Flying changes are one of the most beautiful and complicated maneuvers to master with horses. Horses can do flying changes naturally. We see them running and playing in the field and jumping to the other lead while cantering all the time. However, just because a horse can do it naturally, doesn't mean they do it well. And it most certainly doesn't mean they understand what we want when we ask them to do it for us, on cue. Mastering flying changes takes time.
A good trainer, who truly understands flying changes, doesn't force the issue. Great trainers develop changes, piece by piece, in a progressive manner until, one day, the horse confidently takes a new lead, on cue, while cantering ahead.
There is much to learn about changes and too much to cover in one article. Today we'll just point out a few training ideas.
Over the centuries with horses, there have been many misconceptions about how to train flying changes. If you dive into the subject, you'll get advice from thousands of voices, and... rarely, are two instructors ever humble enough to agree on any one strategy. The first misconception is that horses know how to do it. They don't. They can do it, but knowing how and accidently doing it at play are two different subjects. The second misconception is that when training, you are supposed to change leads by changing direction. Although you certainly can do this, you most certainly shouldn't do it as a singular means to training lead changes.
What happens when you use a change of direction to get a change in lead is... you end up with a falling change instead of a flying change. A balanced horse can change leads while changing directions without any hiccups, but an unbalanced horse will fall to the inside too much and lose his balance and confidence in your suggestions. When this happens, the horse will either break to a trot or crossfire for a few steps, or race around the corner, or in the worst case, fall or trip, injuring joints and confidence. It's better, generally speaking, to ask for changes with minimal directional changes. In fact, the masters use straighter, narrower lines to influence flying lead changes.
A few other misconceptions consist of ideas like the "racing change," or "gallop change." It's an effort to signal the horse to change leads by speeding up and forcing the legs to coordinate for a new direction. The sad thing is that most of these types of strategies actually work well enough that people still try to use them in training, hoping that once the horse learns to dive through a few changes you can slow it down and get them to do it correctly later. But all the masters know that if you don't do it right from the start, you'll only compound the imbalances and bad habits in the horse and fail to achieve mastery with flying changes. In fact, when a master trainer gets a horse that's been forced through the flying changes, they will always go back to basics and rebuild the balance in a more masterful fashion.
There is so much more on the subject of flying changes, from early lateral development, to elevating the stride and advancing lateral work, to head positions and more. Today I just want to encourage you not to fall in the trap of forcing a new lead through a turn, and instead learn about balancing the whole horse and teaching him or her to respond to your signals at the slower gaits to shape, relax, and transition well on nice straight lines.
There is more to come in the future. Stay tuned, share this with your friends, and consider joining the Mastery University to learn more about collection, flying changes, and much more, all at your fingertips, with personal support along the way.