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Flying Changes Simple Tips to Help You Transition Past 2nd Level

Over the years many students have come to us stuck on that huge plateau that is 2nd level dressage. Their horses have excelled ( they say) at all the 2nd level tests and have a counter canter to die for - so why they ask, can't my horse master the change.

We've all seen it. The rider jumping left to right on the saddle with the horse's rear swinging anxiously with no semblance of straightness, the weird and wonderful contortions of both horse and rider. The rider's lower leg bouncing up toward the hip or stifle, their holding hands dragging the horse to the new inside, hands lifted to their chins, and all the other maladies that await you when you are learning the changes and how to school them.

First rule. It is very helpful, though not absolutely necessary, to have ridden the flying change (s) on a schoolmaster with a ground person that knows of what they speak. When you yourself have no idea of the 'feel' and the subtle change in balance of the horse beneath you with your required timing of the aids,  teaching flying changes to your horse is much  harder than it needs to be.

The second rule, and the one most often overlooked, is that just because the horse has a solid, well scored counter canter, does not mean he is supple or strong enough for changes. The testing is well based to build the horse, but each horse has a different mentality and conformation, and must be treated individually. We'll look at conformational issues in Part Three of this blog.

Here is a photo I shot of Jan Ebeling and Rafalca, one of my favorite partnerships in mid change. Lendon Gray used to say ( and probably still does), to watch good riding. Well hopefully Jan will find his way to the Olympics in London this year and show the world his talents.


Some of the greatest flying changes you see are actually in the awards ceremonies. The horses know their job for the day is done, the riders are happy and relaxed. If you haven't see the footage of Dr. Reiner Klimke and Ahlerich at Madison Square Garden doing changes, hat and roses in hand, you've missed a treat. Check it out on the video The Magic of Classical Dressage Pas de Deux and Pas de Trois. The great Dr. Reiner Klimke would say that your horse must 'pop' in each canter stride. The horse must be 'up' and in front of the leg. I totally agree. An earthbound canter will result in changes that are late behind ( if you achieve them at all),  and a four beat or slow/lazy canter will not make a clean change possible either.  Another great team to watch is Karen Rehbein and Donnerhall who are showcased also on the DVD above, though as a breeder of Donnerhall babies in the past I've got to say, get the Donnerhall DVD. Some real wow factors there too. Anyway - you get the idea, watch great riders doing great changes and feel that canter they have created.

Common faults that occur include the rider leaning forward, over compensating for the change in balance, upsetting the new balance, holding the reins and not giving the reins in the right moment in a following manner, too much bend in the neck of the horse, looking down, looking up, kicking, aids given too hard or at the wrong time. Yes, these are just a few of the pitfalls.

Another issue is once someone fools around trying to teach the horse the change before the stepping stones are in place, the horse may become fearful and bolt off. A habit that is hard to break. More on that later.

Come follow my blog to read part 2 in this series. The important Do's to create a balanced and through flying change. But do your homework first, and get your eye 'in' so you have a good image in your brain before you begin.



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