I know I’ve already shared a lot of big news, but this is probably even more important than all that.
More important than me moving to California.
More important than graduate school.
My beloved, nerd horse…
IS DOING LEAD CHANGES!
Now, he’s always done some lead changes. My trainer would get the occasional clean change when she asked, but it was never consistent. On course, Simon would do a clean change when he really needed to – like a tight rollback in the jumpers. There have also been very rare occasions when I would ask for a lead change on course, and get a clean one… but I can count the times that happened in the show ring on one hand.
Simply put, I figured I was a bad rider who couldn’t own a horse with changes and my beloved horse had enough hock/hind end issues early in his performance career that he was never going to do changes consistently.
So what changed? Well actually, we have Roman to thank for Simon’s new skill. Roman had a lot of issues cantering when I first got him, so I put him in close to full training with my trainer. She developed some exercises using haunches in to help strengthen Roman’s hind end as well as teach him to relax through canter transitions. This work was instrumental to Roman’s transformation, and my trainer also thought it might help some of her lead change challenged clients. Turns out, it did!
Even though we’ve been on the relaxation path this summer, I’ve had my trainer ride Simon enough that she was getting consistent lead changes with him. When it was my turn, I didn’t have the same luck. We immediately settled into our old habits of Simon trying to dive in the corners, and me doing my best to communicate to him what I wanted… but ultimately failing. No changes were had, but my trainer did not get discouraged. She told me to work on haunches end exercises in my flat rides, and not to ask him for any changes. So that’s what I did.
Two weeks ago, I rode over the weekend and did a little jumping on my own. Simon was forward and happy, and in the corner he automatically changed the front but did not swap the hind. Usually when this happens, I have to slow him down enough for a half trot step so he can catch up the hind. We call that our skip change, and it’s the best I’ve been able to do for years. That day though, when I half halted him in the corner he stepped forward with his hind end to catch the lead a few strides later.
I took a lesson last weekend, and just focused on jumping my horse around because it’s something we love to do. There are no shows on the line, and no pressure. But wouldn’t you know it… on our first course he did a clean change on a rollback. I thought it was a fluke, but then we cantered to our most difficult corner and he did a change so smooth that I couldn’t even feel it. This happened twice that day, and always when I was keeping him straight and forward.
Straight and forward. Who knew? I know everyone is shocked.
Not every corner is perfect, and not every change is automatic… but they are happening. They’re happening because he’s stronger and sounder than he’s ever been, and I’m learning what it’s like to keep your horse straight and balanced at all times.
I have no dreams that Simon is going to be an auto change horse overnight, but I do think they’re going to be a skill in his toolbox now. It’s exciting, and a really great gift for him (and my trainer) to give me before we set off for graduate school and a less intense program. I just hope I can keep him as tuned up as he is now during school, because he’s so much fun to ride these days!