When I was younger there were very few equestrian programmes on TV. When Olympia came on it was a big event. Every time I saw it I felt inspired to jump bigger and better fences.
Sadly my pony didn’t watch the same programmes! I’d spend hours setting up a course in our field. I used everything our yard had to offer only to find she wouldn’t even jump the first fence! Her idea of a spread was two poles lying on the ground side by side. Try as I might I couldn’t fill her with an ounce of enthusiasm.
My second horse was at least willing to try. Having watched Harvey Smith, David Broome and the wonderful Caroline Bradley soaring over huge fences I’d go straight out the next day to practice. Problem was nothing I saw them do seemed to make any difference to my long suffering horse. In fact it seemed to make things worse.
How many times have you watched someone ride at a show and decided to try what they’re doing with your horse only to find, when you get home and have a go, it actually has the opposite effect?
If you’re a dressage enthusiast perhaps you’ve watched your local pro warming their horse up ‘long and low’. You’ve probably gone home and had a go with your horse. How long did it take you to realise you were just riding about with long reins? Often what you think you see isn’t actually what’s happening.
If that sounds familiar check out my other blog -http://schoolyourhorse.blogspot.com/2011/08/soft-in-back-or-head.html for some ideas on loosening up your horse’s back.
If it’s the show jumpers you watch then you’ll no doubt have been inspired to teach your horse to land on the correct lead. It has something to do with hanging off the side as you land from a fence – or so you thought. The thing is when you try it your horse just refuses to change …
Watch the pro’s carefully. They turn but they never lean. Their seat and legs stay still. Their upper bodies turn from the waist and they look the way they want to go. Their horses stay balanced and because of that they’re free to change legs. Think about it. If flying changes involved horses being overbalanced then our top dressage riders would all be hanging off the side!
Assume you want to turn left after a fence. As you land do you throw yourself to the left, hoping to encourage your horse to land on the left lead? What you’re actually doing is putting all your weight on his left front leg. If you were him and felt all that weight on your left side what would you do? You’d probably stick out your right leg to balance yourself. Which lead would you take? The right.
You can teach your horse to land on the correct lead over a fence but you won’t teach him by unbalancing him. Do that and the best you can hope for is a change behind making him disunited. He’ll wobble round the next corner and if you’re lucky he’ll change over the next fence. If you’re not he’ll knock it down.
If you want to teach your horse to change over a fence try this –
Put an upright fence on the FXH diagonal at X. This isn’t the fence you’re going to change over. This is the fence that shows your horse you’re changing the rein. Put another fence on the diagonal between the ¾ line and H. As he jumps it he’ll be turning towards the new rein and naturally take the correct lead.
If you’re thinking “my horse won’t” it’s because you’re not sitting correctly. How would you ask for a flying change? You’d half-halt and put your new outside leg back to tell your horse to change. That’s all you do over a fence.
Over the fence put your outside leg back. This tells your horse you want him to ‘strike off’ with his left hind
As you land look and turn your body towards C. He’ll copy what you do with your body. If his body is turned towards C he’ll naturally take the right lead.
Check your outside rein as you ride away. This will keep his weight on both shoulders. (Avoid pulling his head to the inside. This puts all his weight to the left again and will encourage him to take the other lead.)
Some horses find the idea of changing much harder than others. In that case you can put extra fences at C and M. All you have to do is keep him balanced around the curve. If it takes him the whole of the short side to change don’t panic. He’ll learn. The calmer you are the sooner he’ll understand. Gradually the penny will drop and you can remove one fence at a time. Eventually you’ll find he’ll change leg over X before you’ve had a chance to ask him.
Jumping horses often have unrealistic expectations from their riders. Dressage horses don’t have to do a flying change until Advanced Medium. Be patient. Trying too hard and over riding causes more problems than it cures. The less you do the easier it is for your horse to understand your aids. Rush him and he’ll tighten his back. If his back is tense he can’t change leg.
All horses can change leg. They do it in the field on their own. Avoid unbalancing your horse and his legs will take care of themselves.
The Equestrian Store www.theequestrianstoreni.com