Flying changes
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, August 6, 2015 11:03 AM
Flying changes has been on agenda with Santo for the last 1.5 years. They had proven to be a challenge. One reason for it is because at liberty Santo never changes clean. He can run around change direction, change front legs and continue cross-cantering round after round without ever bothering to change back legs. Watching him do that made my heart sink with worry - How would I get that horse to change behind?!!
We have changes now! They are not perfect yet. But they are often clean and Santo understands them and he is calming down a bit and is starting to listen rather than get very excited and worried.
When I introduced the idea to him for the first time he absolutely didn't understand what I am talking about. He simply continued on the same lead, tried to go more forward feeling my leg, got worried when I didn't want him to, etc. I left the subject go. The positive outcome of that was he almost never tried to change in counter canter :)
I worked on the basics. My transitions walk-canter-walk needed to be better balanced, straighter, more uphill. His canter needed and still needs to have more adjustability and the collection-extension range needs to be widened. His overall canter quality needed and still needs constant improvement. He tends to tense his back and go flat and quick. So the list was long and I wasn't really worried that he didn't want to change at that time.
After the last show season I came back to the flying changes. This time I was more serious about it and wanted to push the subject even if he didn't get it at first. He started changing the front but not the back. I tried many different exercises - diagonal, counter-canter to true canter on a straight line and on a circle. I would go and do many canter-walk-canter transitions changing leads often and then try to sneak in a flying change. Nope! He would change the front and not the back. Now thinking back I made a mistake in picking the direction to work first. Because his right lead canter always felt better and he makes transitions to it easier and he tends to land on a right lead after jumps I thought it would be correct to start this work from left to right. That was a mistake! And I think I know why. First of all, at liberty changing to the right he stayed much longer in cross canter eventually changing back to left. Other way he would canter half a round and then eventually change the back end. That should have been my first clue. Second, if right canter is better changing from it is also easier.
I was planning to board Santo for 3 winter months at my instructor's barn. So, again, I stopped working on flying changes thinking I am not doing it right and only making my horse worried and confused. However, Sharon thought our canter wasn't good enough for changes. It needed to be more on the aids, more through, more capable of collection. And we worked hard on it. Canter started to feel better and better. However, I was still very keen to start the flying changes work. So I decided to do it anyway and I decided to go from right to left first. I went to the left cantering on the right lead. On a long side toward a mirror I positioned him almost haunches-in. I had the whip in my left hand to tap on the left hind leg and encourage it to jump through. First attempt didn't work. I felt I didn't prepared enough and I thought I should have half-halted on the left rein to encourage the lift of that shoulder before asking for the change. Second attempt, he tried to run but I insisted with half-halts and tap of the whip until he jumped up and changed. He did it pretty messy, he swung the haunches left big time, threw himself around a bit. But most importantly - he changed and did it clean! It was end of February. That was our start.
Since then I started working on them almost every ride. Asking only one at first, then 2 and then 3. Always right to left. When we got home in the beginning of April Santo got a respiratory infection and then developed an allergic reaction to hay. We had only a few rides and then until middle of May I could only do walk. I only had a chance to do couple normal rides when I had to leave and horses spent three weeks on vacation at my friend's place. Finally, beginning of June we are back in business and started our work on flying changes again. This time I introduced the left to right ones. Again, he didn't want to change the hind end. I tried at first tapping with the whip encouraging him to jump through. No, it only made him run. Then I realized how confusing and plain frightening this can be if he has no idea that hind legs need to change. So, I would ask him to walk and ask for right lead and then I would walk-canter-walk-canter rapidly on the right lead asking him to jump up not forward, tapping him if he hesitated to pick up from the slightest aids and just made him sit and canter almost on a spot. It made him hot but it worked. After these rapid transitions he changed clean through a bit of a buck. It was middle of June.
Now it is beginning of August and changes are becoming a part of our routine. When I change direction and ask for a flying change I get it 80% of the time clean, much better from right to left, still a bit messy from left to right. The problem I am facing now is he changes sometimes when I do not ask. This makes counter canter work difficult particularly when he thinks we are working on flying changes :) I am thrilled that he wants to change and chances clean most of the time. However, I do prefer them to be when I want them :) I also see how easy he can displace me when he wants to change even if I do not ask. He just throws me over so I do not block his change. Since I realized that I can control right canter much better and I can pretty much put a lid on his attempt to change to the left. Left to right changes are much harder to control. They are physically hard for him so he puts more effort and jumps up so much I end up thrown over to the left side and he changes. I feel that this issue has opened my eyes to a new level of plugging in my seatbones and ability to bear down equally on both sides. I must make it very clear with my seat which lead we are on and continue to ride that lead. If my seat becomes even a bit fuzzy about what lead I am riding it gives him permission to change if he is thinking of it.
Overall, it has been and still continues to be quite exciting and emotional journey. Working on flying changes gave me so much food for thought, new level of awareness and new ideas on how to improve canter further. Santo's willingness to please is helping us overcome his clumsiness :)
Yesterday I had a lesson with Sharon and we worked on flying changes. She gave me lots of tools and ideas. I will write about it in my next blog.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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