Left- Realigning the shoulders
Right- Leg Yield
There is a first time for all things and this is the first time that I have dedicated a blog entry to a student, Maggie this is for you.
It crosses my mind when I’m teaching that I can be a bit ‘loose’ when it comes to describing exercises. It’s not that I feel they don’t require thoughtful study; more that I don’t want to embed a powerful image of the exercise but rather encourage the student to ‘feel’ their way around the resistances the horse has and come to their own conclusions (Maggie is very good at this).
After every lesson I write a brief outline of the session so the student can refer back- this week we were looking at the walk/halt transition and I thought it might be helpful for others to read the feedback, so here we are.
Every month I watch dozens of dressage tests online and the most unloved and untrained element is very often the halt. Of course in the true French tradition of teaching balance/lightness the halt is the whole thing, the big deal, the full monty.
In the beginning the halt and walk on are just stop/start (see this post) – nothing fancy just the lightest of cues and the lightest of responses. As we progress we start to add finesse and the expectation of straight and square halts. Why is straight/square important? Because it shows the balance you have created in both sides of the horse so that the strength, push, support and power of each hind leg is roughly equal.
This video of Chapiro shows us breaking the cues down in-hand and proved to me that I can and do often throw every aid at once when I only need (sometimes) the slightest thought to stop and start him. Become aware of what you do in-hand and ridden so that your communication can be more powerful- yet another less is more situation.
After training a responsive stop/start cue the next step in finding perfect balance in the halt is to look at the rider- first remove any blocking with hand, seat or leg because the horse is a great detective when it comes to finding an unintended block. If you are sure that you aren’t holding on for longer with one hand or one seat bone etc then you can look at the horse and his own blockages. It is worth revisiting this regularly because our own tensions change on a daily basis and often the detective equine can help us find our own true balance- a win/win situation- IF we do something to change it. Turn detective yourself and become familiar with the feeling when one leg is left out behind- the leg standing up and under will usually be easy to find as it tends to push up your seat bone on that side.
Something I will mention in passing is the idea of making room for a hind leg with the seat- this is purely as a means of avoiding blocking his movement; as you begin to halt almost feel as if the seat bone on the side that is usually left out is attached to his hind leg on that side and can bring the foot into place squarely.
Getting back to the horse- his natural asymmetry means that he is unequal from side to side- unless he is one of the extraordinary horses that is balanced from birth- not even sure they exist- and our goal is to even things up. Always treating both sides is important- neglecting the side that we struggle with will never improve things but overdoing the difficult side is just as unhelpful.
All of the ‘straightening’ work that we use in our everyday training will help- circles, turns, moving turns on the forehand and so forth- that is the reasoning behind our early objectives of bending and suppling- the ultimate straightening of the horse. One of the simplest aids to strengthening and suppling is a simple turn directly out of halt- open the inside hand a little (raise it if the horse tends to fall on the inside shoulder too quickly) and step the forehand around as you turn and hey presto the inside hind learns to halt in good balance to make the turn easier.
This week with Maggie and Ben we particularly looked at some exercises that I consider to be more ‘baroque’ in style- to a degree they have been fashioned in my own way. The first is mapped in the figure on the left above- if you are not yet riding shoulder fore/in ride it on a circle with inside bend for a similar effect.
|1||Riding on the right rein|
|2||Bring the shoulder fore/in|
|3||Check the balance|
|4||Ride directly to halt|
|5||Sometimes add a step back|
|6||Continue in walk|
|7||Check the halt on a straight line|
|8||Repeat on the left rein|
The second is mapped in the figure to the right above- work on the flow of these exercises so that you are very much ‘within’ the balance rather than disrupting it.
|1||Riding on the left rein (off track)|
|2||Leg yield (with bend) to left|
|5||Continue on right rein|
|6||Leg yield (with bend) to right|
|7||Halt and reinback|
|8||Repeat and check balance|
Of course one of the most simple exercises to help the balance through the halt is the reinback. First you need a reinback that steps lightly back, highly responsive and away from the hand. If the hand needs to act then it should be upwards and never backwards- I will write more of this in another entry. In stepping back lightly for a step or two then the horse tends to shift his balance towards the haunches (highly desirable) and tends to be inclined to take equal weight in both hindlegs in the halt so as to be prepared for whatever comes next. As always it is about change- change the context (where, when, how long) and/or change the balance for the best results and the path to straighter/squarer halts.
Practice the responsive cue- groundwork and ridden and then work on the balance, never the other way round, and you will soon improve your halt² !