For my blogs this year I am looking at some of the movements that we see at higher levels of competition and reviewing what is desired from the movement, and some of the problems that can occur.
This month I am looking at the sequence of flying changes at every stride performed by Edward Gal at the Dutch Dressage Championships in 2021. The full video of the test can be seen here at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzwxmnhGWvA&t=274s. The particular section I am discussing in this blog is a sequence of flying changes made at every stride which start at 4 minutes 15 seconds. For reference, below is the definition of a flying change from the FEI rules.
4.8 Flying Change of leg. The flying change is performed in one (1) stride with the front and hind legs changing at the same moment. The change of the leading front and hind leg takes place during the moment of suspension. The aids should be precise and unobtrusive.
Flying Changes of leg can also be executed at every 4th, 3rd 2nd or at every stride. The Horse, even in the series, remains light, calm and straight with lively impulsion, maintaining the same rhythm and balance throughout the series concerned. In order not to restrict or restrain the lightness, fluency and ground cover of the flying changes in series, enough impulsion must be maintained.
The main issue that can be seen with these flying changes is the impulsion being blocked by the rider’s hands. Impulsion has become the main force that dressage focuses on to the detriment of other qualities. Many horses now perform a flying change with weight in their forehand, disengaged haunches and a lack of lightness. This forces the horse to make the flying change by pushing up from their fore hand and swinging their haunches from side to side, not straight and effortlessly flowing as they should be. In a flying change the rhythm and tempo of the canter should not change and the horse’s legs should appear to switch effortlessly under their body with no upward bounce.
The issues with this sequence of flying changes begins with the turn on to the diagonal. At this point there is a backwards action on the inside rein, and the horse swings it’s head to the right (4 minutes 18 seconds). This is immediately followed by a heavy action on the left rein causing the horse to twist its nose to the left. These aids take the horse off balance immediately prior to the flying change sequence.
Throughout the sequence of changes, the rider maintains a backward pressure on the reins. This blocks the horse from coming through correctly with its hind legs, placing weight into the forehand and causing the horse to make the transition from one lead to the other by swing its haunches from side to side. (A) (B) (C) (D)
The rider continues to contract the horse through its head, neck and shoulders with a restrictive hand through the sequence of steps. This prevents the horse from flowing through with its hind legs and after a few strides, the 3-beat canter breaks down into a 4-beat canter. The horse makes more exaggerated movement in each stride, bouncing up from its front legs rather than swinging smoothly through. (E) (4 minutes 25 seconds).
Correct flying changes should be straight and flow through the horse’s body from the hind legs. This gives a smooth transition between the strides where the leg sequence changes effortlessly under the horse without the forehand leaping off the ground and preserves the 3-beat rhythm.
A flying change is where the horse changes the leading leg within the canter. The hind legs and fore legs should change at the same time; if not, they are either late behind, the most common fault where the hind legs change a stride after the forelegs, or late in front where the fore legs change a stride after the hind legs.
The FEI requirements for a flying change are;
The most commonly used way to build your horse up to a flying change is to ride across the diagonal and make a simple change through walk at the end of the diagonal. When your horse is familiar with this exercise, the flying change is asked for in the same place. Another common way of teaching a flying change, is to ride true canter down the long side of the school and then make a small 10m half circle, returning to the track on a sharp diagonal line and ask for the change.
Whilst both these methods have a degree of success, horses tend to make the change because they are off balance and this technique can also lead to horses refusing to counter canter because it’s easier to make a change of lead. Horses trained this way can become difficult to keep straight through the change particularly in sequence changes.
Asking for flying changes on the long side produces straighter flying changes in the horse. Begin by riding around the end of the school in counter canter and make a simple change through walk to true canter at the beginning of the long side. When your horse is well balanced and light in the simple change, ask for the flying change in exactly the same place.
Canter on for a few strides and then walk and reward him. Don’t be tempted to immediately repeat the flying change. Go back to counter canter and canter to the same place that you asked for the change and remain in a calm counter canter.
The aids should be light; think of it as a canter transition, exactly as you would from walk or trot. Many riders give a very big aid which surprises the horse and then they become anxious during flying changes.
Don’t be tempted to pull the reins back as this will block the change and the horse will make a big movement. A flying change should feel as though it is sliding through underneath you more than jumping in the air. Keep your seat moving forward; the temptation is to fold from the waist and tip you upper body forward.
Due to the nature of a flying change, it is hard to find a good example in a still photo, but this video has a good example of one time changes at 3.38 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_QlKdNrzAU
In the pictures below the horses have made the flying change but the riders have blocked the movement with their hands and given an aid that was much too big and surprised the horse.
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