Flying through flying changes

Sometimes when you start teaching flying changes it seems like your horse has four left feet. Illustration by Lesley Bruce (

Freedom is very, well, energetic right now. I took him out yesterday, hacked him over to the ring where the footing is good and I could let him move. Pretty soon I realized that the best thing to do with him was just let him canter. It would stretch his back and help get the kinks out.

When Freedom is feeling good he’s very bouncy. He has a powerful engine and he really steps underneath himself. I was cantering circles and broken lines to keep his interest. To change direction, we came across the diagonal. I had planned to take him around the short side of the ring in counter canter but as we approached the rail, he did a flying change. Okay, I thought. I brought him back across the diagonal and this time I asked. Bingo. He changed. I thought it was a fluke but I asked half a dozen times and he was nailing those changes.

I’ve never trained changes with him. He’s such a balanced horse that when I first got him my biggest challenge was convincing him that leads mattered. He could counter canter on the smallest circle! So mostly I focused on teaching him left from right. With Freedom I had to be very careful about when I asked for a canter depart. A horse needs to start to canter with his outside hind. That means that as a rider you can only influence that departure when the horse is lifting that leg off the ground. Freedom could care less about inside bend, so he simply responded to my leg with whichever hind leg was activated.

Either I’ve gotten better at asking or he’s gotten better at interpreting, but these days we usually end up on the lead I intended. How cool that he’s now figured out how to master flying changes too.

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