Walk to canter
Trot to canter
Canter to canter = flying change
All three of these are the same – a simple canter transition. The first two are pretty straightforward, but many people think the flying change is a whole new thing with a different aid, but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated! A flying change is simply a canter transition from the one lead to the other.
So lets break down the canter aid. We could get into a debate on whether it is inside leg or outside leg to cue canter – but that is for another discussion. For the purpose of simplicity, outside leg to cue the canter is easier for most people, and easier for flying changes. However, neither is wrong and the only key is to be consistent.
If you cue from the inside leg to canter, than do it in both directions. What happens to many riders is they don’t realize they are cueing the canter with the same leg for both directions. This creates a mess when you want to start working on movements like counter-canter and flying changes. You can get away with it for a little while, but eventually you will have to go back and fix it.
We could also discuss where your weight is and your seat bones, but over-thinking it can make things more complicated, so in the effort to keep things as simple as possible, don’t over-analyze where you are sitting. You should be sitting on the outside seat bone and allowing the inside seat bone to be light so that the inside hind leg can come through. As the horse jumps up into canter, your leg position remains the same (inside leg at the girth and outside leg back a bit) the whole time you are cantering so your hips match the horse’s hips.
Timing of Trot to Canter
The timing of the aid is the most important. If you get the timing right but don’t exactly hit the right spot, or use the wrong leg, then you are still highly likely to get a canter transition.
To find the right timing, ride a trot that is active, straight, and connected, posting in an easy, smooth rhythm. Remember, rhythm is number one on the training scale!
Plan to canter between the center line and the wall (this will help you get the inside lead if you have issues with the horse falling out or picking up the wrong lead). As you approach the centre line, sit for two steps and ask for canter with the outside leg a little back. So the timing is
- posting trot
- sit one step
- sit a second step (half halt and release)
- cue the canter on the third step.
And poof, the horse should jump into canter. If the horse does not canter, then regroup in trot and process what happened while you circle again back to the same spot. Did you actually put your outside leg on? Was it a little back? Did your horse ignore you? Did you lean forward? Hold on for dear life? Block with one or both reins? Fix it and try it again!
Maybe you don’t know what happened, and that’s okay. The challenge is to have the discipline to be clear, concise and able to have self-awareness of what we are doing versus what is actually happening.
Timing of Walk to Canter
The same discipline, clarity and follow-through is going to be needed for walk-to-canter transitions. Now there is only one moment in the walk that the correct (inside) lead canter is possible and that is when the inside hind leg is about to take a step. This is when you are going to put on your outside leg to cue the canter. Again, the leg is a little bit back and touches the horse’s side like you are pressing a button; it is not a big squeeze or a long push.
By the time you are starting walk-to-canter transitions, the location of the strike-off to canter becomes less important. The most important is the timing of your leg and your seat as your body swings with the walk stride and your legs move like a pendulum with the horses hips/hind legs. Find this rhythm and ask for the canter when your outside leg naturally wants to go on. Be mindful to position your leg off prior to the cue to canter, rather than dragging your leg back when you want to put it on.
Mistakes happen – the horse jogs off, barely reacts, or picks up the other lead. Avoid using a bigger leg aid, or having your leg so far back it throws your position off. Also avoid over-bending the neck. If you have confirmed the timing and location of your aid is correct and your horse is not reacting, or too slow, then add a tap with the whip right behind your outside leg at the same time as your canter aid to help spark the engine. If that seems too difficult to control, try tapping him on the outside shoulder along with the canter leg aid.
Canter-to-Canter Transition = Flying Change
There are many articles explaining when to start the flying changes, and how to know when you are ready. Once you are ready, here is the what, where and when of the flying change aid.
The clarity and timing of the aid are key, and the aid for a flying change is the same as the cue to canter from the walk and from the trot. The SAME. The flying change aid is just a canter transition from one lead to the other canter lead.
Flying changes are one of the most natural things horses do in the field. Some find them easier than others, but if the horse can canter a good three-beat canter, then it can jump from one lead to the other. Late changes, quality of changes, and expression is a massive topic for another time.
EXAMPLE: Right Lead to Left Flying Change
In the right lead canter check that your legs are in right lead canter position the whole time you are cantering. Right leg at the girth, left leg behind the girth, so that your inside hip will be slightly more forward than outside hip. While cantering, your legs should be softly touching the horse’s sides without actively driving to maintain the canter. Count the canter for three strides; use the moment the inside front leg hits the ground for your ‘beat’.
You are looking to ask for the horse to change leads as it ‘jumps’ up into the air to the new stride. The changes happens on the way UP in the canter cycle rather than on the way down, which would result in a change that is late behind.
Stride One – you stay the same.
Stride Two – you may slightly flex to the left if required.
Stride Three – you half-halt with the NEW outside rein (right rein) and switch your leg position (left leg to the girth and right leg back).
Stride Four – Your right leg, which is already back, asks for the left lead canter as the horse jumps up.
So the count is one, two, half-halt, change.
- Ask for the change on a straight line rather than in a corner or over a pole.
- The inside rein is not part of the flying change aid.
- The rider’s seat stays in the saddle and the rider avoids leaning into the change.
- If there are any issues, return to walk-to-canter and trot-to-canter, as well as canter-to-walk transitions.
- Changes can be exciting – both the good kind, but also the jumping around kind – so always return to quiet work if your horse gets worked up.
- Less is more; get a good one or two changes and then try again another day or another week.
- Never feel badly about asking for help.
- It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated, keep things as simple as possible!