Sunday, November 27, 2016

Effortless Lead Changes

When a writer sits down to a blank piece of paper or screen, there's a pause - sometimes a long pause. That can happen with lead changes until you think of the steps to get you there.  That's why I like steps spelled out for me as a reminder. I like them as a general guide. I also like to mix things up to make it interesting for me and my horse. I get bored easily.

I still look to my banner on my arena wall to review the general steps on an exercise, including a lead change. Sometimes when I'm warming the horse up, I intuitively start working on my lead change prep-work like 2-tracking. Both ways work for me. You too, I hope.

I'd like to always check my lead changes. I try to do one, when an opportunity arises like after a rollback and the horse is not on the correct lead. Of course, counter cantering always gives us riders an opportunity to change. If I'm outside on a ride and I find a welcome situation of my horse being on the wrong lead, I will happily do a lead change. It helps the horse to really understand about the cues for lead changes.

Let's look at the final step in our series of lead change exercises and that's to do the actual lead change while we're counter cantering. Of course, we need to practise doing a lead change while not counter cantering as well. The steps will be the same. This article will talk about doing the lead change from a counter canter figure 8 circle. It's the best scenario to practise lead changes, IMO.

What do we know so far? How has our prep work paid off?

1. Our horse is quite comfortable loping on the correct lead, is soft, supple and is looking for something new to learn. A little bored perhaps?

2. We've practised our lead departures so that we know they are always correct most (if not all) of the time. This is always good to review or do as a warm up before working on lead changes.

Lead changes are best thrown in between other exercises. We know it's important to keep the horse calm and interested.

3. We're at the stage where our 2-tracking at the lope in a slim figure 8 (think cigar), is going well because the horse is quite good at moving their shoulder laterally, which will help to clear the shoulder when asking for a lead change.

4. Finally, as prep-work for the lead change, we do calm, counter-cantering in a figure 8, where the horse is balanced, will not do unscheduled lead changes, is calm and is comfortable with the on-again, off-again situation of being on the wrong lead.

There's nothing left but adding the actual lead change. Let's do it!! Wait! Hold on! If at this point, the horse your riding, after a few months, is just not happy and is failing to do the prep work exercises (perhaps it's too tough for them), then you might want to consider that the horse is not going to be able to do lead changes. It happens. I wouldn't proceed as it could turn you and the horse off of lead changes. Let's assume we're ready to move on.

5. When our horse is counter cantering, say on the top half of the figure 8 and you've gone around that top half for a few turns to make sure the horse is calm and balanced, at some point along the circle, pick the horse up (with the reins), clear the shoulder as you would in 2-tracking, switch leg cues (putting pressure with the new leg on the new side) (think hip-in exercise) and kiss to your horse to change leads.

OMG! They'd be happy too!! :) 

6. Reward the horse by loping the bottom half of the figure 8 on the correct lead a bunch of times until they are calm and praise the heck outta your horse. I do! When I'm having trouble with a horse changing leads and the horse finally does it easier when asked to - it's a break through! Sweet!

If the horse doesn't change leads, simply go back to counter cantering on the top half of the figure 8 and start again.

I would keep doing a few lead changes this way and of course switch directions so I practise both lead changes.

One more thing - I found myself at this point feeling acutely when the horse wants to change leads. I'd ask for the change before the horse did it! Why not? That's me seizing the opportunity.  I do this initially to teach the horse to change leads on cue - not once they know how (no unscheduled lead changes).

Good luck!

I wish everyone a Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Putting my spin on making lead changes easy.

@KISS Reiners

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