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Q&A Flying Lead Change

"Transitioning from a Simple Change to a Flying Change"  

"I am going to be showing this summer, but I have been working for a few months on lead changes and my horse can get where he does like half a trot stride then goes to the next lead, but I can't get him to do an actual flying change" 

 This is a great question because flying lead changes are an advanced riding skill that has requirements. Knowing how to troubleshoot common issues that come with this skill are very helpful. There are two basic types of flying changes, directional and non directional. "Technically" there is no such thing as a simple flying lead change because a simple change is a lead departure from a gait other than the canter and requires a drop from a lead. There are many ways to teach a flying lead change; one method is to develop a flying change through teaching simple changes. A second method is to change the direction. Another way is to ask for the change in a counter canter. Which method is right for you? First let's look at the concepts and requirements of lead changes.

Some good prerequisites are:
  1. Counter canter
  2. Walking departures
  3. Speed control
  4. Stride adjustment (short and long)
  5. Directional control
  6. Relaxation
  7. Controlling rhythm and tempo
  8. Acceptance of aids
  9. Collection
Troubleshooting
  1. Horse breaks gait to a trot
  2. Horse speeds up
  3. Horse loses forward
  4. Horse gets nervous
  5. Rider not balanced
  6. Rider lacks feel and timing
There are two things you and the horse need to know about flying changes.
  1. A change of gait is not a change of speed.
  2. A change of direction is not a change of lead. 
Simple Change:
What are the advantages of teaching simple changes? Simple changes are a great way to develop great lead departures. The more you do, the better and quieter the horse will get at taking the correct lead. What about the draw backs of a simple flying change? A simple change is no more than just a lead departure into a new direction. The issue with a simple change is that it teaches the horse to break gait and lose forward. It also teaches the horse that a change of lead is a change of direction. This concept is the complete opposite of what you want in a flying change. Sometimes this method causes more problems and aggravation to the horse and rider than it solves.

Change of Direction Change:
This method is used frequently to force the horse into a change by changing the direction. The issue with this method is that the horse thinks the cue to change lead is the actual change of direction. We want the horse to be cued with our aids not by the action.

Counter Canter:
 This method is a little more challenging to teach at first because you need to teach the horse how to change direction without changing the lead. What is nice about this method is that we can teach the horse to change leads with your aids to cue the change. Hopefully when he is in the counter canter he will want to be comfortable and get back on the correct lead. A slight bump with your leg is all that is needed to change the lead. The horse learns that a change of lead is not a change of direction. The second advantage in teaching a counter canter is that it will help develop a more balanced horse. 

Now that you understand more of the basic concepts of lead changes, how do we fix a horse that drops out of the canter to change the lead?
Simple, do not allow him to drop out of the lead. Carry a dressage whip so when you feel him drop out of the gait, spank his butt so he will stay engaged. If you have to speed him up a little, that will work too. If you know he is going to break gait in 3 seconds, spank his butt in 2 seconds. Timing and feel is everything. This is one of the times you do not want him to commit to the mistake. Anticipate him dropping out of the lead so you can push him up so he does not break gait. If he gets a little pushy, that's okay just wait until he relaxes and try it again. Once you get a few changes without him breaking, quit for the day. The most important time to quit him is when he is relaxed and calm. 

 

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