Let’s Discuss: Flying Changes

Flying changes keep coming up in my training, and I admit, I’m at an internal impasse.

One one hand, and to state the obvious- having a flying change would make showjumping courses less embarrassing much more fluid, as my requests for a simple change mess with our forward momentum. Granted, he is almost amazingly well balanced in counter canter, so it’s not like we are careening around lopsided on the wrong lead, but still. He will offer the change occasionally, but it’s fairly random. Also, I need to work on getting the correct lead over fences and not leaning left dammit.

PC: High Time Photography

PC: High Time Photography

On the other hand, we are working towards the goal of a Second level test this year. Counter canter starts at First level test 3. Counter canter gets a lot easier when your horse is not trying to switch leads on you when you change the bend. Again, Foster is quite well balanced at the counter canter.


I have never taught a horse a change, and could count on one hand the times I have sat on a school master, much less practiced a change on a schooled horse. I understand the theory, just have not practiced it. We (as in a friend who knew what they were doing) started trying to teach Foster to change over a cavaletti, but the results were mixed. According to her, he is a tough cookie when it comes to changes. My dressage trainer is happy with not schooling changes (obviously).




In Great Britain, they don’t worry about the change as much, and I’ve heard a couple opinions over the years that changes really aren’t required until Preliminary. However, there are other disciplines like H/J where changes seem almost necessary even from the pony stages.

So I ask you, wise readers- what do you think? Forget the change and focus on getting my lead over the fence/Second level wondrousness? Or, get the change and figure out the counter canter later?



20 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Flying Changes

  1. I like to have changed on a jumper. It opens up the options available when on course, where you need as many options as possible. In my experience, it’s relatively easy to teach the horse when you want counter canter and when you want a change. Actually, I’ve somehow managed to train my horse with perfect auto changes out of doing changes at all when not jumping. A problem now that we’re trying to school third!

  2. It’s awesome that Foster can stay balanced on his off-lead, but I agree with Austen that getting his changes could help give you more options in those tight turns. My girl now has very sticky changes and I definitely feel the lack when we’re jumping in a small-ish indoor. Let me know if you find any good tips/tricks for teaching changes! I think that’ll be up next in our list of homework topics soon too.

  3. I dunno how people do a jumper course without changes, but I am from h/j land where a change is necessary and happens way early in training. I can’t imagine cantering around a corner on the wrong lead or having to trot and screw up my rhythm to change. That said – I understand your predicament. I’m coming at it from kind of the opposite direction… Henry has pretty darn near auto (hunter) changes and I’ve started playing around with him a bit in the counter canter. It’s tough for him because he’s like “this is way harder than just changing leads – CHANGE!”. I have to reeeaaaally ride every step to keep it. So I guess really my answer for your situation would depend on what impacts you more. If not having a change is really starting to hinder your SJ in a major way, I’d put the change on. But if you care more about moving up the levels in dressage and can live without the change, I’d leave it be.

  4. Hmm this is a toughy. I can see how much easier changes would make a course, but at the same time I wouldn’t rush it. I can absolutely tell you this: fixing a poorly-taught flying change is the WORST thing to have to do. If you’re going to go for it, I would highly recommend working with your dressage instructor and getting a solid, clean change. If they learn they can be late behind from the beginning, it can be a nightmare to fix later. I’m sure you’ll figure out whatever works best for you both!

  5. In my world, changes are a necessity. It’s what keeps us out of the hunter ring. I’ve come to terms with the fact that Simon will never have reliable changes, but he will do then on tight rollbacks and we have decent ‘skip changes’. That being said, I would do them now before you reinforce more bad habits on show jumping courses like cross-countering and such. It will make your life much easier!

    Also don’t teach them over a pole. In my experience, they will then ONLY do them over something. Not everyone agrees, but just my 2c.

  6. Hunterland is a big lead changes zone. Realistically I wouldn’t think of taking my horse to a bigger rated show unless I can count on us to get our changes, as it is an easy way to get cut out of placings.

  7. i’ve always been a bit embarrassed at my sloppy and uncoordinated attempts at changes coming from h/j land. my mare has them in her and is almost auto from L to R, but R to L has gotten us in trouble in stadium before when she swaps just the front, becomes unbalanced, and loses her hind end around a turn (esp on grass)…

    it seems like having a more confirmed change would make it easier to get the time (and the options, when necessary) – but then it makes the counter canter trickier… quite the conundrum!

  8. Getting correct leads over fences would be at the top of my list if I were you, since that will come into play immediately (every course) whereas you have time before actually needing counter canter or lead changes. I suggest working on both changes and counter canter at the same time, so you are sure your aids are crystal clear and its not just about changing bend at the canter. This will prevent any confusion on his part. Pick up canter, cross arena and hold it in counter-canter, then after 1/2 lap (or more) ask for change. Also, work on picking up canter in the middle of the arena on a straight line, and switch which canter you pick up, to make sure he isn’t picking up the lead with the help of arena fence. This exercise showed me that I need to be clearer with my canter cue aids, which led to better counter-canter as well as lead changes.

  9. Take this as you wish from a lifelong h/j 🙂 … I think lead changes are imortant and counter canter is important. Both can be achieved. Its different cues to hold a counter canter and asking for a chance.

    In the beginning yes henry would change his leads at times and our counter canter wasn’t perfect but over time he became stronger, more balanced and supple.

    As far as changes L to R are spot on, R to L are more work but we are world from where we started.

    We have actually used the counter canter to help sharpen his R to L changes.

    Lastly being able to move his hip around will really help with the changes and counter canter 🙂

  10. Great question and I have no answers. My OTTB is new and greenish. He will get the correct lead over a fence and he’s done a couple of flying changes before–it certainly wasn’t intentional on my part as I didn’t think he had it in him. We’re not yet ready to tackle flying changes formally as we have “bigger fish to fry” at this point, but I’ll check back in with you to see what you come up with and maybe it will also help us. 🙂

  11. I would wait till Doug gets back and ask him. He has experience with this question and can give you a knowledgeable eventer’s point of view. Plus you want to make sure you’re teaching him correctly and if he is already a bit tricky (as your friend said) than I would concentrate on landing on the correct lead and then get help with Doug 🙂 I’m actually really curious what Doug’s opinion on this topic is b/c he does eventing and show jumping!! I did find his article on distances to be quite thoughtful…

    For what it’s worth… I never taught Johnny to do lead changes and we competed very successfully through Training level. I did find if I rode him balanced and was looking towards my next jump/trying to land on the correct lead, Johnny would have smooth flying changes without me asking. And this is from the horse that did all this with a pinched spinal cord!!! (Though we didn’t know at the time….) I also think that it depends on the horse and you and your trainer have to be the judge in deciding if your horse would benefit from learning flying changes earlier on or waiting. After all horses don’t like to fit into cookie cutter molds!! hahaha 🙂

    • I agree with Bette, if you are balanaced and looking at the next fence with a decent pace many horses will just change on their own. I know from Star who never had changes just simples his counter canter was amazing and Ace who was taught changes is impossible to counter canter. I like the idea of changing over fences and just riding balanced forward turns until you get the counter canter solid. Then after that maybe work on changes (in dressage) where you are likely more balanced than around a jumping turn. Just my thoughts.

      • I tend to agree. After reading through everyone’s comments, it seems like there are lots of different opinions on changes and when it’s appropriate to teach them. But I like the idea of focusing on balance and pace first, with the emphasis of getting the correct lead over the fence.

        I’ll be asking Doug what he thinks when he returns, but after considering that once we’ve established the walk-canter-walk transitions for dressage that we will be prepared to teach dressage changes anyways, that seems to me the time to try it. It will be interesting to see if Doug agrees!

        PS thanks for the comment!! 😀

  12. You definitely have a tough question on your hands, trying to decide what is most important. Since I show hunters, my guys HAVE to have them… it’s not optional. When I showed locally in 2′ hunters, not having a lead change kept me consistently out the ribbons… but that’s a whole different ballgame than jumpers and eventing.

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