OK, so I have a lovely 20yr old Thoroughbred that I have owned for 12 yrs. I'll admit that he injured himself about 1.5 yrs after I bought him and was off until he was 17 chilling in a pasture (multiple reasons for that). We did no lead change work with him before he went to pasture as I was not capable of training him to do it and then I had a similar horse that I trained fairly easily to do changes. Now that my current horse has been back in work for just over 2 yrs (perfectly sound and willing to work) we have been working with him to do changes. He can do them and has but it's really hit or miss. I am not concerned about it because he does just fine in the jumpers figuring out what to do with his legs on the tight turns. I'm curious for a personal education standpoint if anyone has had a particularily difficult horse to teach that has some training ideas. He'll change over a pole and a jump and can canter trot canter and canter walk canter just fine. He just doesn't want to change behind.
When he changes in front but not behind that's generally a sign of not using his hind end properly, whether that comes from lack of balance or strength, being ridden from front to back, soundness, etc. A horse that has learned to just change in the front is very very difficult to fix. It's easier to start with a clean slate. If you can feel that your horse is only going to change in the front I would stop him and just do a simple change.
Some horses naturally get changes faster then others. I'm currently working with a horse that I was told "can't do a lead change". I'm starting from the beginning with him, getting his foundation a little better. You ride each horse from the back to front so it's crucial to be able to maneuver his hind end and get him using it properly. I started with turns on the forehand, easiest way to teach a horse to move his back around. Next came turns on the forehand and then leg yields. Horse needs to be able to move away from your leg and move laterally. Then came shoulder in/fore and haunches in to teach balance, strength, agility, etc. Then we started on a little counter canter. That was crucial for this horse, his canter just wasn't very good. All the while, we worked on getting his transitions very light and easy. I find that a horse must at least be able to canter/trot/canter with as little trot steps as possible, or really, canter/halt/canter. This horse was a bit of a freight train with transitions and wasn't able to do any of that. I haven't even started the changes with him, I'm just setting him up so that when we start he will physically be able to do it. And there's a much better chance of getting a clean change out of him that way.
Being a jumper I don't know what your views of dressage are, but my opinion is regardless of what you do every horse that jumps (hunter, jumper, whatever) needs to be able to do what I just listed above. I often don't think of it as "dressage", I usually just call it "good flatwork".
sidenote: Being 20 years old, I wonder if there's some sort of stiffness there that's gong to make it harder for him. Have you thought about injections for him?
Great post by upnover.
Anything you can do to improve his overall fitness and conditioning will help. Walk and trot work, shortening and lengthening on hills builds the kind of muscle that support clean changes.
But, a horse that will execute a clean change cantering over a pole but not on flat ground is telling you something, and I think it's that he is in some way stiff and uncomfortable. If you *make* him round and lift his hind end with the pole, he'll change, but he' just prefer not to have to work that hard, most likely because he hurts.
So I think looking into hock injections isn't a bad idea at all. I'd also have a conversation with your farrier, and if he isn't already on a joint supplement, I'd consider doing that.
In other words, I don't think this is a training problem, I think it's a physical problem. And I can't bring myself to be too critical of a 20 year old horse showing in the jumpers getting around course the best way he can.
This is often caused by improperly asking (at the wrong time), rushing the horse into the change or throwing the weight of the horse left or right to get the change. Even a pole on the ground can result in this fault.
I have posted many times what I settled on as the most effective way since I began teaching my horses the FC many years ago.
First off, this horse is not just doing the jumpers the best he can - he is winning and is calm and relaxed about it. I agree he may be stiff or sore...he is on a joint supplement, has the best farrier care available, is barefoot and is completely sound. He was examined by his vets before we put him back into hard work and they deemed him completely sound behind. I give him a little bute every now and then per their suggestion. He does dressage and does fairly well. I do 99% flatwork and 1% jumping with him, he is exercised 5-6 days a week and is quite fit. He can shorten his canter easily and his transitions are not a problem. I think is issue is lateral suppleness as we do work on keeping his shoulders and haunches aligned...something he is quite skilled at avoiding! He's 20 and earns his keep quite well and I'm not holding it against him that he doesn't want to do them. I appreciate the comments because they keep me aware of what's going on if and wn=hen I need to train another horse to do them.
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