Handing Over the Reins

We were on what felt like the millionth exercise to teach Berry and I lead changes. We started going down the long side, circling, leg yelding back to the rail, and asking for the change. The leg yeld was easy. The change was not, and wouldn’t happen. I could sense Berry’s annoyance. I ended up asking for yet another simple change.

My trainer set up a figure 8 pattern with a jump. After the jump, I was to set up for the change, and if she was on the wrong lead, I’d ask for the change. the end result was a pissed off, head tossing Berry as she attempted to figure out what on earth I was asking her to do.

I was getting worn out from asking, and after one frustrated circle, I tossed my reins down (Berry knows this is the signal to stop) and burst out, “Can’t (amazing good rider) get on her and teach her?!”

My trainer considered this for a moment, and to my surprise, agreed.


thoroughbred mare trotting

Most of the time, I’m very DIY. I like to work my own horses. I like to train my own horses. I like knowing how to put the buttons on, and how to work the buttons. The horse eventually ends up feeling like a perfectly fitting shoe, a shoe that can read your mind.

Because of this, it was a little hard to accept this – I can’t teach my horse lead changes. I have been trying. I’ve had many lessons working on getting the change. One day at home, I did it on my own, and was so pleased I was planning to write about having accomplished creating lead changes on my horse. Luckily I did not, because I would have been speaking too soon. Berry did not have her lead changes. The day she did it was a fluke.

But there are just some things I can’t do. I’ve only done lead changes on made horses, and when I actually did them, it resulted in my own confusion in having actually accomplished it. None of my horses have ever had a lead change, and thus, I have definitely never taught a lead change.

Berry has been really good in the time she’s been under saddle, and I think we’ve been doing well without a trainer having sat on her. But based on how pissed off Berry was getting, and how frustrated I was feeling, I realized that I really, really just wanted someone to help me with this one.

thoroughbred halt

Thus entered Amazing Skilled Rider Who is Super Talented and Always Wins at Shows. (ASR for short). She most definitely looks better on her than I do. Saying I’m a little jealous is putting it mildly.

She wasn’t there the day I was having issues with the changes, my trainer had to arrange time later for us to meet up. I managed to squeeze into a time between two of her rides. ASR rides several horses a day and doesn’t have unlimited time.

She got on Berry, and they did the exercise that we’d be working on, the figure 8 with the jump in the middle. A lot of the time Berry landed on the correct lead, but the times she didn’t, ASR immediately got after her, getting her to change that lead.

thoroughbred jumping

When I ride Berry, I try to be “kind”. Berry is so gentle and good natured, I feel bad getting after her for anything. When I expressed this to my trainer while watching ASR’s way more assertive ride, she basically told me I’m soft, but not in a good way. I’m soft in the way bread dough is soft. Just a squishy lump that can be molded into different positions, but that offers no support or assistance to the horse. Ouch.

ASR was no squishy lump. It’s both educational and inspiring to watch someone better ride my horse. She was direct with her aids when she needed to be, and other times, she was supportive while letting Berry figure herself out.

One of those times being when Berry decided to canter thru the jump, as opposed to over it.
One of those times being when Berry decided to canter thru the jump, as opposed to over it.

It was interesting to watch how my horse moved and jumped. She puts in basically no effort to jump, and likes to just extend her canter stride to get over it. My trainer said she probably won’t put in an effort below 2’6″.

Even though ASR was riding assertively, Berry looked happy. She didn’t seem annoyed by the lead change corrections, and I noticed she’d halt immediately when ASR asked her to, still looking happy as a clam. I really was inserting emotions in for her that don’t exist. It really was enlightening, and gives me inspiration to be more direct in my aids for my next ride.

The only thing that confused me was when Berry refused.


This was confusing because it seemed like ASR was asking her to halt before the jump, but in the picture it looks like she was preparing to jump, so I don’t know. But I think she has some crazy horse sense, because after the refusal, ASR simply patted her, told her she was a good girl, and then circled and jumped it like it was nothing. No more refusals after that. I wish I’d asked trainer what the heck just happened there, but for whatever reason, I didn’t.

Berry still doesn’t understand lead changes, so we are planning another meeting of ASR and Berry, to get do more schooling. Or, I need to get myself organized and keep working at it. I was successful in getting a flying lead change one time at home, so perhaps I could do it again. I do have some riding inspiration now!

thoroughbred canter

Overall, I do want to be the one riding my horse and have the ability to teach my horse what it needs to know, not just to be able to show Berry, but for any other horse that comes into my life. I want to be become a better horseman, and advance my own skills. But, that means accepting that I can’t innately know how to develop something in a horse without having done it, and getting assistance from someone who really knows what they are doing. Having ASR really is a blessing, and I hope I can learn from her.

Also, that girl is an insanely strong rider. She’s like an ant, tiny with the strength of something 10 times her size. I need to do whatever exercise she’s doing

So I will end this with a picture of me riding Berry, contemplating how in the end, what this all boils down to is I need to just ride more. That’s basically always the answer.

thoroughbred jumping

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  1. ha yea Berry really doesn’t have much respect for the jumps huh lol. i’m with ya on lead changes – i don’t know how to teach them and have essentially not even tried (thankfully it’s not necessary for success in the stadium ring at least).

    getting help from another rider shouldn’t really feel like giving up or anything tho. i often see it as somewhat of a kindness. the other rider can come in and clarify an idea so that at least the horse knows what i’m talking about, so that when i bring up the subject again it isn’t totally alien. that can save an awful lot of grief and frustration!

    1. It is a kindness. I’m very grateful that she’s willing to help me, as I was feeling especially bad for Berry being so confused! I’m really hoping this makes everything much much smoother!

  2. It has been really, really educational for me to watch a more skilled rider take lessons on my horse. It helps me learn what I should do and helps my horse get the instruction he needs sometimes. Glad you are able to have someone else get on Berry to help out once in a while!

  3. at least this way, you’ll have a horse that knows how to do them so you can practice them easily at home and learn how it’s done. so you’ll be able to teach it to your next horse after all! 😀

  4. Some times I wish I had a rider around that I could hand my horse to and say “please teach her XYZ!” Also, I really enjoy watching my horse move. However, doing all of the work myself makes it twice as rewarding when she does get something, or we do well at shows because I know that it was just me that accomplished it.

    1. Yeah I really like that feeling of accomplishment! It just gets so frustrated to be working on something and not getting it to click!

  5. One of the things is not to be afraid to ask for help, but don’t be afraid to take criticism as well. The criticism stings at first, but take it into consideration. Also, take plenty of notes when the someone else (like an ASR) is showing you something you’re not getting the handle of doing. If you’re not confident, your horse senses your lack of confidence. (This is the thing that leads to bailing out.) And, when your horse does not execute a lead change, or refuses a fence, take a short time-out and reassure your horse it’s okay. Then, come around and make another attempt. It’ll ease your frustration and the frustration your horse is sensing.

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