Training Gryphon ~ Day 1

I was so excited to ride Gryphon today, it has been about a year since I rode him last. Gryphon is a 9 year old Friesian gelding that is trained to walk, trot, and canter with some basic leg-yielding and has been ridden a lot on trails. My friend Marsha Hartford-Saap has been working with Gryphon since his new owner purchased him a couple months ago. The #1 biggest problem for Gryphon is picking up the right lead in the canter. His previous owner had great difficulty and that is one of the reasons I rode him while he lived in Maine. I was able to get the lead fairly consistently but Gryphon still did not pick it up for his owner. She moved back to the midwest and this is the first time I have seen him since.  He definitely needs a lot of help to coordinate his body for that transition. Like most Friesians he is behind the leg and has trouble connecting in his topline. Marsha has improved his connection nicely and he felt much better in this respect. I was able to get his trot quite forward and he felt very nice in his back. To help him get the right lead I did a variety of things: 1) When he tried to pick up the left lead I made very sharp half-halts to help give him a compelling reason not to take the wrong lead 2) I used my voice to say "no" when he got the wrong lead and highly praised him when he got the correct lead 3) After cantering on the correct lead I would halt him and give a treat so he would start to have positive associations to this lead 4) I had to "unbalance" him to get the lead by counterbending and feeling like my body was physically throwing him onto that inside shoulder at the right moment. He has gotten very good at taking the left lead with his body in almost ANY position, bent inside, bent outside, leg-yielding to the rail, leg-yielding off the rail. At this point it doesn't matter that he is throwing his head up in the transition because I am using the reins as a correction so that he thinks twice about taking the wrong lead. With a 9 year old horse that has never consistently picked up one lead I was VERY happy with our first ride. I got the lead about a third of the time and he started to understand the "game". I want him to have fun and look forward to the hard work because I know that this is difficult for him. I believe it is more of a habit and lack of coordination because once he picks up the correct lead he actually feels more balanced than the left lead.  Most young horses have a difficult lead to pick up, much like we are right or left handed. Luckily after so many years Gryphon is able to canter well on that lead and just needs help to jump into it.