Saturday, September 15, 2012

All Lead Changes, All the Time, and Boundaries

Dawn is a very smart horse, and also very eager to please, if she trusts you and wants to work with you.  Now that she knows I might ask her for a lead change at the canter, she's all over it, offering up lead changes all the time, even when I haven't asked for them.  We had this same effect when we were starting our work on the canter together - if I did anything that resembled a pattern she'd experienced before, she'd anticipate and offer the behavior she thought I was about to ask for.  In the case of our canter work, once she knew that canter was a possible thing we'd be doing, she'd start to get excited and want to canter, and once we had cantered all she wanted to do was offer canter again.  We worked through that, mainly by varying the patterns and also working on our relaxation - if she can relax and focus on exactly what I'm asking her to do by staying mentally with me instead of thinking about what she's guessing I might ask for next, all goes well.  This anticipatory behavior at the canter has pretty much gone away now.

But now that she's anticipating lead changes, she's doing the same thing - mentally getting ahead of me - I think she also finds the lead changes just plain fun. We were doing some canter work in the outdoor arena yesterday, and as we'd come around the corner and down the long side - the last place we'd done lead changes - she'd start loosing her relaxation and offering up lead changes every two strides.  I could feel her anticipating - her canter stride would get very elevated and more collected just before she did the change.  I was not asking for the changes, she was just doing them - and this is a horse who's never done a flying lead change with me under saddle in the more than three years I've been riding her. So after a few times of this, I worked on very clearly mentally communicating to her that I wanted her to stay on the same lead down the long side - I had to do more than just avoid communicating "lead change", by clearly communicating the feel of the same lead to her and also helping her (that's the meaning of the word aid - help) with a bit of inside rein to tip her nose slightly to the inside.  If her canter started to get unusually elevated, we broke down to trot before she offered a change.  And lots of praise when she kept the same lead.

Dawn's a wonderful horse to work with because she teaches me to ride with care and precision - she won't accept anything less from me.

My use of the slight aid as a help - a boundary - is an example of how I think about aids, and cues, now - but more about that in another post . . .

Pie and I had a boundary experience yesterday, as well - or rather a boundary-less experience.  It was a beautiful day, and Pie and I were going to work on his forward and also his canter work.  His canter work under saddle needs more development - he's still finding the tight corners in the indoor difficult for his long body and neck.  He needs more time just cantering, and finding his balance and ability to soften and shorten and lengthen and elevate the canter.  So we took advantage of the beautiful weather and worked in one of the large pastures, where we could canter for a good long ways without having to make sharp corners and avoid other horses.  Pie had some trouble taking the left lead, even when we were bending to the left and turning in that direction.  Mark Rashid said something interesting about this at the clinic - the clinic arena was big and open with no fence or visual boundaries.  He said that horses who have done most of their cantering in a round pen, when asked to canter in an open space, will often offer the outside lead rather than the inside lead - it's as if they're looking for the support of the fence and not finding it.  They're heading to the outside mentally so that's the lead they take.  In Pie's case, although we were tracking left, he was mentally wanting to head right - in the direction of the barn - so was taking the right lead instead of the left lead. I was finally able to get both leads, but then took him into the outdoor arena briefly and asked him for the left lead he had struggled with.  Because there was a visual boundary it was no problem.

Red gets his blood drawn this morning for his EPM and Lyme tests, and we'll see what we find . . .


  1. I`m coming up to the lope with Sunny right now, she` a bit retisent about he move. But she gives me a try. Thats all I want for now. I can see what you mean about anticipatory behaviour, it can be annoying sometimes, but there is a real kind of "i want to please" feel about it.

  2. Dawn's enthusiasm is exactly how Harley approaches flying changes, or hopefully used to. ;)

    Dawn is an awesome teacher. What a gift!

  3. Dealing with anticipation is still one of my biggest challenges.

    Dawn sounds like such a smart and athletic horse. What a great horse to have!

    Very interesting comment from Mark about cantering in open spaces. I wonder if I will find similar behaviors in Dee when I finally get brave enough to canter out on the trails with no fences to provide support (seeing as I am such a hardcore arena rider)? It will be interesting to see!

  4. As I've said before, riding a smart horse is often a huge challenge. Add to it that sensitivity Dawn has, and you are in for an intellectual challenge all your own. Sounds as if you are up to it--developing exercises to forestall her anticipation.

    Though I do have to laugh a bit. In the dressage arena, a number of the upper level tests call for a canter extension down the long side with a downward to collection at the last side marker. With my two TB's I could get a HUGE extension...once a judge was sure I was going to run her over...and my Boys would come back "soft as butter" at the marker because they knew the routine.

    Interesting about Pie, the canter and the round pen. I've never started a horse in the round pen, so I never encountered the canter lead issue. Once again, I'm sure you will sort it out. And then it will all be as "easy as Pie." (sorry, couldn't resist....*G*)

  5. Challenging! Delightful that she's eager to give you what you want, but good on you for wanting to communicate effectively that until an aid is given, Dawn should just keep on with what had previously been asked.

    A good teacher of a horse she is, indeed!


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