From Endurance to Dressage
Entire books have been written on the half halt. As any dressage rider can tell you, it has to be the most mysterious element of dressage. When?, how much?, too much?, where?, and on and on. These are all questions I find myself asking Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables. When she says more, she either means more half halt or more leg, but usually both. Knowing when and where and how much half halt to apply is probably something that every rider of every level asks themselves. Well, maybe not Carl Hester.
Chemaine came down on Sunday for a lesson. This past two months have been great as we've been able to do a lesson nearly every week. Sometimes I don't need that many, but right now, Izzy and I are in a really good place where he is happy in his work and feeling confident, so I am delighted to build on that confidence while I can. Since I am still not really struggling with anything major, I keep asking Chemaine to come up with new and different exercises to help me create bend and suppleness on a horse whose back tends toward the tighter side of things. As always, Chemaine had something in mind.
After a bit of a stretchy warm up - I continue to be amazed at how happy Izzy is to get started these days, Chemaine suggested we do some test preparation riding. While I probably won't go to a show until March - there's a February show I have my eye on though, keeping the test movements in mind is always a good thing. For this lesson, Chemaine wanted me to string together the shoulder-in to the 10-meter circle to the travers (haunches in) while incorporating half halts before and after each individual movement. She calls it riding your test from half halt to half halt.
To help Izzy understand what we wanted, we started schooling it in the leg yield first. Now, compression is not a new idea for Izzy, and in fact, the exercise wasn't brand new either, but as Chemaine and I talked about it later, she explained that exercises take on new meaning as your knowledge deepens. I am constantly rolling my eyes and accusing her of withholding information. Why haven't you ever told me this before? I'll whine. She rolls her eyes right back and laughs. She knows I am kidding. It's just that things feel brand new when you understand them in a new way.
So in the leg yield, Chemaine wanted me to apply a big half halt in the ten-meter half circle from long side to centerline. In those few strides, I was to compress him and power him up, making him beg for the release. As we started the leg yield, I could release him slowly and send him forward so that in the movement itself, Izzy would stretch forward as he pushed from behind. As we neared the corner, I was to once again compress him and power him up by adding leg so that by the time we started the actual movement again, the leg yield, he would be begging to stretch forward and really go.
Then, we moved to shoulder-in with the same idea. Through the corner I compressed him while adding leg, leg, leg, until he was begging for the release which he got as I sent him into the shoulder-in. Just before B or E, I again compressed him and revved him up so that I could then send him forward into the 10-meter circle. If he resisted, I reminded him how much nicer the release felt by again compressing while adding leg. Once he was softer, I could then give him that release by pushing my hands forward while sending him forward into a new shoulder-in.
Then we put it all together with the haunches in. On the short side, I compressed him while powering him up while also thinking about riding him up. As we came through the corner, I gave him the release he was asking for but it came in the shoulder-in. As we neared E or B, I again compressed and powered him up. The release came as I sent him forward into the 10-meter circle. Before the end of the circle, I again compressed and revved him up before giving him the release while pushing him forward into the haunches in. As Chemaine had described it earlier, this is what is meant by riding the test from half halt to half halt. Each compression is a half halt. Wait while I insert a huge eye roll and whine, why haven't you told me this before?
I write all of this as though I got it all correct the first half dozen times I rode it. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I rode Izzy left, all I could hear on the video was forward, forward, FORWARD! Clearly I wasn't "powering him up" like I thought I was. While I reorganized at the walk, Chemaine went through the exercise again. By the time I did it to the right, the light went on. Oh, you mean half halt right before each new movement? While Chemaine didn't actually do a "palm to face," I know she had to be thinking it.
Then we did a new-to-us exercise called The Ribbon. I am not sure how to explain this, and I certainly couldn't draw it very well, but here goes. It's essentially a bunch of very shallow serpentines done from one long side back to the other. My little sketch looks like how we rode it - wildly inaccurate. The point is to make a tear drop shape and head back to near where you started, doing a half halt, a simple change, or even a flying change at X. Then you continue on looping back and forth a lot like ribbon Christmas candy.
We did it at the canter to school the simple changes. The glory of this exercise is how many repetitions you can do from one end to the other. I think we got close to six or seven because you can keep going back downfield so to speak. After we made our way from A to C, we made a big circle and then cantered the whole arena to give Izzy a chance to unkink his body. That exercise will just about twist them up in a knot, but it does get them sitting on their hind end. And then we did it again.
Even with all of that, we weren't done yet. To finish off the lesson we schooled the medium trot. For a horse who has a perpetually tight back, the medium gaits are nearly impossible to coax out of him, but we're slowly getting it. As Izzy becomes more comfortable with the idea of compression and release, he is now starting to actually reach in the medium trot. A lot of it has to do with how well I can set him up for it.
To the left, his right shoulder wants to leak out which means his shoulders aren't in front of his haunches which means he can't push us forward. When I can correct that, I get more reach. To the right, I have to bring his left shoulder out around just a bit to get him off his right shoulder. And through both mediums, I have to really compress him in the corner and then allow his neck to get longer before I ask him to push.
Izzy is far more complicated than Speedy ever was, but I enjoy the challenge and find every one of his successes so very gratifying. We just need to keep piecing it all together.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
*** SCEC 10/15-16/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(***) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 62.115%