I remember the first time that I wanted to show my Mom that he could switch leads in the canter. This was September 2010. He had just started offering them in response to my leg. I knew that my Mom was watching, so I wanted to impress her and ride as correctly as possible. I also wanted to set Harley up for the best change possible. I sat up really tall and made sure that he was really balanced on his hindend...
My horse threw the largest buck I have ever, EVER, ridden in my life. I had no idea he could buck like that. He completed the change, but with way too much fly. I did my best to remain calm, and like a good trainer, returned to the same spot, asking him to repeat the change nicely...
Somehow he bucked ever harder! I was literally thrown onto his neck and I watched in slow motion as both my feet flew forward toward his nose. I have no idea how I stayed on. Thankfully, he did not seem to care that I was now riding his neck and cantered straight ahead on the new lead as I shimmied back into the saddle.
By this time, my Mom was rightfully concerned. She asked what was with the "bronco stuff"? I promised her that he had never done that before. Sure he can bunny-hop and dance around from time to time and he used to buck into the canter when he was learning his balance, but nothing like this. Nothing that unseated me. Unfortunately, I had to keep riding and I had to return to the exercise that was causing the problem. At this point, I realized that I was most likely the cause of the problem, although it could also have been partly my horse trying to figure things out. I had to quit overriding, but that is so difficult to do, when your horse is trying to send you to the stars!
We took a break from the exercise by going really forward in the canter. When we returned to the flying change, he still bucked so we did it again. He bucked again, although not quite as badly and I think that I called it quits then. After some careful thought, I decided to abandon the changes temporarily and get more control and throughness in the canter. My teacher advised me to work on the canter transitions from the trot and the walk, as the flying change is really just a canter transition from the canter itself. Leaving the flying change for a couple months felt like giving up and it was a bit of a hit to my ego. I was so excited that my horse had a change in him, but I had to let it go for the time being. That was in September of 2010.
By November, I was ready to let him try to flying change again. Sometimes a buck emerged, but it was a small buck, similar to the ones he used to throw when he was figuring out how to transition into the canter. About half the time, he gave me a smooth, buck-free change. I remembered not to override and discovered that the less I did, the more smoothly he changed. He showed me this by changing on his own with absolutely no buck. He had the skill and balance to change nicely, I just needed the finesse to ask him without disrupting that balance and harmony.
Without a regular trainer, it has taken a very, very long time (years!), and I have learned so much throughout the process. I would not call his flying changes completely tamed at this point, but we are getting there. Less is definitely more, but I still need him to be obedient to my aids. My goal is to have enough influence over his hindlegs that he no longer changes when he wants to and changes cleanly when I ask, where I ask, and without popping his hindend! When we have that much harmony in the changes, I think that riding changes in sequence may be possible. Maybe. That would be a dream come true.
My husband captured some more of Harley's exurberance on video. This is during our warm up and shows the very first canter transition. Notice the defiant head toss. He was really full of beans that day, but it made for some exciting video (The Big Trot On Video). I intentionally did not praise the first flying change, because it was "unsolicited" although very smooth and nice to ride. The second one was requested by me and was in his more difficult direction. He does not always change cleanly going left to right, so that was worth a big "Good Boy!".
Caring horse people will notice that Harley coughs a few times during the video. He also coughed in the previous video from the same ride. I mentioned it before on this blog, but it bears repeating that Harley has allergies, which have flared up this year. He coughs from time to time, especially in the beginning of the ride. Unfortunately, he was having a particularly noisy day (as was the whinnying horse!) when my husband was there to film and photograph. Please do not worry. He is under the care of my vet, has been tested, and is receiving allergen-specific immunotherapy, which is as close to a cure as one can get for allergies. The allergies have not seemed to affect his desire to work or ride, but if he ever tells me "not today", I will listen to him. His symptoms are variable, but seem to lessen when he has more regular exercise.
Back to the riding...
...I find that I experience an overwhelming need to lean during the flying change that I request. I am nice and straight for the first one, but I lean horribly for the actual requested change. I am surprised that he was able to complete it so nicely. My loss of balance is also evidenced by the icky downward hand pull that I commit in the transition to walk. This is precisely the reflex that I been trying to retrain in myself. This video was from June 2012 right after my lesson. Although riding has been sporadic due to the weather and heat, I have been working dutifully to correct my hand position and reflexes and straightness going left. Old habits die hard, but I think we are making progress, because Harley has not been bouncing his hindend around, tossing his head into the canter, or throwing in impromptu changes. He has been cantering much lighter on his feet and with better rhythm. The real test will be requesting a flying change again.