Bimini is a smart little orange horse. He wants to be a very good boy; so he sometimes guesses what we want to happen next, especially when it comes to flying changes. He quickly picks up on trends and tries to take over and do things on his own.
For a while we schooled the changes after making two real corners on to the centerline. Pirouette canter consistently helps before changes. Anything less can be a dangerous grey area. Could I really get the butt down and shorten the canter if I wanted to? Am I making an “invisible” half halt or is it invisible because the reaction really isn’t there? Schooling the pirouette canter before the real corners helped to setup our canter, and he didn’t expect a change on the centerline, so he stayed on my aids. Though soon enough, he picked up on the exercise and the anticipation made for sloppy changes. So we started doing them after making a corner to cut across the ring instead of centerline – same idea, different place. This worked for a while, but soon he figured out that game plan too. In my attempt to make the change happen I ended up rushing my aids to sort of pretend that the change was my idea (making it “mine” before it was sure to be his). I would start asking just before he took over, but that’s just as bad. I might get in a change, but it’s not honest. It’s not the timing that I really want.
In one lesson I was cantering down the long side and Courtney called out to do a change. No big deal. Bimini didn’t expect it, his canter was already good, and it was right on my aids. So we had a nice big change. Yay! I called out, “He didn’t expect that!” Then Courtney had me go on the short diagonal and do pirouette canter saying, “If it’s good, we’re going to do a pirouette.” We haven’t been schooling actual pirouettes, just the pirouette canter, so I got myself in thinking mode. I tried to ride the canter the same as if we weren’t planning to pirouette, but simultaneously tried to be ready to turn and know what to think of in the turn etc. etc. etc. My brain was as caught up with thoughts as this wordy explanation. Wrapping itself around and around the plan. Ok, short diagonal. Pirouette canter. I think it’s pretty good – preparing for the turn but waiting for Courtney to say, “Pirouette.” Instead I hear, “Ok, change.” — Wait, what?! But, but, but, the plan! I’m not ready for that! Ha. I spastically tried and failed to switch gears and ride a change before we got to the wall. It was so messy and I was so thrown out of Koryn Overthinking Land that I just halted and busted out laughing. There was definitely a sizable snort that escaped somewhere in there too. Why do I crack up so easily?
Courtney’s plan was to see if I’m the one anticipating the changes… a fair enough theory, though I don’t think it’s usually the case with Bimini. I shouldn’t have been so thrown off guard. I’m sure that I’ve done the same sort of thing to students! It’s a good reminder that I should be ready and able to do anything, and I always appreciate a good laugh!
My favorite exercise for the two of us came next. Courtney had me ride around and around the arena pretending that I wanted a change without really asking for it. I stayed a little off the track or occasionally went across the diagonals – wherever. I would push him into what would be the new outside rein, collect the canter, slide my new outside leg back, push the canter forward, anything that would make him think that I was planning to do a change, but never actually pressing the new outside leg, never actually half halting with the new outside rein, never actually asking for a change. At first he would get tight every time, everything in his being wanted and started to change, but Psyche! I was just fooling around. You don’t get to guess little friend!
Whenever he would start to hop and try to do a flying change, I would do my best to clearly tell him to stay on the current lead. If he threw in a change before I could stop him, then I just walk and pick up the other lead again. Around and around… Maybe we’re going to do a change? Nahhh, I’m just going to slide my legs around and we might do one later. I can psyche him out anywhere, not just on a diagonal when he’s sure he should anticipate something, just on a centerline, just on a short line, or wherever we might “normally” do things. He gets bored of guessing because there’s no specific place. He has to just wait and pay attention everywhere.
When I was sure that he was not anticipating and that a flying change was completely my idea, I would do the same setup and then actually put my aids on to ask for the change. What was cute was when he was so sure that we weren’t doing changes that when I finally asked, he just wouldn’t change! He would hop around a little, as if to say, I really want to change, I want to do it, but NOPE that’s NOT what you want mommy. I will refrain! I can do that for you! After a couple of tries he realized that it might be an ok thing to do now, and then we had some great changes. It’s so nice when things are totally honest and not a guessing game.
I think pretending to do changes is something we’re going to have to go back and use often. We WILL have to school specific exercises – sequences, changing after half passes, changes on the short sides, etc. So he does have to be able to do things in specific places. I can’t always just ride around so that he won’t have a way to figure out a pattern. In his last lesson, Courtney had us practice canter half pass with a flying change at the end. The priority was having a good change, so we didn’t half pass very long in order to give lots of space and time to prepare the change. Sometimes I would pretend to do a change, not change, and then really do a change. Sometimes he anticipated the whole time and I didn’t do a change. Sometimes he felt patient and I could ask for a change without fooling around first. We need to practice them everywhere – just wait for it!