By Larissa Cox
Below is an exercise I have found to help clean up flying-change “issues” – late in front, late behind, anticipating the change, hopping etc. It is more of an advanced exercise and I would recommend a simpler exercise to initially teach either horse or rider the flying-change. However, once the basics are down, it can be a fun exercise to do on any horse to change up the riding routine.
What you’ll need to have practiced beforehand:
- Shoulder-fore at the trot
- Shoulder-in at the trot
- Shoulder-fore at the canter
- Ride a 20m canter circle at X, slowly developing the shoulder-fore
- When the horse feels engaged in the hind, and connected into the outside rein, take the short diagonal out of the circle
- On the short diagonal, flying change of lead
- Change direction at the corner, maintaining rhythm and balance at the canter, on the new lead
I use shoulder-fore at the canter rather than shoulder-in, as the shoulder-in is hard to maintain at the canter. In the shoulder-fore, the inside hind leg comes up under the body to a greater extent than canter straight on a circle, and the horse is more “full” in the outside rein, as they curve around the inside leg.
I believe the circle is more condusive to the shoulder-fore rather than on the straight, as the horse is already travelling along a curve. The shoulder-fore in this way proves to be a symbotic relationship, as it helps the horse maintain self-carriage around the circle, and not to bulge the shoulder out, nor trail the hind legs inward.
The shoulder-fore is helpful in setting up for the flying change because of the reasons listed above: it helps the horse maintain self-carriage and straightness along a curve, as well as carry more weight on the inside hind leg, which is necessary to make a clean change, as well as fill the contact in the outside rein, which is necessary for guidance in form of half-halts before, during, and after the change.
I like to do the shoulder-fore 20m circle at X for a few reasons. Firstly, it sets the horse and rider to change on the short diagonal, which gives a shorter amount of time for the horse to “fall apart” after the self-carriage of the shoulder-fore. The flying change should be cued for very soon after schooling the shoulder-fore to take advantage of all the perks the exercise has to offer. Therefore, choosing to take the rail and take the long diagonal after schooling the shoulder-fore on the circle at X will have a very decreased effect. The exercise helps to naturally set the horse up for the change, and it should be utilized for maximum effect.
Furthermore, a shoulder-fore circle at X gives the rider two “outs”, as it were, for short diagonals. A circle at either end of the arena would only give one, so if the horse were feeling really connected and in self-carriage, the rider would have to wait a whole circle around again to cue for the change, at which point the feeling could be lost. Additionally, a circle at either end of the arena does not allow for a short diagonal into a corner. A corner can help the recovery of a flying-change immensely. It literally is a wall that the horse cannot canter into. Therefore, the horse naturally turns into the new direction, and around the new inside leg. The outside aids then do not have to work over-time on a horse that could easily fall out through the shoulder after the flying change onto the new lead.
Likewise, the circle gives two outs to the rail if the horse is losing impulsion or having difficulty with the shoulder-fore. Instead of trying to recover the impulsion on the circle, it is much easier to let the horse off the circle, and find the impulsion on the straight. Then, the rider can choose to come back to the circle later. This way, the horse does not have foul thoughts about the exercise, as he is allowed freedom from it, and the rider has averted a fight on the circle.
As this is a fairly difficult exercise for the horse, I would advise against overschooling it. When done correctly, however, it can be a fun and productive means of improving the quality and timing of the flying change, while also improving suppleness, self-carriage, and straightness of the horse both on the circle, and on the straight!
Have fun, and happy riding!