Fly­ing Changes on the Di­ag­o­nal

Practical Horseman - - Inside Your Ride -

Never walk around show­grounds on the buckle! If some­thing grabs his at­ten­tion—maybe the wind catches some flags or a tent flap—you want to be ready to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion. Take note of what­ever he seems most aware of and use this in­for­ma­tion to nav­i­gate your warm-up plan.

If your sen­si­tive horse is young and in­ex­pe­ri­enced, there’s no shame in ask­ing a friend to at­tach a lead rope to his bit and lead you to the warm-up ring. I’ve done this many times on hot, eas­ily stim­u­lated young stal­lions. (I call it my “lead­line class.”) With so much go­ing on, this is of­ten the safest ap­proach for ev­ery­one. Have your friend lead you around the grounds while you sit qui­etly in the sad­dle, pat­ting his neck and sooth­ing him with your voice. Stay out­side the warm-up arena un­til he’s calm (it’s not fair to other rid­ers to add this ex­tra fac­tor to the con­fu­sion), then have her un­clip the lead and step away.

Sen­si­tive horses are eas­ily set off by other horses—es­pe­cially big, in­tim­i­dat­ing ones. I’ve found that Friesians tend to fall into the lat­ter cat­e­gory. They’re usu­ally large and their high knee ac­tion, earth-pound­ing gaits and long, swishy leg hair cre­ate a dra­matic pic­ture. If you’re on a timid guy, he’s go­ing to re­act to more dom­i­nant-ap­pear­ing horses like these just the way a sen­si­tive kid would be­have when he passes a bully in the school hall­way: He’s go­ing to freeze. Try to un­der­stand his per­spec­tive and do your best to stay on the op­po­site end of the arena from that horse. This is not the day to force him to ac­cept a bat­tle of wills against a big, black Tro­jan horse.

Sim­i­larly, if you no­tice an­other horse who looks wor­ried or scared, steer clear. That timid horse might up­set your timid horse.

Keep these fac­tors in mind as you re­hearse dif­fer­ent move- ments. Say you’re on a young horse who has to per­form a sin­gle fly­ing change in his test. Avoid prac­tic­ing it when he’s fac­ing an­other horse head­ing to­ward him. In that sit­u­a­tion, he’s not go­ing to hear your aids be­cause he has to pay at­ten­tion to this on­com­ing horse.

Also be­ware of small spa­ces, close calls and any sit­u­a­tion in which your horse might get sand­wiched be­tween other horses, trig­ger­ing a mi­nor panic at­tack. If it’s un­avoid­able—for ex­am­ple, two horses are ap­proach­ing you head-on and you have no choice but to pass be­tween them—halt where you are and sit tight, pat­ting him for re­as­sur­ance. Stay calm and hold a steady con­tact on both reins in case he tries to spin away from the horses. You’ll feel him tense up and hold his breath as they go by. Wait for him to take a big breath after­ward be­fore rid­ing off.

In very busy warm-up are­nas, it’s some­times dif­fi­cult to find the op­por­tu­nity and space to fit in ev­ery move­ment you in­tended to prac­tice. Keep in mind the time you’ll have out­side the show ring be­fore the judge rings the bell. If your horse is on the sen­si­tive and/or claus­tro­pho­bic side, he’ll wel­come this time with re­lief: “Ah, my own space!” Try not to get rigor mor­tis in front of the judges—they will not judge you un­til you en­ter the arena. In­stead, seize this op­por­tu­nity to squeeze in a lit­tle last-minute train­ing: a can­ter-to-halt tran­si­tion, trot length­en­ing, walk pirou­ette, pas­sage-pi­affe—what­ever you think will make you feel most pre­pared to en­ter the ring, even if that means not prac­tic­ing the ex­act count, for ex­am­ple, for a zig-zag or tempi changes.

Re­gard­less of our horses’ char­ac­ters and con­fi­dence lev­els, we will all ben­e­fit as a com­mu­nity if we prac­tice bet­ter arena eti­quette—both at home and at shows!

Here, even though I’ve clearly com­mit­ted to the di­ag­o­nal, Lori cuts in front of me. This in­ter­rupts my horse’s for­ward mo­men­tum, caus­ing him to lose fo­cus, lift his head up and in­vert his frame. The ir­ri­tated ex­pres­sion on his face says it all! WRONG

Be­fore I com­mit to rid­ing tempi changes on the di­ag­o­nal, I check that all the other rid­ers around me are clear of my path. With noth­ing in front of him to worry about, Reef stays fo­cused, quiet and on the bit while per­form­ing the fly­ing changes. RIGHT

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