The horse canters on the left or right lead. During a flying change of lead, the horse switches canter during the suspension time. The horse changes from a right lead canter to a left lead canter while staying on the same line. This is an easy exercise when the horse is calm and straight, and  has a good quality canter. With very reactive and complicated horses, the flying change of lead can be very difficult and time consuming, and require a lot of work and experience.

“The flying change of lead is a fresh canter depart inside the canter”
 Nuno Oliveira.

The Aids

For a flying change of the right to the left lead.

 - Confirm the aids of the right lead canter:

The horse is straight, calm and balanced,
The right leg is at the girth, relaxed.
The left leg is slightly behind the girth,
The left shoulder is slightly moved back,
There is a tad more weight on the left buttock,
The contact with the outside (left) rein is slightly stronger.

- Simultaneously invert all the aids:

The right shoulder moves back and the weight shifts on the right buttock,
The right leg lightly touches the horse behind the girth,
The left leg goes to the girth,
The horse is slightly counter bent to the left,
The contact with the right rein is slightly stronger.

My advice :

The important thing is to physically and mentally prepare the horse for the flying change of lead.
Get a rounded and relaxed canter (horse and… rider) before changing lead.
Feel the canter accurately, find the right cadence for the horse, and act at the exact right time.

The change itself – the inversion of the aids – has to be done with a minimum amount of aids. Your aids have to be precise, fast and light.

Keep your legs very relaxed.
Use the fat part of your calf as much as possible and the spur if needed.
The spur touches delicately but with precision… TAC! …Move your leg back slightly just before touching the horse.

During the flying change, do not budge your seat, move it forward and lower the belt. Above all do not lean forward, do not look down to see if the lead change worked. Look toward the horse’s ears.

Be very calm and do not get rough.
Always keep your horse calm and relaxed.

Do not let your horse speed up and do not loose him during the lead change.
Keep the same cadence on the same line.
Keep the horse straight without twisting him.

Execute only few flying changes, but always of good quality.

After several flying lead change, go very calmly to the same spot again while reassuring the horse, and do not ask for a flying lead change this time.

First flying change of lead

When can one ask for the first flying change of lead?

- What the horse already needs to know:

He must be relaxed in a shoulder-in and half-pass at walk and trot,
He must be engaged on the bit, know how to halt square and back off,
He must be able to go from canter to walk and walk to canter,
He must be calm at the canter, balanced, straight, light and have a certain roundness and a good canter cadence.
He must be able to counter-canter in any circumstance,
He must have a very good serene canter depart, on any lead, anytime from the walk or the halt.

The horse is ready to give his first flying change of lead.

Learning the first flying change of lead

First way to proceed: From the right lead to the right lead
(The correct lead to the correct lead)

Change from the right to the left lead:

First during the workout, seek a well-balanced, relaxed and rounded canter and counter-canter on both reins. Execute several canter and counter-canter departs from the walk. Canter, transition walk, canter again, transition, etc.

Next, make one or two circles to the right with an active, slow, straight and relaxed horse.
When coming out of the circles, take a very short diagonal at the two thirds of the short side of the arena. Keep the horse very straight and in the same cadence, while clearly confirming the aids of right-lead canter.

Then, at the rail, act simultaneously:

 The right shoulder moves back clearly,
 Fingers close on the right,
 Electric touch of the right leg slight behind the girth,
 The whip touches the horse on the right croup.

The horse just gave his first flying change of lead

Ask again at the same spot two or three times and get off the horse.
Start over at the same spot over the next two or three workouts.
Do the same on the other rein.
After several workouts, finish with the same diagonal, but without asking for a change of lead and proceeding at the counter-canter on the same foot.
Alternate diagonals with and without a flying change of lead.

Another way to proceed: From the right lead to the wrong lead

Change from the left to the right lead:
Canter to the left and make two circles.
Join the rail and at the beginning of the long side of the arena, ask for a flying lead change in the following way:

Just before the long side of the arena, at the end of your circle, bring your horse’s head to the left with a subtle move of your left rein (slightly higher and slightly inward).

Change lead with an action of the left rein, moving your left shoulder back, instantaneously followed by an action of the whip on the left and the action of the left leg behind the girth. (Whip and leg act together.)

Notice that in this case one rather uses lateral aids.  The action of the left rein tends to “close” the left side and “open” the right side. The horse changes lead.

 And another way to proceed: From the right to the wrong lead through transition trot


See: My horse is too reactive, in “Frequently Encountered Problems”.

My Advice

Prepare your canter by working in a walk. It is easier.
The rounding of the walk is important. The quality of your flying lead changes depends on the quality of the walk preceding the canter.
Obtain a vibrating, bouncing, and relaxed canter before each flying lead change.
Do not leave the haunches in during the preparatory canter.

Your aids must be fast and electric, but never hard or heavy.
Use tact and psychology. Do not ask too much, and above all reward and relax your horse.

At the beginning, when the horse is learning, you can emphasize the movement of the upper body to amplify the movement of the horse.

The first couple of times, always ask for the lead change at the same spot, choosing the most physically and mentally propitious spot for your horse.

After single flying lead changes, always go back to the same spot and canter through calmly, without changing lead. When your flying lead changes are confirmed, change lead or canter through in turns.

With a more difficult horse, choose the second way to proceed.
This way, the shoulders and the eyes of the rider must clearly turn toward the opposite side of the lead change.
Do not let the horse’s shoulders stick to the rail during the flying lead changes. Stay off the rail a bit.

Frequently encountered problems

 The horse does not change lead

The horse might not be ready for flying lead changes. See “When can one ask for the first flying change of lead?”.
The canter might not be well prepared enough, it must be balanced, vibrant and relaxed. Or the aids might not be in tune with the movement of the horse, executed at the right time or may lack precision.

The horse only changes lead in front

The hand action precedes the leg action for too long.
The leg action is not precise enough and is not applied at the right time.
If the horse persists on change in front only, it is possible to use a touch of the whip on the butt on the same side as the leg.

The horse changes lead over two strides, in the front or the back.

The riders’ aids are not simultaneous. They are badly coordinated.
The horse is not straight in the shoulders or in the haunches.

The horse changes lead before being asked

The horse understood, and precedes the aids. Calm him, reassure him and start over with well confirmed aids for the canter depart. If the horse persists, pass the same spot without changing lead. You also might pick another spot to change lead.

The horse changes lead with a delay

Lack of preparation in the preceding canter.
Lack of decisiveness and precision in the aids.
The horse was not ready at the time of asking.

The horse speeds up after the change of lead

Use lesser aids. Calm your horse by reassuring your horse with your voice, stop your horse after a couple of strides and walk on long reins. Start again with great calmness.

The horse puts himself sideways and rocks heavily

The aids are too strong. The change of bend is too great (keep your reins practically equal) and/or the leg action is too far back or too pushy.

  The horse “blows up” when changing lead.

The horse might not be mentally ready for a flying change of lead. Resume training to reach the required conditions (see: When can one ask for the first flying change of lead?).
Your aids might be too fast or too strong (in general, the action of the leg and upper body). Act with more tact and softness. Reassure and calm the horse before and after the change.

My horse is too reactive, sometimes feverish in his behavior.

Some high strung, very reactive horses fight back and blow up when they first learn the changes of lead. But the lead change cannot be decomposed. It must be prepared for over a long time, of course, but you end up having to ask for the entire change of lead all at once.

With this kind of horses, it is better to use the following manner to teach lead changes:

Example is from the right to the left.

Work on canter departs from the trot on both reins and on both leads.
Obtain a rounded, calm, vibrant and relaxed canter.
Take the diagonal at the canter and transition to a trot at the end of the first third of the diagonal. Start over several times.
Then, after the trot, canter to the left at the end of the second third of the diagonal. Join the rail and follow with a circle to the left. Reward.

Little by little, reduce (with great calmness) the number of strides of trot between the left lead and right lead canter to two strides, and at the end one stride of trot.
Finally, smoothly slow down your right lead canter to go for a transition, but instead of going into a trot, tactfully switch your canter aids at X. The horse will change lead.

When teaching a sharp horse at the beginning, it is more about authorizing the lead change (the horse understands what is going on) than about asking for a lead change.

Flying change of lead: my horse inserts a stride of trot

My horse changes lead easily from the right to the left, but systematically ads a stride of trot in the changes from the left to the right.
I tried several methods (Nuno Oliviera, Philippe Karl, Raabe, Decarpentry…), including yours. At the first try, he gives me a correct change and then falls back in his old habit by anticipating my demand and inserts a stride of trot before changing lead.
What do you think?

Is your horse related to Trotters? When teaching your first changes of lead, did you ask directly for a flying lead change or did you change through trot?

Nevertheless, it is an interesting problem, and difficult to resolve.
I think the strides preceding the lead change must be particularly attended to: collect more, confirm the left canter aids while staying light, have well timed, fast, clear and precise aids to change to the right.

1. Try to modify your way of proceeding, to feel the very moment you must act by anticipating or delaying the aids, by acting faster or more smoothly, by having a clearer action of the upper body and by opening or closing your fingers more.
2. Try to determine if one spot is better than another (straight line, diagonal, before or after the corner…). Figure out if it is easier to change from the wrong lead to the right lead or the opposite. See if it is better to lead to a change in the same, increased or decreased cadence. Finally, find out which are the most favorable amplitude and vibration…
3. Look for the posture or balance (more or less on the bit, more or less collected, more or less seated, neck more or less high, horse more or less free…) that are most favorable to your horse, in which he succeeds best.

This should put you on the right tracks. Watch… observe… All these factors have great influence on your horse's psyche. It is by modifying the elements that you will obtain a result.

Very little is often enough…!

Posture-position / Walk / Trot / Canter / Shoulder-in / half-pass /Flying change of lead/ Tempi changes / The canter Pirouette / Piaffe

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