Ask the Experts: Horse Anticipates Flying Changes

Q: My horse anticipates the flying change every time I cross the diagonal. While I first thought it’s a great thing, I now find it more annoying as my horse doesn’t change from my aids. How can I solve this problem?

A: Congratulations on having such a clever horse! Your problem is common, as many horses delight in executing this newly-learned exercise, even when you don’t ask for it!
The solution is simple, and requires going back a few steps before moving forward again. This will help you find the underlying cause of the problem, and will clarify your aids and teach your horse to wait and listen.
It is important that for now, you refrain from riding flying changes for a bit, until you have re-established the security of your basic work which led up to teaching him the changes initially. When you can perform the exercises below smoothly and without resistance, you may begin to introduce the changes again.

Before you begin, be sure that you have a high-quality canter. This means that your horse is collected with good activity of the hind quarters, reliable straightness, and is free from tension or resistance. He should be in a good carriage and should not lean on the reins for support. Your half halts must be well-established, and the transitions within the canter and between canter and walk/trot should be smooth and free from resistance.

Spend a few days (or weeks, depending on your progress) making sure you can calmly and reliably perform these exercises. Then, simply replace some of the simple changes with flying changes. If you encounter tension from anticipation, simply return to one or more of the exercises until calmness and confidence are restored, then try a change again.
Our goal is not to take away your horse’s desire to perform a change, but only to ask him to wait for your aid and perform it when you ask.
The Exercises:

First, test your horse’s balance and the effectiveness of your aids by riding canter-trot-canter transitions and canter-walk-canter transitions on a 20m circle. Make sure each transition is balanced, supple and straight, with no resistance. When this goes smoothly, you are ready for work on the diagonals.

1) Canter-trot-canter: Proceed in collected canter across a diagonal with a transition to trot at x, then at the end of the diagonal, strike off again on the new canter lead. Repeat from the other direction. Next, ride a change of lead through the trot over x, also from both directions. Ask yourself: “Is my horse balanced and straight in both transitions? Is there any resistance?” If so, go back to the work on the circle, or try adding a 10m circle in the trot at x, before striking off into the new canter. This re-directs the horse’s attention and asks him to wait, balance and focus.

2) Simple change on the diagonal: In collected canter tracking right, head across the diagonal, and ride a 10m volte to the right at x, followed by a simple change, continuing across the diagonal on the left lead. Repeat from the left lead. Variation: canter on the right lead across the diagonal. At x, ride a 10m volte right, followed by a simple change, the immediately a 10m volte left, then canter the remainder of the diagonal.
When this goes well, try a collected canter on the diagonal and a simple change at x, without the 10m circles.

3) Counter-canter followed by simple change: Ride across the diagonal in collected canter, and continue in counter-canter through the corner. Ride a simple change in the middle of the short side. Variation: continue in counter-canter through the second corner as well, and ride the simple change in the middle of the long side.
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4) Transitions within the canter on a diagonal: Ride across the diagonal in collected canter. Ride a few steps of medium canter over x, then collect again and ride counter-canter through the corner. Ask for a simple change in the middle of the short side, or continue in counter-canter through both corners and ride the simple change on the long side.

Once your horse is more attentive and on your aids from these exercises, you can begin to replace some of the simple changes with flying changes. Praise him profusely when he waits for your aids and performs a nice, balanced change. Be prepared to go immediately back to some of the exercises if he begins anticipating again. It is useful to alternate or combine the exercises, so that your horse does not know in advance whether he will be asked for a simple change, a flying change, or a transition.
Once you have attained a successful result, leave the changes for the day and move on to something else entirely, or better yet, reward your horse by ending the day’s session. Before long, you will have a calm, attentive horse who waits for your aids.
Happy Riding!
S.H.

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