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Technique Dressage : The flying change

Technique Dressage : The flying change

Learn how to do a flying change with Camille Judet Cheret, French dressage Grand Prix rider.


What is a flying change and how to teach it?


The flying change is nothing more than a transition from one canter lead to the other during the suspension phase of the gait. While the learning process for this movement is specific to each horse and there are as many methods as there are riders, here are some tips for working on it, suggestions for exercises, and warnings against certain pitfalls to avoid.

To understand the flying change properly, it is essential to first comprehend the mechanism of the canter, an asymmetrical and three-beat gait. Let's take the example of cantering to the right, which breaks down as follows: left hind, left diagonal, right front, suspension (no legs on the ground).


Learning with a schoolmaster


Before beginning flying changes, the rider must have a solid understanding of the exercise in order to approach it as naturally as possible. It is ideal to learn this movement with a well-trained horse that can teach the rider the proper sequence of aids. This schoolmaster will not be disturbed by a beginner rider and their changes will not be deteriorated even if they are repeated many times. No confusion will disrupt the rider's discovery and they can calmly get used to it.


Precision, determination, and relaxation


The most important thing is not to focus solely on the flying change itself and not compromise one's position or the quality of the canter in favor of the exercise. The trajectory, straightness, rhythm, cadence, amplitude, and attitude must at all times remain under control and not be modified before, during, or after the change. Before the change, the outside leg should be moved back and the inside leg should be at the girth. The rider should prepare the new flexion very lightly and then quickly reverse their two legs while controlling the new outside rein to ensure perfect straightness.

Let's take the case of changing from right to left: when cantering to the right, the horse's bend is slightly to the right, the left leg moves back as the change approaches, while the right leg remains forward. On the left, the horse must yield to the left rein without putting its quarters to the left and remain perfectly straight on both reins. The left leg moves forward and the right leg moves back simultaneously. The request for the change must be very clear, with the leg moving backward electrically. The rider must be confident; he should not doubt nor get out of the saddle. The flying change should be requested during the suspension phase of the preceding stride.


Activity, responsiveness, straightness


It is essential to determine the right canter to ensure a good quality flying change. The necessary conditions for a flying change are a three-beat canter rhythm, sensitivity to aids ensuring responsiveness to requests, straightness, control of amplitude and speed, a constant attitude with a stable rein contact and a horse that is through, and the quality of transitions within and between gaits. It is essential to maintain the initial trajectory when performing a flying change. For example, the horse's natural tendency is to change its line after the change: just after changing to the right, the horse often tries to reach the track earlier by shifting to the left. It is up to the rider to maintain straightness by channeling the horse with the left rein, the new outside rein, rather than reflexively over-bending to the right, thereby losing control of the shoulders and deviating from the initial line.


The recommended exercises for the flying changes:


During the learning phase, the rider must be willing to take the time necessary to build the quality of the canter while using volte to maintain activity and rhythm while controlling the length of strides with the goal of a collected canter.

Transitions : Later on, the focus should be on ensuring the quality of upward transitions from walk to canter and downward transitions from canter to walk, regardless of the location in the arena. First, work on transitions from and to trot before transitioning from canter to walk at the end of a volte as you approach the track. The entire range of transitions must be perfectly mastered. Gradually, the number of strides between transitions will be reduced until eventually arriving at one-stride canter transitions, such as left canter, one trot stride, right canter, or even flying changes. The rider's demand must focus on responsiveness during the canter departures.

Half-volte: With a young horse, draw a 10-meter half-volte and ask for the change when reaching the track.

Counter-canter: This helps ensure maximum straightness in the canter while preparing the conditions for the flying change: control of shoulder position, flexion and counter-flexion, mastery of the gait.

Leg yield: In continuation of counter-canter, the rider can ask for very long leg yields in the canter. For example, from right canter, do a diagonal leg yield to the left and join the track with the horse slightly bent to the left and the shoulders well ahead of the quarters. The horse must be able to maintain the canter on the same lead despite counter-flexion and shoulder movement without anticipating the change. Only the position change of the legs should indicate the desire to change lead, not the change of flexion to obtain a straight and expressive flying change. Once this lateral work is under control, the flying change can be asked at the end of the leg yield, at first with the help of the kick-board to better achieve straightness.

Diagonal: This layout can be used to teach or improve flying changes. From the right canter, cross the diagonal, slightly push the shoulders to the right with the beginning of a leg yield to the left, wait for the horse to yield to the left, change lead, and walk straight while maintaining contact on the right before turning left.


Having the correct mind setup 


During training, do not overuse this movement in order to maintain freshness and motivation without risking to tire or bore the horse unnecessarily. Give the horse time to assimilate the exercise, reflect on it, and absorb the physical effort produced.

Never get angry if the flying change is not correct. The rider should teach this exercise in the form of a game without putting pressure on the horse and accepting to calmly spend the necessary time. A horse that does not execute the flying change well has probably misunderstood you. Make sure you have been clear. If the horse makes a mistake, becomes disunited, finish the flying change to get back on the right lead, even if it means taking a stride of trot. The horse will understand that the ultimate goal is to end up on the other lead even if he has not yet understood how. Reward generously when the horse ends up on the correct lead.

If a horse does not change exactly as requested, do not continue to demand the change by keeping the leg on but renew the request a little later on. You are cantering to the right, with the left leg back. At the moment of the change, you move your left leg forward and your right leg back. Nothing happens. Resume your aids for cantering to the right and request again from the beginning a few strides later. This way, you will make sure your horse is not ignoring your leg.

Do not teach your horse to change leads in the air by pulling on the rein on the side where you want to change, as the basic foundations will be faulty: your horse will not maintain straightness in the changes, a habit that is difficult to correct.

Once your horse is familiarized, do not always change at the same place to avoid anticipation. Among other things, think about cantering straight before changing leads at the end of a half-pass and do not change systematically. Think about changing at the end of a diagonal rather than systematically at the centerline.


The problems you may encounter:


If your horse accelerates after the change, ride a volte before and after to regain the desired speed.

If your horse knows how to do a flying change but gets crooked, use the kick-board. If the horse puts his quarters to the right in the change to the right, perform the left/right change on the track on left side.

If the change is short or tight, lower your horse's neck, relax the canter, and reapply forward aids to gain amplitude.

If the change is late behind, increase the activity but control the speed while being more precise in your aids.

If the horse changes behind first, you may have a straightness problem: keep the new shoulder more forward, when cantering to the right before changing to the left, move the shoulders to the left.


The scoring with Isabelle Judet, international 5* dressage judge:


0/1: no flying change in the air.

2/3: the horse becomes disunited and remains so for several strides.

4: the change is in two parts (the movement of the hindlegs and frontlegs is not simultaneous, for a stride the horse canters on one leg in front and the other leg behind).

5: the change is short or tight (the hind legs do not move enough), the horse is against the hand, accelerates, or raises its croup.

6: the horse is crooked or dives down; the change is hectic.

7: the change is correct but not entirely straight, lacks expression or the contact is unsatisfactory.


Beyond that, the score will increase according to straightness, expression, amplitude, upward tendency, rhythm, quality of canter, freedom of shoulder, attitude, and discretion of aids.