Exercises to prepare a horse for flying changes
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, March 14, 2015 10:14 AM
Santo has been working very hard to develop his canter. My biggest challenge with him is making sure he works through the back, stays straight and stays connected. As soon as I listed them here I realized these are basics! :) Sharon has been telling me all the time to work on basics more rather than riding the movements. I am starting to see the importance of this in a new light. Last lesson Sharon asked us to perform a flying change to make an assessment how ready we are to start seriously working on them. Well, of course, it was a mess and Santo doesn't change behind at all. He can cross-canter for 5 minutes and it doesn't bother him a bit. Sharon said she is not worried about that fact. She thinks it shows how comfortable Santo is in his body :) However, after watching us Sharon gave me a list of exercises to work on providing I pay strict attention to the basics being correct during these exercises.
Shoulder-in
To ride a horse straight in canter a rider must ride a shoulder-fore. Otherwise, the horse will end up with haunches to the inside and dropping into outside shoulder. This tilts and twists the horse's body and energy escapes sideways. The horse cannot correctly lift through the shoulders. However, it is quite possible to ride 3-track shoulder-in in canter. As long as rider is careful not to ask for more angle. This exercise will teach a horse to carry and lift even more than shoulder-fore. It will also put the horse more on the rider's aids. Think of shoulder-in in canter as a strengthening interval like exercise. Do not ride it for too many strides and mix it with working or medium canter.
Walk-Canter-walk
These transitions must be very clean, straight, with good active 4-beat walk steps in between. Transitions to walk must feel very fluid, easy to perform. The horse simply steps into walk, not falls into it with hard deceleration. The canter must be slow in tempo and speed and the transition done more from the seat than the reins. Santo has a tendency to become flat and quick and then falls into walk with tight back rather than steps into walk staying supple and fluid. I have to stay supple with my back in order for him to stay through.
He has no problem picking up any canter lead I ask even on a short side and circles. However, his left canter depart tends to be less graceful, rather flat and he falls on my left aids for support. He is convex on the left and I have hard time plugging in my left seatbone correctly. Both these asymmetries aggravate the situation.
Leg-yield
When Sharon told me to ride of leg-yields both directions (which means on the same canter lead leg-yield right and left) I was pleasantly surprised. I always thought that these exercises are a great way to supple a horse in canter. However, they are not that common. And many horses refuse to leg-yield in canter and drop into trot or change the lead, etc. Sometimes just changing flexion is enough for a horse to start switching the leads. Not that this is problem for Santo, he can counter-canter with inside flexion round after round :) The biggest challenge for a horse in these leg-yields is to preserve the jump, keep working through the back, stay straight and upright in his body and stay light. Going into the direction of the lead is easier but harder to preserve the basics and quality of canter, horses like to fall on the inside shoulder and speed up. Leg-yielding away from the lead is much harder for the horse to coordinate and they want to drop into outside shoulder and collapse. Keeping them straight, upright and engaged is very important to reap the benefits of the exercise.
Tempo changes
This exercise is about slowing down the tempo of canter while collecting it. The horse must stay longer on the ground carrying the strides rather than jump up as soon as he touches the ground. The deer type canter is very stiff and unsightly when seen in the horse. It is extremely important to prevent the 3-beat rhythm and a good jump after the horse slowed down the tempo and starts sitting in his canter. Horses have a tendency to flatten out and go to 4-beat canter if they are not strong enough to sit and carry. They compensate by dropping the outside shoulder ahead of inside hind leg making canter look flat, lateral and 4-beat. If a rider feels this happening during collection he/she must ride the horse energetically forward and lengthen the stride.
This exercise can be done on a circle or going large. Collect and slow down for a few strides anywhere on a circle or anywhere around arena remembering that doing it on a circle or in the corners is easier for the horse than on a straight line. Shoulder-fore must be preserved at all times during this exercise, otherwise, horses push their haunches in to avoid carrying with inside hind.
Happy riding...
 
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