It's not that I'm afraid of riding a flying change. I've ridden lots of horses with flying changes, even some fancy dressage horses that could do tempi changes. Allen had a beautifully trained flying change and I am forever grateful to whoever installed that. He's the horse that taught me to consciously ask for a change instead of assuming my horse had an autochange (hello, h/j world). Fiona was a completely natural change. My problem with her was getting her to stop changing for the counter canter. That mare would pull tempi changes on the trail because any change of bend brought on a change.
Theo does not have a flying change. He had one for about two weeks a couple years ago, but when our training went off the rails, the change seemed to disappear. He swaps leads when we're jumping, but he's lazy and only developed a sorta collected canter in the last couple months. There's an extra beat in there somewhere, it's not a big pretty dressage flying change. Since he got comfortable in the counter canter, he's now just as happy to jump off the wrong lead and I have to clearly tell him I want to change leads. It's kind of a nice feature if it's a bending line and not a lot of time to change or if he changes careers and becomes a big eq horse.
Powering over those 2'3" fences
Yeah, not looking like a future big eq horse.
I keep putting off the change because I'm convinced I can't do it. I'm convinced I'm going to ruin his counter canter, his flying change, his career, his self esteem, his hair, everything. I've taught a swap to lots of horses in the h/j world. Half the time the suckers pick it up all on their own while doing course work. This is my first time with a dressage flying change. On the one hand, how much harm can I do? He's already got a slightly lazy swap, it's not like I can install that wrong. That happened a looooong time ago when someone thought he should be an eventer. I'm in the perfect position to take a crack at it. I'm not aiming for tempi changes or FEI. I just need one change and he's already got the idea. I've felt him do it clean and when expected.
That doesn't change the fact that dressage culture has instilled quite a bit of terror in me. Having a change is a big deal when a horse is on the market. Being able to put a change on a horse is a very big deal for a trainer. Putting a change on a horse is NOT for the ammy adult owner to do. You hand that to your trainer and sip some chardonnay. Once it's on and confirmed, you will start practicing. Ammy adult owners do not touch something that delicate or handle the flying change hell that occurs just after.
delicate little flower
Trainer A is assisting, but this is mostly going to land on me. I ride him the most. Part of me wants to scream and send him away for a month and then get my horse back with a change installed. On the other hand, I need to figure out how to do this for myself. I doubt Theo is my last dressage horse. I might as well figure it out. Who better to practice on then my own horse?
So I'm watching everything I can find to try to come up with a plan. My checklist for stuff that my horse needs to have before I try to actually install this:
1. A nice simple change. I've got it on video without a saddle, his canter to walk actually exists and is consistent (so long as he's not freshly clipped and trying to take me for a bolt like he did on Sunday) and has no trot steps. Canter canter canter walk. His flaw is in the upward transition, he likes to cheat and use the underside of his neck if I'll let him. So long as he's up in front of my leg, it's all good, but it's my indicator that forward will be (as always with mi papi) a problem.
2. A counter canter. Yup, totally got this. We're up to 10m half circle, back to the wall on a diagonal line, 15 m half circle in the counter canter, and then walk. It's still an effort for him, but he's not fighting the lead or anxious about it.
3. A collected canter. Yeah? I dunno, it looks good in the glimpses in the mirror. It feels good, like I can transition to a lengthen or down to a walk. We fall in and out of it, but I have been told that's to be expected for a Second Level horse. He knows how, it's sure not easy or something he can do all the time. I feel like it needs more power, but I'm probably always going to feel like that. He's lazy, so that's a thing.
4. A canter half pass. We can do little ones, like four or five strides heading toward the wall. I've been cautious on this and don't want to overface him. We also leg yield in canter quite a bit, getting him used to the idea that he should pick up his tummy because I may suddenly decide to go sideways at any point while cantering. We're also doing some shoulder in and haunches in at the canter to encourage him to pay attention, carry himself without me having to get in his face, and let me rearrange his body at will.
By all measures I've found, it's time. We have months until our next show so we can recover our counter canter. I have to draw a line in the sand or I'll never move. I think I need to devote December to improving his strength in the canter. I don't want any moments of weakness or transitions that fall over. He's got the idea, just needs some more power and confidence. My Equisense says he needs more elevation in his canter, so that will give me something to work on. All the cavaletti work in the canter.
unrelated selfie in my clipping outfit, the glasses are a Godsend