life, July 2021)