Sunday, November 9, 2008

Lead changes

(Lead? Now you're gettin' fussy on me, missy. Hand over the cookie and no one gets hurt.)

Rudy, who is a much better rider than me and my equal as a horse geek, has been teaching me about lead changes.

When you ride a bucking horse, you aren't all that worried about lead changes. You are worried about... well, more basic issues.

But like all things with horses, the more tools you have to achieve a measure of discipline, the less likely you'll be dealing with bucking. At least that's what I saw with Canyon yesterday.

I was working on "things on the ground that will eat me" issues. I put down a sunshade and eventually got him to walk on it. Then he ALMOST walked on a black plastic bag, which does look like a huge hole in the ground. I forgot my blue tarp, which is what I really need to get started with. Overall a good start. His freak out factor went way down.

When Rudy got there we started riding and he started showing me how he's working with Woody on lead changes. Woody has a really tight gate, so I find it tough to see his lead, but have finally gotten the hang of it. (Here's a good article on leads) As Rudy took Woody through a figure 8 pattern I called out what lead he was on. Here's what they did.

  1. Take off on the trot.
  2. Cue (by pressure on the left leg, open leg on the right) for a right lead lope
  3. Head into a right turn on the right lead.
  4. Return to the center of the figure 8, slow to a trot.
  5. Cue for left lead lope (pressure on the right, open leg on the left)
  6. Head into the left turn
  7. Return to the center of the figure 8, slow to a trot
  8. Rinse and repeat.

For me, this is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy when you're a kid. You have to stop and focus completely to get it, but once you discover the rhythm, you are solid. Unless you stop and have to do it again.

So Canyon's biggest hurdle was me. I had to remember the "aids" (cues are for tricks, aids are your body moves. whaddevvah). When I first tried to head out I was a mess, and he was getting pretty confused. I switched to using the barrels as a visual figure 8 instead of just doing it free hand.

At first Canyon was pretty stubborn. He wanted to hang out with Woody, stand there while I talked, make subtle ear signals with the geldings in the other pasture. Earlier he'd given me a few idyll threats when we were loping, nothing dramatic, just some head action. He was testing my resolve, and I headed them off readily.

So when he didn't want to leave Woody I turned him in place, slapped his butt with my hand (I don't use a crop) and kicked him out. His attitude went from "yawn" to "oh, yeah, I know you! You're the serious one."

I was firm - something I am getting better at - and we were off. At first I had to really kick him into the lead. By the end of the session we had it down. It took progressively less pressure to get him to respond. It was a great feeling! Here we were doing the most complicated maneuver I've ever tried and at the end his attitude and listening was fantastic. Now I get it - the more you can do with your horse, the better your horse will connect with you. They HAVE to listen. You are establishing leadership from the saddle with your seat, legs and reins and you have to focus to soften up and reward - which is part of what they look for from a leader. It's not just about doing the maneuver. It's about doing something more in the relationship.

And I really need to work on transitions with Canyon - up and down from lope to trot to lope to trot to whoa. Over and over. This will give us a good thing to work on in that area.

Another step forward? I think so.

Afterwards, Canyon ponied the kids around (he's always been great at that). Here's a quick video of my husband leading Sierra, my oldest...


GNH said...

A good way to get horses good on transitions is to start doing it on the ground first, in the lunge. Lunging a horse and constantly making them switch between walk, trot, and canter will really help them pay attention to you and behave better in the saddle.

Breathe said...

The ground game we've got. He'll go up and down pretty readily. I think i just haven't been using the same discipline in the saddle. I get the feeling I need to repeat things there to sort of get the "oh, you are the same up there as down in the middle of the circle." I let him get away with too much initially as a rider and now I have to unwind that.