Flying changes – my work in progress

Napolean had his Waterloo. I have flying changes. I’ve been working on them for about two years now and I still can’t say even the single changes are ‘confirmed. One of the problems is that Fling is the first horse I’ve trained (or attempted to train!) to do flying changes – and I’ve never even ridden a horse that is trained to do them. And I’m doing the training myself.

The second problem with flying changes is that there’s no good way to ‘ease into’ them like other things. For example, if you’re trying to learn leg yield, half pass, etc. you can do it at the walk and gain proficiency there, then move on to the trot and then on to the canter. With trot/canter lengthenings, you can just start with a few steps and build on it. Canter pirouettes? Start with haunches in on circle and build on that.

But to train flying changes – you just have to do them. At the canter. And it’s really tough to do enough of them to get the timing/aids, etc. correct without frying your poor horse’s brain. It is not uncommon for horses to get really excited about doing them, and anticipate doing them once you’ve just done one. It took about a year for Fling to finally get over the excitement and anticipation of doing them. For a long time, I could only do ONE in each training session. Otherwise, she anticipated so badly when I would turn onto the diagonal, she would just start bouncing up and down at the canter, and would usually leap high in the air and change before I wanted her to change. And in my opinion, you should NEVER punish a horse for willingly volunteering to do something like that – even when you haven’t asked for it. One dressage clinician called her “my little overachiever.” Then, the opposite problem also occured… when I asked for a change in a spot NOT called for in the test – I would not get one at all.

And, at first, when you are schooling flying changes, they’re so big and disruptive, you can hardly just keep on cantering after you’ve done one. Or they’re so HUGE, you just know you’re going to get launched – THAT makes it really easy to “give the rein” when you ask for the change! (NOT!) Or, they’re extremely crooked. Or they’re not clean. Or a myriad of problems. And sometimes, they just disappear.  I’ve gone periods of months without working on them, while I was trying to improve the canter. Because if the quality of the canter is not good enough – it’s almost a waste of time to even try to school flying changes.

Mentally, flying changes are the hardest thing I’ve dealt with yet in my dressage journey. I can envision getting to PSG with Fling, if I can continue to have access to (and afford!) good training. I cannot, ever, imagine being able to do the 15 single tempi changes down the diagonal required in Grand Prix. Heck, I can’t even imagine being able to do two tempis! Out of curiosity, I counted Fling’s strides across the diagonal one day. 22-23 strides is probably about right. So you don’t have many strides to get them set up before you have to start asking for one tempis. I have to think so much about the aids for just one single change, it’s like trying to pat my head and rub my tummy for me. I have more chance of winning the lottery than being able to do 15 single changes with no mistakes or miscounting.

So, I’ve been plugging away at this for two years now. A few days ago, the flying changes were just not happening. I rarely get frustrated with Fling – she is so ‘gung ho’ about her job and so ready and willing to work, there’s really just rarely anything TO get frustrated about. And most of the time, when she’s not getting something, I always assume it’s ‘my bad.’

But the other day, the flying changes across the diagonal were NOT happening. I could get them doing the serpentine and asking for the change on the centerline. But the place they’re asked for in the actual test? Forget it. Nothing was happening. No excitement, no bouncing up and down – just no response when I asked for the change. I must have done that diagonal 6 times in a row…finally I got a change. And quit for the day.

Two days later, I rode and tried to think harder about setting her up properly for the flying change, and to wait until I got a little closer to the rail to ask for it. (You can do the change anywhere between X and R/S on the short diagonal) Bingo. Quiet, straight, clean flying change both directions. A flying change so quiet and clean that the canter tempo did not change and she also did not get strung out – and I could go right onto the next movement in the test without any huge half halt, etc.

So, I remind myself. Even though they are not 100% confirmed — the ones I AM getting are definitely better.

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