When a Flying Change Fails

When a flying change fails, the reason is usually that the horse became crooked and/or fell on the forehand. This results in a loss of the connection between the inside hind leg, the ground, the rider’s weight, and the reins which prevents the half halts from going through. That’s why things generally don’t improve if you keep cantering and keep repeating the aids for the flying changes.

It saves much time, sweat, and aggravation for both horse and rider, if you interrupt what you’re doing, bring the horse back to the trot or walk, or even to the halt, straighten and balance the horse, check his body for stiff, braced areas, remove the muscle blockages, and re-explain the biomechanics of the flying change (i.e. shift the weight, change the bend, move the pelvis).


As the horse is developing his conscious competence, he will often need time to think and to plan his next move so that he can perform the task deliberately. As he moves from conscious competence to unconscious competence, he can do flying changes anywhere, any time, with less and less preparation.


The same thing goes for the rider, too. When we are first learning the flying changes, it helps us to go over the mechanics of the aids in slow motion so that we can think and plan carefully. As the movement patterns of the seat and aids become ingrained in our bodies, we can also ride flying changes with increasing ease and less preparation.


When a change didn’t go through or didn’t happen at all, take a break at the walk and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which body part of the horse is not supple enough?
  • Can he move his hips easily in both directions?
  • Can he change his bend easily in any gait, at any time?
  • Is his throat latch and poll supple in all directions?
  • Can he easily shift the weight from one side to the other?
  • Did you over collect him so that his hind legs got cramped and were unable to move freely?
  • Did you let him fall apart?
  • Was the tempo too fast or too slow?
  • Did you let him get crooked before the change or when you were asking for the change?
  • Did you throw him off balance with your seat?

When you have a working hypothesis, pick up the reins and try again. Observe the result, evaluate, tweak the seat/aids/exercise approach or the working hypothesis, and repeat the cycle.