Also I told Trainer A, who set up a lesson plan based on my January goal, so I didn't get a chance to back out. Past self is smart. I hate her.
Today was my first lesson where we were expressly going to work on flying changes. Since jumping helps, I threw on his jumping tack. He gave me a shaky change in each direction last week and he gave Trainer A a right to left change yesterday, so he's at least aware of the concept. It's just not on a cue or at all reliable. With his jumping background, the plan was simple. Jump him, swapping leads over the fences like usual. Drop the fences to poles on the ground and then we'll take the poles away. It will take a long time, but we do change of lead over fences all the time because he's a smart boy and knows there's a change of direction coming when I turn my head. Might as well build off of what he knows and where he's comfortable.
Theo is all about finding comfort wherever he goes
He was sticky in his warm up, dropping behind my leg. He felt stuck in his hip. Chiro is out on Monday so we'll get that fixed up but for today, I focused on forward, forward, forward. Jumping helped because he does love to jumpa da jumps. For the first couple passes, it was easy. He's done this enough. Crossing the diagonal over fences? Change leads in the air. But the swap from left to right disappeared quite quickly when he realized there were no bending lines or real jumps. Not a surprise, he prefers his left lead as a rule and these were single little cross rails. I started to ride for the change and managed to break the change over fences completely because I'm an idiot and thought collecting would fix that while jumping. Pony knows that he dressages when in that frame and when dressaging, rewards come from hanging on to that lead. It also had us coming in far too close to the jump and defeating all of the forward and lift we get from jumping.
We moved the jumps up so he wasn't in dressage mode but then he was much more interested in staying on his left because it's easier to jump from. It got us forward again, but we were both more focused on getting the jump then we were the change. We dropped the poles on the ground so both Theo and I would stop thinking about jumping. I got changes with no poles at all last week so it was worth a try.
Right to left, he's got the idea. Canter up to the pole, get a push from the new inside leg, swap leads cleanly with a hop over the pole. Done and done. No big change in rhythm, no bolting, just a change of lead. Many, many cookies for the pony. Once the light bulb went on, he was very consistent. I like working on this over a pole with him since it makes sure he's going to go up for the change.
Left to right, it's hard. He doesn't particularly want to canter on his right lead, so it takes more creativity to get him to offer the behavior when he has very little idea what I'm after. After a couple passes, I got my whip tap timing right and he hopped up into a clean change (of course it was a couple strides after the pole). Much petting, many cookies. The lightbulb started to flicker. Repeat with the good side, then come again asking for the change to the right. It takes three or four strides after the pole with me asking the whole way, but he does change. Some passes got disconnected, but we were able to end on a clean change.
The good news is that the biggest protest was a buck due to the whip tap. Theo is not a fan of whip taps ever, so this isn't change related. He's not showing a propensity for bolting and slamming into the bridle. I think it helps that he is learning it with a click/treat so he doesn't want to fly around. He wants to stop for his reward.
The bad news is that he's not always clean with the left to right change. He'll change behind first if he's protesting the request. Which is super weird to me, I've always had horses change in front and forget the back. Theo will swap behind, then get around to swapping in front a couple strides later.
Let me tell you, our walk to canter was freaking sweet by the end of this lesson. He was thinking forward into the canter and stepping under himself. I was also not overriding it because I was more preoccupied with the new tricky thing. I didn't expect that bonus.
We also completely blew Theo's mind. We had to have a complete stop/cookies/cuddles reset in the middle of the ride because he was starting to look overwhelmed. He was offering the behavior I've been asking for in recent months, but all of a sudden I wanted something else and it was very upsetting to him. Counter canter = cookies! Simple change = cookies! He made a valiant attempt at walking for one change since simple changes are how we change leads and mostly tripped over himself and the pole. I'm glad he didn't actually fall on his face or try that twice. This is the same horse that threatened to rear and flip over when introduced to the turn on the haunches because it wasn't what he expected to be asked. Theo is a total PITA to teach new things, he finds new expectations very upsetting. I'm glad we confirmed counter canter first. If we were going the other direction? Forget it.
So we survived day one. As this is super tricky and my horse is ridiculously clever at evading things that are new and challenging, I will only work my changes with supervision. Trainer A will also be working on them during her rides. Our goal for the month is just to get a calm change on a cue over a pole in both directions. Once Theo has the mechanics completely sorted out in his little head and it's no longer so new and strange that smoke comes out of his ears, we can wean him off the props. There's no rush, I don't need the change for at least another year.