BILL— to a degree, most everything, but my secret pet peeve is when novice riders describe their horses’ random bad behaviors in classical terms. I’m sorry, your nervous, neurotic horse was not piaffing on the trail. He was just anxiously prancing about, most likely in no coherent rhythm.
Nor did he perform a levade, a balanced “crouching,” very collected movement with extreme bending of his hocks. He was just standing on his hind legs. That’s very different!
These are not just semantic disparities. To endow them with classical names doesn’t give credit to the time it takes and the degree of difficulty involved in training those actual movements
QOTM: I need flying change exercises. I’m currently doing them sporadically whenever I can just pick up the canter and just go until he’s not thinking about it and then throwing one in. Ideas?
BILL— Flying changes are complicated “until they aren’t!” There are a whole bunch of exercises, but which can be most useful often depend on your horse’s attitude towards the whole project.
Yes, a balanced counter canter is a major steppingstone. You can take advantage of a certain amount of anticipation by doing them a few times in the same place, then changing things up enough that you are sure he will wait for the actual aids and not get too far ahead of you.
I prefer doing them in the beginning at a point where it is clear he should come to the other lead – that is either at a corner or at a turn where you can simultaneously change the direction and the lead. Examples: counter canter on the long side with the change at F before the corner turning towards A; cantering the diagonal and holding the lead through the corner. Changing before the second corner as you turn onto the next long side; turning across the arena on the perpendicular from E to B and asking for the change at the second quarterline before the right turn.
It’s also helpful to be pushing the horse a bit laterally into the direction of the old lead (which will become the new outside after the change). In a space larger than a standard arena, ride counter canter on the 20 meter circle. Ride an expanding half pass pushing the horse onto a larger circle and into what will become the new outside leg. Be sure to change your leg position a stride before you want to give the actual change indicator. That new outside leg behind the girth is the “cue,” but support it with the new inside leg active at the girth.
One thing to remember is that if you don’t get the change, most of the time the solution is NOT to use stronger aids the next time. instead, go back and use other exercises which will sharpen him without making him angry— quick trot/halt/trot transitions, leg yield and counter leg yield a few steps each emphasizing how promptly he will shift his balance and answer your seat; combinations of forward then yield then halt then back then forward then yield the other way. Anything that quickens him to the aids and makes his balance more readily adjustable.
Another good one is to ride counter canter and leg yield him away from the rail to the quarter line. Immediately half pass back out to the track. Do it twice and the third time instead of leg yielding, change the bend, turn onto the beginning of a 10 or 15 meter half circle and immediately ask for the change.
Asking over a ground pole In the beginning can also help him understand and not worry too much.
Try those for starters. Which ever ones you use—and there are plenty more—a critical factor is to be sure that your hips and the horse’s motion are in sync. Even just for a single change, always count down to it. Don’t just count down “intellectually,” but feel the count through yours and your horse’s bodies. “THREE TWO ONE CHANGE!” On the three and the two be making your horse straight and balanced with half halts in the rhythm of the stride. At “one” move your former inside leg back to become the new outside leg. At “change” firmly use that leg behind the girth while your new inside hip slides forward, your new inside leg at the girth activates the inside hind, and the new outside rein half halt makes the old leading foreleg wait.