I had not had a lesson in quite a while on Fling – due to drama in my life, Marie’s horse show schedule and the weather. Through it all, though, I have been plugging away at home with her, always with Prix St. Georges as my goal in the distance, and was feeling fairly optimistic about our progress. To be able to show PSG, we have to solve a few problems and make progress in several areas.
Fling is an extremely smart horse. The smartest horse I’ve ever ridden in my 30+ years of having horses. But sometimes that gets in the way of training. Take flying changes. At their basic, flying changes are done when a horse changes direction at the canter, so the new ‘inside leg’ can lead. But at the highest levels, flying changes are done across the diagonal, in multiples of 4s, 3s, 2s and, ultimately, every stride, and not just when you are changing direction. Fling, in her infinite wisdom, sees no point in doing flying changes if she is not changing direction. Plus her extreme high energy is another challenge – flying changes wind her up like nothing else. For the first few years we were working on flying changes, they made her so hot, once we did one, I couldn’t even work on anything else, because that’s all she could think about.
The other challenge to successfully showing PSG is the canter pirouettes. Fortunately, Fling has shown a talent for them – but, again, I have never ridden a correct canter pirouette on a trained horse, and being able to ‘feel’ when she is on the right track is always a challenge.\
But, even with all of that – the past month I felt we’d had a few small epiphanies.
First I have been riding Fling in a way that gets her to keep her back up and rounded, which allows her to travel more uphill, and carry more weight on her haunches, which makes everything better. Secondly, I had an ‘out of the box’ idea for teaching fling the 3 and 4 tempe flying changes across the diagonal.
At this level, you can’t just ride a horse. You have to also be its trainer and try to figure out how the horse learns and sometimes tailor that to your specific horse. I joke that I have to train Fling ‘to the test.’ I cannot get Fling to do a flying change just anywhere. But she has learned where they are in the dressage tests and has learned to do them at those places.
For my out of the box thinking with the flying changes across the diagonal, first I started by doing simple changes (canter to halt, then pick up new lead from walk) along a fenceline (to keep her straight). I would canter three strides, halt, ask for new lead, then canter three strides, halt, ask for new lead. This is helping Fling to learn to anticipate that after three strides, she has to listen to my aids to halt. Getting Fling to halt from the canter is absolutely one of the toughest things to do. So, doing this, over and over again, reinforces in her minds he has to be obedient and do this. Also, doing it this way, it is easier to keep her straight. In flying changes, the more changes she does, the more crooked she gets. Here, she is controlled and I can keep her straighter.
So, I got to Marie’s today and told her about my ‘out of the box’ plan for Fling. She suggested also trying it across the diagonal, since, in the test, that is where they will be done. So after warming her up, I did one series down the long side of her arena, and then I did it across the arena, and she stayed pretty straight. Good girl. Marie thinks this will work! It has to be totally ingrained her in mind that she LISTENS to me and doesn’t get excited and just charge off during the movement before I move to actually asking for the flying changes.
We did that a few times, and then moved on to canter pirouette work. Marie cautioned to NEVER just stop after you’ve schooled your horse in the pirouette – canter a few strides forward and then come to walk or take a break. You don’t want them stopping on you in the show ring. (Although truthfully that’s NEVER Fling’s problem! LOL!)
We started with a circle at canter and asked for transitions into and out of collected canter and ‘pirouette canter’ which is the most collected canter possible. Marie reminded me not to just get her hind legs slow – she needs to move the hind legs quickly, but with shorter steps, so even though the canter itself is slow and super collected, the hind legs must NOT be slow. Once she was listening and doing that well, then I asked for the right canter pirouette by sitting heavily on the right seatbone – you have to feel like you are ‘leading’ them to the right with your right seatbone, and your outside leg a bit ahead of the girth. The problem I’ve been having at home is that I feel like her shoulders are not really moving well enough to prescribe the small circle necessary, keeping her hind legs moving in an even smaller circle. Marie watched me and told me to use less outside rein and more outside knee. Ah hah! I had not been using my upper leg at all – only my lower leg and spur. Once I added the knee, the pirouette improved dramatically both directions. I stopped and gave Fling a big hug after a particularly good one and we stopped there!! Fling got much praise and peppermints and I am feeling more confident about being ready to show PSG in 2014 – as I told Marie, I don’t expect to be ready before summer, but “I can see PSG from here!”