Making the Change!

20140618-190753-68873877.jpgClassics 12-Training the Flying changes

When I first began the flying changes with my 6 year old I was so scared I would stuff them up.

My talented rider/trainer Joao Moreira had been helping me a lot with the work, and I thought it would be a great idea for him to just hop on and teach my horse the changes.

But my wise mum said that changes are a deeply personal aspect of training, and there is a reason why many top professionals refuse to attempt changes in master classes…..

What the aid is may be told to you, but every rider will practice this aid with a unique variation, and a horse must learn to respond to THEIR rider’s command.

Having more than one rider teach the changes, will merely confuse the horse, and even if you think the aid is the same, the strength, efficiency, and overall posture of the rider will ALWAYS be different!

So I had to do it myself, with Joao’s help of course…

The most important thing in preparing for the changes, is getting the canter/walk walk/canter transitions perfect!

“When the horse executes the transitions from canter to walk calmly and strikes off equally well anywhere in the arena, he is ready for the flying changes.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 87).

Given that my horse’s canter work had now become well balanced, with good impulsion, I began to work more on the transitions, making sure he was not only straight and through, but also responded to a light aid in the canter strike off.

HOWEVER, even if your horse has a super canter, and you think it will be easy for him to learn the changes, PICK YOUR DAYS…

“To get a good flying change, one has to perfect the original canter above all.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 87).

The original canter, even if it is perfect, may not be the canter for the flying changes, which is again a very personal thing, and you need to feel when to ask and when to spend the day just doing the preparation.

The “changes” canter, is not always your horse’s best canter, nor is it his worst, it is a canter that has bounce and you cannot be told which canter is right, as you must FEEL it as the rider!

“In order for the flying changes to be good, one needs a springy canter. One has to feel that the horse has bascule.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 87).

So, when you feel the horse is on a “changes canter” day, you have energy, and sensitivity, and BOUNCE….

On the long side of the arena I began to work the canter, sitting the horse back, and then allowing with my reins to make sure he was maintaining his own self-carriage.

Then I would begin canter/ walk, FIVE GOOD steps of walk, into counter canter….. Walk again, FIVE steps GOOD walk, back into canter…

When I had this working well, with five even balanced and RELAXED walk steps, I began to reduce the amount of walk steps allowed…


then three

then two

ensuring all the time that I used light aids into the canter, and that the downward transition was smooth and coming from behind.

This is a great exercise to get the horse sensitive and aware of the aid for the canter strike off.

Be sure during the canter to always keep the outside leg back and touching, to remind the horse which leg you want in the lead.

On a light horse, whose rider has both strength and technique, you may then be able to take the long side, and do the transition with NO WALK steps, i.e. make the change..

However, I am small, and my horse has a lot of power, so I needed an exercise to ensure his weight was in the right position, and he had enough impulsion to make the change.

Joao Moreira instructed me to carry out an exercise using leg Yield to push the horses weight across, all the while increasing his activity and his attention to ME.

Taking the centreline in right canter with my outside (left) leg back, I  put the horse into leg yield to the right in canter, and moved him steeply back towards the wall, keeping the bend slightly to the left…

When I reached the wall, I would straighten him, move forward with two good counter canter strides, then SIMULTANEOUSLY take my left leg off and move my right leg back and on, to ask the change.

This worked really well, and it helped my horse with activity, sensitivity and straightness all in one exercise.

On that first day I got four really top changes, mixed with a couple that were hit and miss.

The next day, when I began the lesson, Batialo was working really well, producing his best in the trot, canter and the walk…… I should have just left it.

But stupidly I decided to repeat the exercise from the day before, and of course, he was still tired, and was not with the “changes” canter, and so it was not so great.

This day I should have just done the exercise BUT NOT asked the change, instead aiming to keep a well balanced, active counter canter around the short side, and across the diagonal into a working canter.

After the change, don’t act like it’s all over…

The canter AFTER the change is equally as important as the change itself, and to later teach the times changes you must ensure the horse stays straight, and MAINTAINS THE RYTHM after the change!

“Don’t allow the horse to run away after the flying change.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 89).

The truth is there is no one was to teach a horse changes, as again every horse is different, and you need to find the right exercise for you and your horse.

The most important thing is establishing the canter to walk transitions, knowing how to pick the “changes” canter, and then finding an exercise that puts the horses weight in the right place, and that doesn’t make you tangle yourself up, or throw yourself all about the place.

IF you try to confuse yourself about putting the horses shoulders here, or haunches in, DON”T….. Straightness is the most effective way to keep the balance in the change!

“One of the secrets of the flying changes is to have the horse’s shoulders on the same line as the haunches. Many riders start it with the haunches coming in.”

N.Oliveira (1998, 87).

If you are trying an exercise, and you can feel that the horse is not straight, and that you will not get the change, DON”T ask.

Think about why you don’t feel ready, where is the horses weight? Is he falling out through the shoulder? Or is he ready to fly off to the other side and fall onto your inside leg as you change?

If yes, find the exercise that can limit this, i.e., if your horse is falling to the new side as he changes and losing balance, do the change into counter canter against the wall.

Then when you find an exercise that works, use it until he gets the idea, then gradually introduce the changes in different spots.

Hopefully, one day, you will be skipping along with ease!

Photos by

Pedro Yglesias de Oliveira

Creator of the most beautiful horse photography book in the world

Arte De Lusitano

Click above link to purchase online

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