|Lesson 13: Flying Changes (Part 1)|
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Flying changes are a way of changing direction on your horse in canter without
having to ride a transition to change lead leg. The horse performs flying
changes quite naturally so the movement is truly a classical exercise.
Tempi-changes or multiple flying changes ridden in quick succession are not so natural to the horse, and their practice in classical riding has been the subject of some controversy in the past. These changes were unknown to the eighteenth- century riding masters. The flying change at every stride was first demonstrated by the nineteenth-century French circus trainer Baucher.
Baucher's work has always been controversial and much discussion has always surrounded his writings and training methods. It is interesting to note that now scholars have re-translated and re-interpreted his original manuscripts; much of his work is now thought to be valid to such an extent that The Spanish School in Vienna includes the multiple changes or tempi-changes in their performances and it is an international dressage competition movement in Prix St George upwards.
The Young Horse or the Permanent Novice
After a foal is born, it only takes a few hours before the foal is up and galloping around the field showing an amazing ability to quickly change pace and direction and performing flying changes merely to change direction. It would not occur to a foal that he must transition to trot and walk to change direction. It would also not occur to a foal that counter canter is an option to change direction.
The point I am making here is that you do not have to teach a horse to flying change, he's already been doing it all his life. You only have to teach the horse to change when you want it to change and with your weight on his back.
It has always appeared to me that most non-professional riders (and some professional riders for that matter) that I have met have waited too long to teach their horses to flying change. They only start to ride the movement when the horse is older, perhaps stiffer and more set in its ways and the natural instinct to change lead leg to change direction has been trained out of them.
This is not totally the rider or trainer's fault. It is drummed into the novice rider that the horse has to perform counter canter in the lower tests and teaching the flying change will spoil, if not completely ruin, the horses ability to canter on the wrong lead leg (counter canter). In my view and it's only my opinion, this is rubbish. Look at the counter canter as merely a canter without a flying change.
If you can ride the changes, you will most certainly be able to ride counter canter. The only problem is that if you have spent too much time practicing counter canter, your horse will be confused and reluctant to change because suddenly you appear to be changing your mind and asking him to change leg when in the past this has not been allowed or has even disciplined if the horse has changed in error or because of bad unbalanced riding.
Playing With the Changes, or Introducing the Changes
This method of introducing the flying changes will work for young or older horses. I have taught a mare that was over eighteen years of age to flying change this way with no problems. But don't forget, this is only introducing the changes; this is the first step only. This is merely changing lead leg within the cater stride and cannot at this stage be truly called a flying change. This bit should be fun for both horse and rider.
The first task a rider must do for his or her horse is to put it into its head that to change lead leg in canter is allowed, encouraged and can even be fun. I like to convince my young horses that at this stage of training, the changes are a little undisciplined and a way of expressing themselves because I think it helps later on in their education when you start to ask for tempi changes and you will want big bold and extravagant paces.
The first step of course is to teach your horse what the correct lead leg is and that your horse responds to the aids and will lead off, from trot, on a given leg when asked. (If any of you don't know how to do this, please email me and I will give you some pointers).
Start at the beginning of a session when you are working the young horse in. The normal routine when working-in like walk and rising trot on a long rein to encourage the back to round and come up is fine. When you feel that your horse can canter with a little cadence and not run away or bolt, ask for canter during the riding-in and come up on your knees and stirrups and go forward into the jumping position. Take your weight off his back. Let him bowl on without any restriction.
As you are cantering around the arena, take your horse off the track and change rein across the school. As you approach the far wall or track to change direction, shorten the rein, sit down for a couple of strides, ask for a little length bend into the new direction and put your new outside leg back behind the girth.
If you are changing from right to left, it will be your right leg that goes behind the girth and your left leg if you are changing from left to right. At the same time, give a light but sharp tap with the whip just behind your leg. It is a good idea to carry two whips when you try this exercise. Saves changing the whip over from one side to the other when changing leg and rein.
The first reaction to this aid will probably be that your horse will canter faster, if not bolt, and will probably get a little upset. Don't worry, this is normal. If he changes leg however, reward him.
Bring the horse back to trot and ask for canter again. Once again, change rein and just as you are reaching the opposite track or wall, sit down for a couple of strides, change length bend and put your new outside leg back behind the girth and back it up with the whip.
Once again, the young horse will accelerate but he will probably change lead leg. Now make a big fuss of him. Let him walk on a long rein and tell him how wonderful he is. The odd extra strong peppermint will also convince your horse that he has done something truly amazing.
Wait a few minutes and try the same exercise again. This time, when you change rein, sit down, change length bend and ask with the new outside leg but don't use the whip. If your horse changes leg, once again make a big fuss of him and reward him. If however he does not change, bring your new outside leg back to the girth (you should be in counter canter in the new rein by now) take the leg back behind the girth and back it up with the whip.
If he changes this time, reward him. If he still does not change, bring him back to trot, ask for canter on the new lead leg in the next corner and try changing rein again. Go though the whole procedure until he does change. Once again, I can't emphasise enough; you must reward the horse if he has changed lead leg or even if he has made an attempt to change.
A Few Rules
Treat this part of the training as fun
Don't get upset if it doesn't work straight away. Be patient.
Don't throw your weight or balance around. The change must be from the leg.
Don't get into a dangerous situation. If your horse gets too upset about the whip, runs away, bucks or bolts, postpone this part of his training until your horse is more calm and obedient.
If your horse only changes at the front and not the hind legs, still reward him, but keep using the whip until both front and back change. At this stage, I find it does not matter if the changes are a little late. This is the fun bit. The correct flying changes come later.
If your horse changes without a problem, stop the exercise and go onto something else. Go through the same procedure next time you ride him.
If you are training a young horse, once your horse can do this exercise, stop doing it and practice counter canter. Leave the flying changes until he is a few years older and the canter starts to be a little more collected.
If you are training the older horse, say five years of age upwards, the true flying changes can start.
The Flying Changes
Teaching your horse the true flying changes will be in part 2 of this lesson. I feel that there is enough to be going on with here to keep the trainer busy for at least a couple of weeks.
Email me if you have any comments or problems.
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