I know that this past weekend's lessons won't be the only ones I get this fall, but they were a great start. I told Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, that there were three things I needed to work on with Speedy.
The first was simply getting him sharper off my aids. We finished our show season winning the CDS Regional Adult Amateur Competition at Second Level. Since then, I've gone back to work, and I now have to ride in the late afternoon heat. Neither Speedy nor I really wanted to work hard at anything. We've been kind of coasting along. Now that the weather is cooling off, we need to get back into race trim.
The second thing I wanted to work on was the half pass at trot, but as it turned out, Chemaine had us working on half pass at both the trot and canter, something we had yet to start. Apparently, I've been practicing the trot half pass mostly correctly. All I really needed to do was look at a point before the corner so that my half pass went at more of an angle. They're still very rudimentary, but we have the idea down.
The canter half passes were barely even half passes. The main trouble was Speedy was convinced I was going to ask for a flying change. It took a while for him to figure out what I was doing; me, too for that matter. In the end, we got a few strides where he and I started to get it. My big take away from that part of the lesson was that I need a whole lot of bend before I can even think about asking for his hind end to step over. We'll get there.
The final thing I wanted to work on was the flying change - of course. Right to left we have down. I can get it the first time pretty much every time. The only thing I really need to work on is asking for it sooner and sooner with less drama. Here's video of the first time I asked. His change is so quiet that you'll barely see it, if at all.
Left to right is a different story. As I worked on them by myself over the past few weeks, I figured out that I needed to ride it differently than when asking for a change from right to left. The main problem is that he's falling in on the right shoulder which means he can't change. It kind of looks like this ...
Chemaine helped me fix a slue of little issues before I asked for the change. The first was that he kept trying to bolt as I changed the bend. To fix that, Chemaine had me keep on cantering as though all I really wanted was a counter canter.
When he refused to soften to the inside rein, I just kept cantering without asking for the change. Eventually, I got a change in front, and later a change in back. To get it all to work, I needed Speedy to get soft on the inside rein, AND I needed a strong half halt to get the change behind. Here's where the pieces finally came together, albeit a bit disjointed.
In the end, I was able to put it all together and get the change, even if it wasn't as prompt as I would have liked. As soon as I came out of the corner, I changed the bend and started half halting, reminding him to be soft on the inside. The outside rein said no bolting, the inside rein said stay soft, and my seat said change. It took a big outside rein, but he finally got it.
That magical moment ...
I am not an expert at flying changes. We can get them, but not reliably or even consistently. That's okay; I am patient(ish).
The problem with a movement like the flying change is that you either get one or your don't. Movements like shoulder in or medium trot can be improved while you're in the midst of doing them. If your shoulder in doesn't have enough angle, fix it and continue on. Same thing with the medium trot; half halt and go for it again.
The second I get on Speedy, I want to start working on the flying changes, but I can't because he needs to be suppled and in front of my leg. That means I need to do about a million transitions, some shoulder in, some travers and maybe a few turns on the haunches before I can even think about a flying change.
Once we do start the canter work, I can't just ask for a flying change either because I need to get him soft and on the outside rein first. If I've been diligent and correct in my aids, I can start to think about asking for the change after we've done a few simple changes through walk and maybe some counter canter.
Speedy has a good work ethic, but if the task even smacks of drilling, he's out. Speedy likes things to be interesting, and he likes to feel successful. He doesn't appreciate being asked to do the same thing over and over. All of this means that by the time he's ready to give the flying lead change a try, he's been working for about 25 minutes. He doesn't think he should have to work much beyond 30.
Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, told me something funny the other day that I've really taken to heart. One of her clients asked why she couldn't do whatever it was until the second try. Chemaine laughed and said it was because she prepared on the second try but not on the first.
Well that explains a lot. With that thought in mind, preparing, I've been super careful about asking for the flying change. Speedy will only give me his best effort a few times which means that I can't afford to waste his time by not preparing.
On Monday, I got a crisp change. I changed direction, got the next one right away, and called it quits. I don't want to burn Speedy out or make him dread that part of our ride.
As long as I am patient, Speedy will get it, and he might even make it look easy. We've got all winter to work on it.
Even though Speedy and I have been schooling the flying lead change, we hadn't had an actual trainer lesson on how to do them until last week. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, had talked me through the aids over the phone, but getting a lesson in real life is always better.
Chemaine teaches the horse (and rider) the flying lead change like this:
Sometimes we got it, most of the time we didn't. And over the weekend, when I worked on it by myself a few days after the lesson, things went south pretty fast. On Saturday afternoon, I texted Chemaine with an urgent cry for help; I am pretty sure I've broken Speedy's right lead canter.
When Chemaine rode Speedy a few weeks ago, he wouldn't let go of the right rein. For this lesson, he wouldn't let go of the left. To encourage him to want to change, she finally had me do several things. The first was to keep the new bend while pushing his haunches to the rail on a counter canter. When he finally let go of the left rein (the inside rein), I could then ask for the change.
The other thing she had me try was to pick up the counter canter on a circle and do the same thing: new inside bend while keeping the haunches pushing out. It was hard, really hard. It's not magically getting easier either. Exhibit A - Like I said, I think I broke his right lead canter.
I have the feeling that I am going to be writing a lot about the flying lead change and how much we suck at doing them. Bear with me.
And they're correct! When we get one that is. After schooling them for less than a week, we get the change about 50% of the time. I am actually quite pleased with them as I haven't even had a lesson yet. Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, talked me through the aids over the phone, so I've been working on it on my own in preparation for tonight's lesson.
The interesting thing is that all of a sudden, his canter has gotten much more uphill, and the simple changes are getting crisper. I guess that's what happens when you raise your expectations. Getting my saddle adjusted has also helped.
To be completely honest, I was thrilled beyond belief that we even got any changes the first time I schooled them. I was certain it was going to take all fall before we even got one flying change. It took about three asks before he gave me one. When we changed direction, he got it on the second try. I've never asked for flying changes before, so I was over the moon happy that we were able to get any on our first try.
For Third Level, I'll need a flying change across the diagonal. For now, Chemaine suggested I ask for them in the corner. To set him up, I counter canter across the diagonal, half halting to get him as light in the bridle as I can. I change the bend to get him on the new outside rein, and then I switch my seat to the new lead.
He's not changing with my seat aid (yet). I have to do a strong half halt on the new outside rein and scoop with my seat. Chemaine explained it like this: It's being methodical with your aids, so the horse recognizes a canter transition when he hears one. Even if he's already cantering!
That way of thinking about it has helped a lot. The other thing she suggested was to keep cantering even if he doesn't change and just circle around and try it again. When he gives me one, we walk, and I give him a loud and enthusiastic good boy! He knows when he's done something right.
I am super excited to be schooling Third. Who would have thought?