Turn and Face the Strange (Change)

Turn and Face the Strange (Change)

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!

Obviously ruined for life
Obviously ruined 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 changesMust 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.

25 thoughts on “Turn and Face the Strange (Change)

  1. Gina came with beautiful auto-changes, which was pretty fucking cool until I realized that 1st-3 has shallow canter serpentines, which to Gina mean “APPROACHING MIDDLE OF ARENA, CHANGE LEADS CHANGE LEADS”. You’d also think that a horse with changes would serve to teach ME how to ask for such things, so that I could teach my other, less educated horse how to do them. LOLZ not happening.

    Good for you and Simon for making progress and tackling new things!

  2. I’m the same way in my head about lead changes, and I’m SO lucky I put racehorse ones on Bobby as a teeny baby because now he just does them automatically. When my friend came out to ride him awhile ago, I was like, “Have fun with his changes!” She asked how to cue him for them and I could not tell her one thing besides, “Make him straight and….shift….sort of?”

  3. Sounds like you guys made a lot of really awesome BIG steps in the right direction (addressing physical things is huge, you are the best Simon Mom)!

    Great things to come no doubt.

  4. “OH SHE KICKED ME. Legs! Do something with legs! Why do I have so many legs???? ” <—– hahaha hilarious lol. yay for steps in the right direction tho! lead changes have always been mysterious enigmas to me too and frustrate the ever loving hell outta me, esp knowing that my horse has them… ugh. good luck!

  5. As a kid, I never learned how to ask for changes because my pony was auto. Current pony will do them occasionally if all things are perfect, but I have no idea how to ask for them, and my trainer says it’s not important for me right now, so I am the queen of simple changes. Good luck in figuring it out!

  6. Dooooode. Changes are haaaaaaard.

    I just fixed my horse in the same way (but estrone instead of blistering, similar effect). Now he’s all crooked and sore and terrible from carrying himself so wonky for so long. It feels like we’ll be stuck in conditioning land for eeeeevaaaar.

    But, in all seriousness, changes are hard.

  7. So excellent! Way to tackle the lead change demons. I have some of those same inner monologues when I’m going to the right. It’s such a struggle.

  8. Kudos for addressing the physical issues first. I hope you plan to share the simple instructions which you were given. Harley gets in the zone sometimes and throws changes all over the place. He will change for me on a figure eight, but changing in random spots is not on the cards. It also took me a long time to keep my position consistent enough to not provoke a change. I have never had a lesson on lead changes, so I feel a bit like a kid who learned to play guitar from Internet tab.

  9. OH MY GAWD. Your internal dialogue section – especially Simon’s part – made me nearly spit iced coffee on my keyboard at work. “Why do I have so many legs???? — I die!

    If it makes you feel any better, my internal diaglogue is exactly the same. Fortunately (unfortunately) we are currently trotting poles and nowhere near lead changes so plenty of time to address those later. Can I borrow your trainer? In lieu of that, can you post EXACTLY, step-by-step, what she said? Help a sistah out 🙂

    1. Make sure he gets over the jump straight. When I land, don’t worry about what lead I’m on or not. Take my inside hand and set it on my hip, asking for an inside bend. I can’t let him fall in though, so I have to use my right hand and STRONG inside leg to push him out. Do a circle in the corner with this extreme (but soft) inside bend. When he circles nicely and softens I can straighten out back on the rail and either canter to it again or down transition.

  10. So glad to hear the Nerd Horse is feeling great! I’m sure you’ll both be all straightened out and changing leads in no time. (And I mean that literally…. it’s all about being straight!)

  11. GO sound Simon! Thanks for laying out those steps- I was looking for them! Curious to get your take on the stifles work you did. I’ve been reading a bit about stifles as well.

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