The World of Living with Horses

Training: Making Maddie ‘Even-Handed’ by Stephanie von Bidder


Maddie’s a lefty. She is stronger cantering on her left lead and chooses to land on it off every jump. She believes this is not a problem: She has a fantastic lead change and can swap effortlessly after any jump.

I disagree for several reasons. At the peak of her arc, she reaches ahead with her left foreleg and is slightly uneven with her knees; not the ideal hunter jump position. Favoring the left lead makes her drift left in the air, particularly problematic when attempting a right-hand bending line. It also extends the track between two jumps, making it difficult to cover the distance and produce a pretty jump out of the line.

Teaching Maddie to use her right lead was a challenge. I started with a simple exercise over a small 2’3” jump set into a circular track. Using a soft opening rein on a right hand turn often suffices with an athletic horse like Maddie. An opening rein doesn’t affect forward jumping motion while moving the horse in the direction of the desired lead: It makes sense physically and mentally for the horse to choose it.

Except in Maddie’s case; she found it easier to land left and immediately execute a perfect lead change. The firmer I was with my rein aid, the more stubborn she became. Maddie was on the brink of a tantrum, so I quit for the day to regroup.

I pondered the issue overnight and the answer became clear. Maddie felt so balanced landing on her left side and the lead change was so easy, it never occurred to her to land right. I had to make her solution uncomfortable.

Keeping the exercise set-up the same, I now allowed Maddie to land left without hindrance. I continued to track right, but disallowed the lead change. I influenced her to keep the left counter lead with a left indirect rein and right supporting leg. The counter canter was difficult for her to hold and she felt unbalanced. Maddie fumbled through feeling uncoordinated; the unfamiliar feeling infuriated her.

I calmly repeated the sequence a few times. Maddie seethed. Then, with a stomp and a swish of her tail, she landed right as if to say “I’ll show you!” She was pleased with herself and wouldn’t allow me to trick her again. I patted her satisfied that she was sure it was all her idea.

Training challenge:  Allowing Maddie to learn from her own mistakes. Knowing that mistakes are not failures, they are part of the learning process. 

Next: Maddie shows off her left side. 

Stephanie von Bidder

Stephanie von Bidder grew up in New York’s Westchester County, where she had the opportunity to learn from Patricia Neff, Jerry Carollo, Joe Fargis and Darren Graziano. She now lives in Aiken, South Carolina at her own Daybreak Farm, a full-service hunter and equitation show stable. She trains riders of all ages and abilities in addition to their four-legged counterparts. Von Bidder holds her SCHJA judge’s card and is applying for her USEF license. In 2010, she completed her USHJA Trainer’s Certification.

Share your horse training stories or ask Stephanie about your horse training challenges by commenting on her articles.

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