2019 Cynthia Aspden Youth and Young Adult Development Fund Recipient: Danielle Steiner
My name is Danielle Steiner and I am one of the proud recipients of the 2019 Cynthia Aspden Youth and Young Adult Development Fund. I had the fantastic opportunity to use the grant to take four lessons with United States Olympian, Ali Brock. I rode my own horse, D’Artagnan WF, who is an 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding. I’m excited to share how Ali was able to assist me with his development and conquering the elusive flying change.
A bit of backstory on my horse: I’ve had him for around a year-and-a-half. He is an incredibly sensitive horse and that leads to him having some tension issues. He tries so hard to be perfect that it can be challenging to introduce new things to him, hence the flying change struggles. Ali was able to break down what we needed to check off before the change would be readily available to us.
First, we had to address the issues within the normal canter. She wanted me to really be able to ride him off of my outside leg with my inside leg being an unmovable post that he could bend around but not run through. D’Art has a very difficult time lifting the weight from his right shoulder, so when I would ask for the left to right change, he would have to “leap” over the contact in order to get his right shoulder out of the way. Ali described the way he did this as a classic fox hunter jumping a large hedge down a bank. Great if we were in the English countryside, not so pleasant for everyday schooling. So we had to step back and address the straightness issues within the canter itself. Ali noticed that in the right lead canter D’Art did not really understand the concept of stepping under with his right hind and would rather canter over-flexed to the right and with his haunches in. She had us come to a walk and try to execute a turn on the forehand, something that should not have caused as much strife as it did. He really did not understand crossing his hind-leg under while remaining straight on the outside rein. This showed up in the normal canter work, his canter-walk-canter transitions, and of course the flying change. My homework now was to make sure to spend a few extra moments on the ground before mounting practicing a turn on the forehand in order to help him connect all the dots with a productive and simple exercise.
Ali is huge on rewarding any effort made by the horses to do the correct thing. She stressed that they need to feel encouraged in the work and that they are doing something right, otherwise it is a recipe for disaster. My horse has a tendency to get extremely tight and leaps up and down. Getting him out of this when he becomes stressed can be quite the struggle. Whenever he gets too nervous or feels too much pressure, it is my job to encourage the relaxation, choose one leg to move him off of, and praise him when he made an attempt at the correct answer. If I put both of my legs on when he is tense and too backed off, he will just get more tense. Ali wanted me to be able to show him that there was always an open door that he could go through in these tense moments and not to make him feel like he was stuck in too tight of a box.
Once I was able to manage the canter and easily move him around within the true canter and counter canter, it was only a matter of making him understand what we were asking of him. We first tried to get the change through the same exercise we were working on for our canter-walk-canter work, which was a serpentine pattern throughout the arena. This worked for one or two changes but then he would just get tight and anticipatory and all of the good work we had done to get him relaxed and soft through the back and neck was pretty much thrown out of the window. Instead of pushing this exercise and really making him upset, Ali suggested that we just change the exercise to something else to see if we could achieve the desired result: a clean, quiet, controlled change. So we did just that. Instead of the serpentine, we focused on leg yielding him off the right leg in the left lead canter in order to get him really solidly into my new outside rein and pushing off of my right leg (remember the heavy right shoulder over). This turned out to be the perfect exercise with him because we were able to nail a couple flying changes that were clean and mostly on the aids! Now, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but with my four lessons with Ali we were able to build a great foundation in the flying change!
Since these lessons I have been able finish my scores for my Bronze Medal! I was so happy to be able to finally accomplish this goal and had some respectable showings at Third Level, with 67.6% as our top score. I would also like to give a big thanks to my everyday coach and mentor Micah Deligdish. Without her continued support and amazing training, the foundation would not have been there for Ali to have so seamlessly added her wisdom to polish off the changes. With both Ali and Micah supporting me, I have been able to accomplish so much. D’Art and I just did our first line of five clean four tempis! I am so excited for our future.