I have a lot of fires going right now, and had several minor panic attacks about them all yesterday. So naturally, the best decision this morning is to sit here at work and write a quick post about lead changes.
Because we all know how much I adore lead changes.
Now Simon has some physical characteristics that I knew have historically made changes hard for him. We’ve got the bum right hock, wonky stifles and a weak hind end. He’s never been one of those dazzling OTTBs that swap leads like 90’s kids trade pogs. I’ve known that for years and have spent time trying to build up his topline and hind end to make him stronger.
That’s been going rather well.
Earlier this fall, I was in the fortunate situation to have a little extra cash around. Naturally, I called my newly beloved lameness vet out to the property and said, “This is my pony. Now do all the vet things to give him lead changes.”
He looked at me quizzedly and started to say important words like Training and Rider Talent, to which I brushed off and said “Inject all the things!”
So we did hocks again. Good news – the bum hock is now so fused that it’s the good hock. Bad news – the good hock is now flexing worse and probably starting a similar fusing process, but hopefully not bad if I stay on top of maintenance. After hocks, I discussed Simon’s hind falling out problems with my vet who then started looking at stifles. Turns out Simon’s right hock was so loose that my vet could physically pop it out with his hands, and it’s not like the man is the Hulk or anything. We decided to blister his stifles (which I know can be controversial but it was discussed at length and I’ll leave it at that), and within a month his falling out problem got 95% better.
Next was having the chiro out to help re-adjust Simon who was sore from having to carry his body differently with the stifles fixed, and after all of that I had a horse that was more even and sound than he’s ever been before.
When the physical concerns were addressed as well as I feasibly could, I handed him over to my trainer. The first few rides were less than stellar.
“He’s so crooked and won’t stop rooting I can’t even start on changes yet!”
Shocking what months of inconsistent riding will do to a nerd horse. After a month or two of me getting back to a regular riding pattern and my trainer taking up the reins more often, Simon was ready to work on changes again. I was instructed not to school them at all, and let her take the lead. After the first ride, I got a text like this:
Rode him with a short dressage whip and got several changes out of him. Hopefully I’m not ruining him for life!
A few rides of this, and it was clear Simon wasn’t ruined for life. He even gave me a clean change on course in my lesson, but something else became clear pretty quickly… I have no idea how to properly ask for a change and am great at setting my horse up for failure.
My thought process for changes: Must go straight to corner. Oh god, we’re on the wrong lead. We’re probably going to crash into the fence and die. Okay hold right rein out. Lean left? Lean right? Um, gotta do something now there’s no time left. Lurch left! Kick something! Okay the legs moved but I’m not sure where they are.
Simon’s thought process for changes: I JUST JUMPED A JUMP AND I JUMPED IT SO AWESOME. Corners are stoooopid. Let’s go this way… ugh Mom said no. Now I canter with my head twisty like snake. Haha. OH SHE KICKED ME. Legs! Do something with legs! Why do I have so many legs???? Why do they go all different directions? OH LOOK ANOTHER JUMP IS COMING! YAY!
So yeah, there’s room for improvement here.
Last night I had a private lesson where my trainer broke down the process of changes into something so simple that even my ammy pea brain could handle it. Were we magically fixed overnight? No, this is horseback riding and that doesn’t happen. What did happen though, was a big step in the right direction. I’ll take it.