Episode 143: Prerequisites for flying lead changes

In this episode I’m answering a question about lead changes. In the beginning
I’m very methodical about teaching shoulder control with the reins, legs as speed control. THEN hip control with my legs…separate from the shoulder control that is in my reins. I discuss: Bend and counterbend, turn on the forehand, Canter-walk-canter transitions, bouncy canter (collected), counter canter…and more.
Can I slide my leg back and cue the hind end to step without the horse walking off or side passing?
Can I pick up the ‘wrong’ lead on purpose…and why would I want to?


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses in this episode, I’m answering a question about lead changes. And I think it’s really interesting that when I was taking notes for this, I actually have several side notes in here which in my mind speaks to how interwoven all of these things are as the training progresses. Let’s go ahead and listen to the question.

Caller: Hey, Stacy, I was wondering what your prerequisites are for teaching flying changes. What do you like a horse to be able to do before you start teaching? And then how do you go about teaching them to your horses? Thanks.

Stacy Westfall: Thanks for your question as far as prerequisites. It’s kind of an interesting thing. What I’m going to do first is I’m going to just take you through an overall on the thought process of training and then get more specifically into some very specific prerequisites for the lead change. I think, especially if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you can hear me use the phrasing elementary school, high school, college. So I’m automatically going to move the lead changes up into–you’re going to be learning the techniques in high school and you’re going to be, you know, in that upper high school realm when you’re actually changing leads on the horses. If we’re talking about a controlled lead change that you would see more typically in something like reining or Western riding or dressage, that is different than the lead change that you would do for something like barrel racing. And I talked about that in a previous episode that I will link to in the show notes. But for the purposes of this, I’m going to be talking about the more traditionally trained, cued, flying lead change that I would do in reining or in dressage. So when I first start riding a horse, I consider that elementary school in the very first thing that I do is I teach them these two concepts: I teach them that the reins are for steering and they’re controlling the horse’s shoulders and then I teach them that my legs are the speed control. So when I was making notes for this, the first interesting side note that I had here was that I find it interesting that my horses stop off from my leg release within the first 30 days of riding. So when I say this to you, it’s because I’m so consistent about my legs being on when I’m moving, that when I remove my legs, even though I don’t sit and just teach that as a cue, I don’t just drill down on like, here I’m taking my legs off here. I’m making you stop. They naturally pick up on it because they see that leg release come before they come down to a downward transition in elementary school. So it’s interesting that the use of your legs for “go” also plays into the use of your legs for, “whoa” or some of the other stuff I’m about to teach you. So in elementary school, I’m very clear with my horses that my reins are controlling the shoulders and that my legs are controlling their speed. The gas pedal and then the lack of gas pedal also becomes a little bit of like the braking system, too. So they’re slowing down as I release that. That’s going to be key here in a minute. I want to talk about some of my other leg stuff further up. So then just kind of fast-forwarding, we go up into high school. Right about the time that the horses are going from elementary to high school is when they understand counter bending. So bending, quick primer on that, is if I’m going to the left and I can see the horse’s left eye. Counter bending would be if I was going to the left, I could see the horse’s left eye and then I steer the horse off into a new circle going to the right, but I maintain or keep the bend to the left. So as I said, a different way counter bend would be going in a direction like to the right and being able to see the outside eye. So their counter bent, counter arced, sometimes people will say, and the reason this is important is because when I can do this, this is when I know for sure that the horse understands I’m steering the shoulders up until that point. If I am just bending, if I pull on the left rein, and the horse’s head goes to the left and the shoulder goes to the left and the feet go to the left, then I generally think I’m controlling the horse’s shoulders. But if I want to absolutely isolate the shoulders, that’s what the counterman does. And that’s going to be important. If I can isolate the shoulders and then, later on, isolate the hips, that’s when I’m going to have the body control needed to do the flying lead change.

Stacy Westfall: So that’s one piece, like that ability to bend and counter bend would be a prerequisite for the lead change. It also happens to be the entryway, that doorway that goes in my world, from elementary school into high school. Other things that are included would be the ability to do transitions that skip gates. So that means, can I go from a walk to a canter? Can I go from a canter to a walk? Can I go from a trot to a halt? Some of these transitions that skip over the gait instead of going, walk to trot, trot to canter, I’m skipping something. Those are higher-level things. So for me, when I’m doing this teaching, the reason I’m mentioning the elementary school right now is because I’m real methodical about making sure that these are–are–kind of got a separate feeling. And that’s going to matter here in a minute when I talk about the lead change. So I’m real methodical about the shoulder control in the reins, my legs as speed control, because then when those are really solid, then I start introducing hip control of the horse using my legs. So that’s separate from the shoulder control that’s in my hands. And I’ll make one little quick side note here. That’s one of the reasons why I talk a little bit about not doing the one rein stop too much, because if you think about how a one rein stop works, a lot of times you pull on the right rein, and kick the horse’s hip to the left. So you’re kind of sort of in a little bit of a way teaching the horse that the right rein, moves means move your hip to the left and that’s going to work against you in this lead change thing in a minute when we’re talking about it. So just that’s a side note, too. When I’m teaching my horses, I’m very methodical about being like, hey, horse, the shoulders are being controlled by my reins. Your hips are being controlled by my legs. And the speed control is also a little bit in my hand and a little bit in my legs. So that’s why one reason it was important to me that my horses understand that my legs can also help slow them down. And that’s why I make sure I use my legs early on so that when I take them off the horses notice a change is because I want that horse to actually start thinking that my legs mean more than just “gas pedal.” So a lot of horses–this is going to turn into another one of those side notes–so a lot of horses, when you are riding them, if you use your leg at all, they also speed up. And if I get on a horse and I use my leg for sideways movement and the horse also speeds up, I want to slow that down and I want to say, oh, well, did I cue them with my seat also? Or are they mistakenly thinking that legs also mean go forward always? So here’s how I would do this. So what I teach is that, stay standing on the ground, I will actually teach hip movement while I’m not even mounted. And I want to know that I can take my thumb while standing on the ground beside them and that I can touch them where my heel would be or where my spur would be, and that they will move their hindquarters away and not walk off in their front end. So in the beginning I might need to guard with the rein, or maybe even early on I will even like, say I’m standing on the side that you would normally mount. So that would be the horse’s left side. Say, I take my thumb and I press on that. That would be asking the horse to move the hip to the right. And I might need to hold on to that left rein, and I might need to help them just a little bit, but I want to move away from the need to use that rein as quickly as possible down here on the ground because I’m not trying to associate that hip movement with my rein. I’m trying to associate that hip movement with my thumb when I’m standing on the ground. And it generally doesn’t take very long for the horses to figure out that I’m standing beside them like that and when I press with my thumb that if I if they step their haunches over and leave their front end relatively stationary, that I’m going to remove that thumb and that’s going to be their reward. And they understand this. The super cool thing about this is that when they understand this, I can prove it by like holding my–my left hand, in this case, behind my back and just using my right thumb to move them and I know I’m not pulling on the rein. When the horse understands that concept, what it means to the horse is that they can have this light bulb moment where they think, oh, the rider can press with their leg and it doesn’t always mean go forward, even though the first thing I learned about legs when my humans started riding me was that legs meant go forward. And they’re correct that at first that’s what it was. Then I want to introduce that the legs can mean other things like I told you a minute ago that when the legs come off, that’s something that happens before I stop, when I’m riding them in elementary school. Then I want them to notice that I can press my thumb into their side and they can move their hips away. This actually helps horses, especially hot horses. It really helps them understand that the legs don’t always mean go forward. And that alone is super helpful because then when you’re trying to introduce these leg aids your horse doesn’t get heavier and heavier in their face, which is an interesting thought, because sometimes when the horse doesn’t understand and they think that your leg might mean move sideways and forward, what’ll happen is they’ll kind of get pushy and pushy in their face, which is another reason why one of the prerequisites that I have is that the horse needs to be able to do like a really good canter-walk-canter transition. And the reason for that would be that going from a walk to the canter proves that your horse knows the go forward, but going from the canter to the walk means that the horse understands collecting itself enough that it can step down into the walk without falling through a few steps of trot. And that’s going to be key for your horse, understanding the hand and leg balance that’s needed to collect the horse into a smaller or more collected canter. The only way you’re going to find your way from a canter to a walk without trot steps is for your horse to then have learned this next concept, which is my rider can be cantering on me, can gather me together by–by closing the legs and putting them on as a little bit of gas pedal and closing the hands as a little bit of brakes, if we want to say it. But we’re kind of squeezing that horse together and the horse can understand that when you do that, they are to collect themselves, and especially if you’re getting ready for lead changes when they collect like that and shorten their stride, you want to feel it get a little bit bouncy. And when I say a little bit of bouncy, a way you can envision that is just put a single pole, a single ground pole down on the ground, and think about cantering over that, because the amount of bounce or lift or elevation that the horse needs to be able to go over that ground pole will give you an idea of that bounce that they’re going to need for the lead change. So teaching a horse something like canter-walk-canter to me is one of the prerequisites.

Stacy Westfall: So let me recap. Lead change prerequisites: the horse understands bend and counter bend using my rein only to establish that because I’m going to need my legs for moving the hips so I can’t be helping with my legs to help the steering in the front end because I’m going to need my legs for steering the back end. So bend, counter bend that is clearly focused in my hands for the bend and counter bend and that my legs are just being used as gas pedal. The turn on the forehand that I teach from the ground, standing beside using my thumb, understanding that I don’t need to use the rein anymore because the horse understands the theory. Then being able to mount up and do that, sitting on their back, just sitting there still, touch with my leg, have them do a step or two of turn on the forehand without thinking about walking off or side passing away. That tells me that they’re mentally comprehending this. That’s a great prerequisite. The canter-walk-canter-walk transitions, being able to go from the canter up to the walk and don’t downplay going from the canter down to the walk. So it’s like, can you go from the walk up to the canter, from the canter down to the walk? Can you do that upward and downward transition not involving the trot on the way up or on the way down? That’s going to be very telling for your–for your understanding of collection before that transition and your horse’s understanding of it. Then that ability to do that collected canter, but not have it really flat. Like so they can do–they can get a real small canter, but it can be heavy on the front end and you’re going to find them falling into the trot more often when that happens. But it’s got to have this ability to have a little bit of a bouncy canter on that collected canter on the way down because we’re going to need that bouncy lift when we go to the–the flying lead change. That’s because it’s done with suspension in the air. Now, I also teach like in my courses, I teach like in my lead change course, I teach what I call stage one, stage two, and stage three. Those would be versions of a leg yield, straightness, and like a half pass. And the reason I named them stage one, stage two, and stage three is that it’s easier to remember them in this order as I’m teaching them because it’s the order that I teach them in. And it’s also the–it also I find it clarifies people so they don’t get really hung up on like, oh, is this a perfect leg yield? Well I read an article on leg yield and the leg yield means I have to be X number of degrees from this number that. I’m like, no, in this version I want the shoulder leading a little bit more than the hip. And then in this version, I want the horse perfectly straight. And then in this version I want the hip leading a little bit more than the shoulder, and I want your horse shaped in this direction. So I actually move away from the super traditional phrasing because it’s not a super traditional execution of it, meaning that even though my stage one would remind you of a leg yield, you–all versions that I do would not gain you points in something like dressage because I’m not teaching it to you for a show version of something. I’m teaching these stages to you so that you understand how to control these independent pieces of the horse’s body. And the really cool thing is that I teach it using the wall so that you’ve actually got the wall or fence as a guideline so that you can really get this, angles working in your mind, in your horse’s mind with that very clear visual. And then you’ll know that you’re really close. You’ll know that you’re there. Here’s a good test. If you and your horse understand shoulder and hip control to the point where you can ride in a large circle, let’s say that that’s a 20 meter circle, which is about a 70-foot, my arena is 70 feet wide. So a regular circular circle, not an egg-shaped circle in my arena would be a 20-meter circle. If you can ride that large circle and if you can pick up the wrong lead on purpose, then you’re getting pretty good shoulder and hip control. Why would we want to pick up the wrong lead on purpose? So picking up the wrong lead on purpose is also called the counter canter. So let’s say we’re riding a circle to the right and we want to pick up the counter canter. So if I’m going to the right and I want to pick up the wrong lead, that means I’m going to pick up the left lead. So in order to be able to pick up the left lead, I’m going to have to be able to communicate to the horse that I want them to keep the shoulder on the circle. And I want to be able to move the haunches out so that we get that difference so that they would pick up that left lead or I could leave the haunches on the circle and I could move that shoulder in, but with the horse’s head bent to the outside. So if I’m going to the left, for me, I would position so that I could see the horses outside eye. I kind of think it’s convenient that counter bend and counter canter both involve seeing that outside eye. It’s another way to remember it. So counter bend is involved in the counter canter. So if I was going to the right and I wanted to pick up the left lead, I would counter bend until I could see the horse’s left eye, which would also mean I would be leading that shoulder into the right on that right circle. I would then slide my right or inside leg in this case back, and I would move the horse’s hip out just a little bit, which would then if you’re doing this, if you’re walking around and you’re doing this on your own two feet, what you’ll feel is that in this position, you’re more likely to start skipping with your left leg leading if you’re pretending to be a horse in this case. So the reason I would emphasize the ability to pick up the counter canter as being a prerequisite is because that ability to pick up the counter canter proves that you can communicate with the horse where you want the shoulders, where you want the hip. This is happening–I would like you to be able to pick up the counter canter from both the walk and the trot. I would treat those like two separate things that you would need to be able to do. And the reason is this. A lot of times people can get the positioning that they want in the walk, but then they lack the ability to push that horse forward or to cue that walk to canter. That–and hear how that brings back in that canter-walk-canter work? So proving that you can do that, that you can walk, position for the counter canter, cue the counter canter while also cueing that–cue the–cue the hip out and cue the horse transition, speed transition, now I really start to believe that you two are on the same page about whether this is a hip moving thing or whether this is a speed thing or both. And so this is starting to convince me that if you can pick up that incorrect or wrong lead, that the horse is understanding the communication. Being able to pick it up from the trot is also interesting because at the trot, sometimes it will feel, it definitely feels different than picking it up from the walk. And sometimes it will feel easier to some horses and riders. And sometimes it will feel harder because in the trot with that quickness, sometimes riders have more difficulty feeling the positioning and the horse, if they don’t position them correctly, can kind of like boom-boom, change their position and then pick up the correct lead, which in this case would be the wrong lead because we’re actually looking for the wrong lead on purpose. Did you follow that? So when we’re looking for that counter canter, if you’re in the trot, sometimes it’ll feel a little bit tricky if your horse is really resistant to picking up the wrong lead on purpose.

Stacy Westfall: Now, here’s one of the other reasons to use the counter canter and a warning. Another one of those side notes. One of the side notes here is you don’t want to counter canter too much when you’re preparing for flying lead changes because a lot of horses do have a resistance to being on the wrong lead. So it’s a good thing to prove that we can put them there. But we also don’t want to convince them that this is the new normal because we actually want to preserve some of that anticipation or desire, which is also a lot of times you’ll feel it as bounce because they kind of want to bounce themselves back into that correct lead. And that’s going to lead me into how I change leads on them. So a lot of times I change leads from the counter canter into the correct canter. That’s one of the first ways that I change. Interestingly, when I’m riding around on the horses, some horses I have a desire to change from the counter canter back into that correct canter as my first way to change leads. Some other horses, when I’m riding around on them, I have more of a desire to do it from a straight line to another straight line. Now, that is not circle to circle. When I say straight line to another straight line, you need to picture me cantering down the side of the arena. Let’s say I’m 10 or 20 feet off the side rail and I’m going in a straight line and I would change from the right lead to the left lead and there would be a little bit of a zigzag motion involved in that. But that is not the same thing as changing circle to circle. I actually definitely push–put changing cir–the circle as something that I hold off on. And I’ll explain that in just a minute. But let’s go back to the counter canter. So if I have a horse that when I’m counter cantering, they are really like I don’t think this is a great idea. This is the wrong lead. Let me help you out here. I like to envision that when they’re trying to change back to the correct lead, they’re like, let me help you out. You’re human. You’re clearly confused. That’s the wrong lead. When I have a horse that’s trying to help me out like that, then I find it really useful to show them in the walk and the trot that I can position them in that body position. I find it useful to be able to pick up the counter canter and carry it around. But then I also will go to change in the lead from the counter canter because they already told me they want to change the lead. So it’s super easy on those horses once you convince them not for a real long time, but once you can consistently–let’s say you’re trotting around and you can push them out and you can pick them up that into that counter canter and you can counter canter, let’s say one, one and a half laps, and then you can break them back down to the trot. I’ll do that and I’ll just confirm that I can do that both ways and I’ll do that several times and then I’ll move fairly quickly into cueing for the actual lead change because I want to use the fact that they want to be in that correct canter so that I can be super excited when they do the lead change. So you can imagine that if you’ve just spent, you know, a few weeks convincing, the horse is like, you’re like, I can move your hip and I can pick it up, and horse is like, nope, that’s wrong. And you keep having that conversation until you finally can get him to carry it but there’s stil– you can still feel that I’m going to just call it anticipation in their body. You can still feel them being like, I really want to be on the other one. And then you go, OK, change. And they’re like, yay! And you’re like, yay! That’s how I do it on those horses. Now, if I have a horse that feels like–like it’s–maybe it’s–it doesn’t feel like it has that bounce and it feels a little bit like I can’t tell–well, like, like there’s some wobbles and I’m like, oh, man, when I go to move them around, I can’t tell is the hip moving a lot? Is the shoulder moving a lot? Sometimes I’ll do stuff in a–I’ll do more work in a straight line on those horses so that I can feel where they might be throwing themselves around. So I find that the straight line work when I’m going parallel to the long side of the arena, I find that visually helpful to me when I’m moving the shoulders and moving the hips, even at the trot when I’m pretending. Because you can tell if you’re pretending well. Because if you’re pretending well and you move them, you can then take them up into the canter and confirm that they were in a position for, let’s say, the left lead, and then you can break back down to the trot, reposition them, and move them up into the canter and confirm that that would have been the right lead. So you can kind of do pretend lead changes in these straight lines, even at the trot by body positioning. And if I notice that I have a horse that wants to throw itself around, a lot of times I will use those straight lines because I’m verifying what I’m feeling and I’m using that wall as–as a reference point, basically, which is going to bring me to my next point.

Stacy Westfall: So I do lead changes from the counter canter. That’s pretty common. I do straight lead changes, especially on horses that are–that are feeling super wiggly. I’ll do straight lead changes so that I can diagnose where the wiggles are coming from. And this one’s fascinating. One of the best things about straight-line zigzag work is that oftentimes when I’m coaching riders, they will have a tendency to lean. And I think when you’re on the circle work both the counter canter circle work or I’m going to talk about the–the circle, the circle lead change in just a second. The challenge with circle, the circle, or even counter canter lead change circles is a lot of times on circles people have more of a tendency to lean. So the next time you’re cantering on your horse. Notice that if you’re going in a straight line, you’re probably a little less likely to lean and then you’re more likely to lean when you go into a turn. Make sense? I mean, it makes sense. I think a lot of times we ride the horses and–and act a little bit like we’re on a bicycle or motorcycle. So a lot of times the rider’s leaning around, especially if you don’t know how to do the lead change, there’s a–there’s almost an overthinking that will happen in the rider’s body and they’ll start leaning and that overthinking and leaning actually gets in the way. So the reason that straight line work can be really useful is you can feel yourself leaning more, I think, more clearly on that. The majority of riders that coach can feel they’re leaning more when they’re in a straight line than they can feel it on a circle. The other thing about that straight line work is that if your horse has that tendency to throw themselves around–so it’s interesting because on circle work, both the horse and the riders have more of a tendency to want to throw themselves around. So that’s just kind of a primer between the difference on circle work versus straight line work. Now, let’s talk a minute about circle, the circle lead changes. Probably one of the most common things I see if somebody sends me a random video and they’re like, you know, what’s going on here in this lead change is that they’ll go and let’s just–just picture a figure eight. Just picture that the person is loping around on a circle to the right. They come through the middle of the arena and they go to the left and they expect a flying lead change. A lot of times what happens is that the–the rider will–on–like, throw themselves in anticipation and the horse will just rebalance itself in whatever way it feels like it needs to keep itself upright. Some horses that might be real positive the way they do it and it might be flying lead changes. A lot of horses it will actually be just a change in the front, but not in the hind. And that’s what I talked about a little bit in the previous podcast, Episode 141 about lead change–like lead changes a little bit there was the idea that like some, if you’re just doing a directional lead change, then that very often needs like gas pedal acceleration to try to get that hind end to engage. But in this podcast, I want to talk about how you’re doing this controlled lead change. So that controlled the change would be knowing and understanding the positioning of the shoulder in relationship to the hip. And the number one way that you can practice this is just in your lead departures, can you be walking in a straight line position, the horse’s shoulders and hips and reliably pick up your left lead or right lead? And then what I just talked about now, can you reliably pick up the counter canter? Just that lead departure in a controlled way like that is going to show you a lot about your lead changes. So I hope this helps understand kind of like the prerequisites and then that some of that idea of how–how I move them around.

Stacy Westfall: Now, let me talk just a second through like a lead change. So let’s say that I am walking in a straight line on my horse and I’m going to pick up the left lead. So think about doing this on your own two feet. You’re walking and you’re going to begin skipping on your left lead. So for me, what that means as the rider, I’m personally I’m going to use my outside my right leg just a little bit because I’m going to hope to be able to get that horse to, like, move and like, I want them to reach out with their left leg. So I’m going to close my right leg. I’m going to have my right leg just a little bit further back, my left leg just a little bit further forward, which is letting that horse, you know, step that hind end up under like step that left leg forward into that skip if you’re skipping off on your own two feet, practicing this. So now the horse is skipping along. Now, when I want to do that flying lead change to the right, I’m going to think about straightening that horse’s body up. And I’m going to think about being able to do like a scissor kick with my leg. So I’m going to take that–that left leg that’s a little bit forward and that right leg that’s a little bit back I’m going to take and I’m going to switch those. And a lot of times when I’m cantering I’ll actually start to move what’s going to be the new inside leg, that right leg, I’ll start to move that leg forward and then I’m going to make a kind of a quick motion with that leg that’s going to cue the flying lead change. So I like to think of it a little bit like a windshield wiper motion because I don’t want you thinking about poking the horse because this isn’t about spurring the horse. It’s about making this sweeping motion with your leg and having that horse know that that’s a cue to lop off on that lead. So I use–I can use that swiping motion in my lead departure. I can also use a very quiet, like squeeze. I want to be able to do both because in the lead change, especially at the beginning, I want to be able to make this kind of a quicker motion that the horse kind of fires off that lead change, kind of a quick thing. Sometimes I’ll find that riders are trying to be like slow and sneaky. And then what happens is they–they’re timing gets really interesting. I’m going to talk about timing in just a second, but I think it’s just interesting to think about how I want to be able to move that leg of mine confidently and relatively quickly and have that horse just understand, like, oh, this is a lead departure. Don’t bolt, don’t panic. Like, they just understand it. And so I’m going to bring this up for just another minute because I think it’s just interesting that this is kind of where I’m talking right now. I’m jumping around a little bit and I want to slow it down for you because there is a difference between the finished lead change and lead departures in the beginning and lead changes as you’re doing them. So let me slow this down and talk about it for a second. I think it’s really interesting to go all the way back to elementary school in my mind and think I can pick up the correct lead 90 percent of the time on a horse in the first 30 days from shoulder control and forward motion only. I don’t teach my horses to move their hips until a lot later, but I can reliably pick up the correct lead because I know how to move their shoulders around in relationship to their hips and they’ve got reliable forward motion so I can move their shoulder and I can feel that hip being left in place. So I’m basically, instead of moving the hip to position, I’m moving the shoulder and getting that position. And then I’m maybe I’m verbally kissing to them. I’m using, uh, legs. I’m using squeezing with both of my legs, whatever is needed. A lot of times in the first 30 days, I’m still riding with a riding crop. And so I just think it’s interesting that in elementary school, I don’t even need to be able to move the hip. But because I can move the shoulder in relationship to the hip, I can get the correct lead. Then when I move up into high school, that’s when I’m getting more specific and it feels a little bit manual. That’s what I’ve talked about mostly on here. It feels like I’m shaping their body. Can I bend them to the inside and move their shoulder with the outside rein, so the bend and counterbend. Can I slide my leg back and move the hips over? Can when I move the hip over, can I make sure that the shoulder doesn’t follow it? All of that stuff that I’m doing is in that high school where I’m isolating. OK, horse do you understand that my hands are controlling your shoulders? Do you understand that my legs are controlling your hips? Do you remember that even though my legs are controlling your hips and my–my right leg is saying move your hips to the left, that I can also use a verbal cue to have you lope off and I can also use a quick leg movement and have you lope off?

Stacy Westfall: So the horses are understanding more and more layers, but it feels a little bit manual. It’s like molding clay. It’s like I’m shaping their body and they’re learning this. And then they’re also agreeing to be shaped. I mean, let’s not lose the fact that the horse’s mind is involved here. What I find fascinating and my favorite part is the final part, when later on they really understand what’s going on here. Then what becomes interesting, and I think this is nice to know, is that later on they’re going to change leads from the opening of my inside leg instead of from the pushing of my outside leg. That happens because of all the work that we’ve done to get here, so you can see it really well, like in the bareback bridleless I did with Roxy, I’m actually changing leads on a leg release, which if you watch it the way that it feels to me–let’s say you’re watching the video and you see I’m on my left lead on her. When–when I’m on the left lead on her. It feels like my left leg is a little bit further forward. Remember, I just described that scissor kick a minute ago? Just like when you’re skipping on the ground, your left leg is leading. When I’m riding on her back and she’s skipping on her left leads, I can feel that in my body when I go to change to my right lead on a very finished horse my actual lead change cue will actually be like a like I lift or open. I bring my right leg forward and my horse underneath me feels like a marionette puppet. So it feels like when my right leg comes up and forward a little bit, it feels like when you are skipping on your left lead and you make that motion where you elevate and–and lift your right leg up to go into your right lead. That’s exactly what it feels like on my finished horses for my flying lead change. Because when I–as I lift my right leg as the rider, I feel them sweep under and they do that lead change from underneath. And so it’s what I called in another podcast, I was talking about positive anticipation. And that comes from them understanding the system. And then they can see the system and they move into that opening. Now, in that middle stage, if I open that leg and they don’t move, then I am going to take the other leg and I am going to push. And because they see that system, that’s what later on makes it possible to do the lead change from that opening instead of from the pushing. This is–I’m going to rewind this back to the beginning of this podcast, and I’m going to say, remember I said my horses in the first 30 days start to actually stop off from the leg release. Not so much, because I’m doing a lot of drilling on it. It’s just because my legs are close when we’re going. And then they start to notice that when my legs are opening that–that I’m not stepping on the gas pedal and that when I’m not stepping on the gas pedal, I tend to then be slowing down. So what the horse is seeing is a pattern of riding. This is very much what I’m saying in this example of the lead change. They start to notice there’s this opening of one leg before there is the pushing of the other. And then that’s really cool when they start to be like, hey, look, I can do that lead change for you right now.

Stacy Westfall: One more thing to answer on this, because lead changes they’re, they’re are up there. You know, they’re–they’re like a higher-level movement to understand. And so this is why there’s so many layers that I’m talking about here. One question I get a lot and I want to just make sure I cover it here is on the timing. So for me, the timing of the lead change is one of the easier ones to count because I actually count on that downbeat. So if you imagine that you’re cantering on your horse, like I’m rocking myself back and forward forth right now. Imagine canter, and I’m cantering, I’m going to count on that downbeat. So one, two, three. So if you’re skipping count when you’re landing. So you’re counting there and I actually go, one, two, three, change, and the timing works out for me. That–that scissoring motion is going to happen–like it’s going to happen in that count. So it’s one, two, three, change my legs. One, two, three, change my legs. So it’s like one, two, three, and that change is happening on the beat. And so one more interesting side note for you. That is the opposite timing of a sliding stop. That’s totally random, but I just have to mention it because I find it fascinating. Because if you do one, two, three, whoa, your horse is going to go, ugh! And knock the wind out of you. If they know how to stop well and how to stop off that verbal because the timing is that they’re–they’re like up there and they’re just going to come down on all four. So I actually like, do the sliding stuff on a half count to like it’s a half bit off from this flying lead change. Totally random side note for you there. I think it’s going to be really rewarding for me and for anybody who’s watching as I share videos of Presto learning this stuff inside of my courses over the next year as he learns this flying lead change and I document it. I think it’s going to be really cool because you can actually see him learning how to do, you know, walk to canter. He’s pretty good at that one, but his canter to walk isn’t very good. So what that means to me right now is his pushing power is better than his ability to collect and balance for that downward transition. So I would not be asking him for the flying lead change because he cannot meet the prerequisites. He can bend, he can counter bend. He can do walk to canter, but he can’t do canter to walk. And I haven’t even tried to pick up the counter canter, but I’m sure he can’t because I haven’t worked on it. So I’m not going to just randomly try it.

Stacy Westfall: So many layers when you start looking at the flying lead change. If you want to look at a lead change that’s more detailed than the traditional like speed lead change that I talked about in Episode 141 then what you start doing is you actually really start taking a deeper look at how solid your foundation is, which is why I brought up elementary school bend and counter band. If you’re ready to take a deeper dive into materials like this so that you can gain an understanding of the collection that you need, because collection is a huge piece of this and this foundation cue system that makes my lead changes possible, but also my bridleless riding. These are all tied together. A lot of times people will be like, when do you start working on the bridleless riding? And I’m thinking, right at the beginning. That’s why my horses are slowing down with my leg cue in the beginning because they understand this being used when I’m going forward and then they notice that my legs are coming off. So I’m already working on things that are going to stack towards the bridleless riding very early on. But if you want to take a deep dive into collection and lead changes, check out my new course on establishing collection and introducing flying lead changes. It’s super cool because there are five modules in there and the first four modules are fully focused on establishing collection and the fundamentals of this body control that I was talking about. Then the final module is on the lead changes. The coolest part about this is that you get to watch my students teaching their own horses to do this, that you get to watch them teaching the collection. You can watch the horses changing on video and you get to see my students teaching their own horses how to do flying lead changes. And you could be one of those students that’s teaching your horse with my help because I’m doing live zoom calls in there. You could be one of those students that’s teaching your horse and meeting with me and learning these collection exercises that will lead towards the flying lead change. Thank you for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com For articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Episode 141: My horse is on the wrong lead…

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