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Teaching the Flying Change
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Teaching the Flying Change
by Kristin Hermann

Learning the flying change determines whether or not a horse advances into the collected work beyond Second Level. It is an intense movement that dressage trainer Roanne Denny says takes a year to train thoroughly.


She learned the flying change from Herbert Rehbein, five-time Champion Professional German Dressage Trainer. "Herbert Rehbein has a reputation for being able to teach a cow the flying change," Denny said.


The flying change first appears in Third Level, Test 3. Two simple flying changes are required from a counter canter on a 20-meter circle.


Tempi changes begin at Fourth Level. Test 1 requires changes from a counter canter but on a straight line. Test 2 asks for changes of lead every fourth stride across the diagonal. The tempi changes continue through the FEI levels with Prix St. Georges every four strides, Intermediare I every three strides, Intermediare II every two strides, and Grand Prix every stride.


Preparing for the Flying Change


"A horse's age doesn't determine when he is ready for the flying change," Denny said. "If you have a 12-year-old in training, you may have to return to basic ground work in order to develop the muscles needed for the flying change," she said.


Denny's 3-year-olds do 20-meter circles. As their muscles develop, she gradually decreases the circles to 15-meters. Her 4-year-olds begin 10-meter circles if their muscle strength, balance and coordination allow them to comfortably stride underneath themselves while maintaining rhythm. Doing circles too small at an early age may damage the hocks: Denny suggests training under professional guidance.


When the horses can do 10- and 5-meter circles at a canter without losing balance and breaking into a trot, Denny begins to teach them the counter canter.


"After accomplishing counter canter and maintaining serpentines, 20-and10-meter circles at a counter canter without losing balance, the horse is ready to begin the flying change," she said.


Denny depends on circles and serpentines to supple, balance and strengthen the horses. She also teaches them shoulder-in, haunches-in and half-pass at a trot and canter for balance.


Roanne Denny-Winnett
In this picture, the horse is not tracking up as we would like.

Roanne Denny married John Winnett, who in 1972 was Captain of the USA Olympic Dressage Team, and in 1982 and 1989 was a member of the gold medal winning dressage teams at the Olympic Festivals.

Aids for the Change


When Denny teaches a horse the flying change, she places her outside leg well back on the horse, uses firm pressure of the leg and maintains a strong rein contact on the same side to keep the horse straight in the head and neck. The outside rein prevents the horse from swinging to the inside and keeps the horse from changing in front first.


"Riders shift their weight in a sense but will use their bodies less the more changes they do," Denny said. "The rider has to feel for the right timing and then apply a positive hand and leg aid," she said. "I either use a half circle back to the track and ask for the change just before the rail, or I ask when on a counter canter on a straight line."


If the canter is collected and the haunches are engaged, the chances are better that the horse will change behind instead of in front. "You run a risk that the horse will be late behind, which means he changes in front first and then comes through one or two strides later from behind," she said. "The horse coming from behind causes each change to come through a bit like an explosion."


Denny usually has a ground person who tells her if the changes come from behind.


"I tend to reassure the horse after I have done the flying change by bringing him back to the walk, patting him and going on to something else," Denny said. " It takes a lot of time and patience."


"With a young horse, I would do a couple changes, then perhaps leave it for a few weeks. I try to avoid being repetitious and getting the horse worked up and excited about it."


Problems to Avoid


Anticipation is a common problem with the flying change. "When a horse anticipates a flying change, that is not the time to ask for one," Denny said. "Instead stay in the counter canter until he settles again."


Denny does each flying change in a different place. Some training sessions she does not do one at all. She said it takes about a year before the horse learns the flying change properly and does not anticipate it.


Trainers should never attempt a flying change in a corner.  "This will throw the horse off balance, and the change will be crooked," Denny said. "Chances are the haunches will also swing outward."


Avoid teaching he flying change from a counter canter on a circle. Sometimes this works; sometimes it does not.


"People train with the inside rein and outside leg, shifting their weight to change the bend in the horse, thus asking him onto the other hand," Denny said. "The problem with this method is the horse starts to swerve to the inside, then begins to change late from behind. This is murder to correct."


After executing a few changes, the horse will automatically get a little stronger, perhaps coming onto the forehand and increasing his pace, Denny said. Once he learns the flying change, dont practice them too often.


"With a couple of changes, I pat the horse and leave him alone," she said. "After the horse knows what is expected of him, provided he has accepted the flying change, he cannot wait to do them."

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