From Endurance to Dressage
Heaven help me; I am THAT trainer. You know the one. She's the one always screeching half halt. It's a hilarious video, and I am sure you've seen it, but if not, here it is. Natasha Althoff has a great Youtube channel, Your Riding Success. Check her out, she's really clever.
Anyway, "J" came out on Sunday for another lesson. The last time she rode we worked on the change of direction from one 20-meter circle to another. For Sunday's lesson, I knew we should build on that by incorporating the idea of a half halt. Instead of just riding one circle to the next at the trot, I had J do a walk transition where the two circles meet followed by a quick trot off in the new direction. Think simple change from Second Level, but it was trot to walk to trot.
I am not a dressage trainer. Haven't I said that before? I can hear you asking Then why are you giving lessons? The better question to ask is Why do they keep coming back? Good thing my riders aren't asking those questions because if they do, I might lose my opportunity to learn through them. That's why I am giving lessons - to learn.
For both riders, I've had to touch on the half halt. For "T," I've explained it as asking for go and whoa at the same time. For J, I've explained it as a moment to help Speedy rebalance by asking him to sit deeper so that he can carry more weight in his hind legs which allows him to lift and move his front end more easily.
That all sounds pretty knowledgeable and fancy pants, but it does your rider no good to yell HALF HALT if she doesn't understand how to do a half halt. I wanted J to bring Speedy to an active, crisp walk at the centerline. Instead, she was getting a slower trot and maybe a walk, but it was well past the centerline. Soon, I started yelling HALF HALT as they approached the centerline as though saying it louder was going to help.
That's when I had an AHA moment. I realized that she wasn't understanding the purpose of the half halt and didn't know how to implement it. That forced me to really think about the mechanics of a half halt in that particular moment. What did I mean when I said half halt? Did I know myself what I was asking her to do? And if so, could I explain it in a way that made sense? I decided that yes, I did know, and I set about helping her to understand.
Earlier in the lesson we had done some walk to trot to walk transitions where the downward transition was still forward thinking, meaning that even though she was asking Speedy to walk, he had to walk with energy. We talked about a balloon. Letting him just splat into a walk was like letting the air out of the balloon. Instead, I asked her to prevent the energy in the trot from leaking out the front in the walk. The walk needed to be filled with energy so that Speedy could push off into the trot. We repeated that walk to trot to walk to trot transition repeatedly until she felt the energy being recycled over and over.
So, back to the trot to walk to trot over centerline. I had J start thinking about where she wanted Speedy to walk. By thinking about where to do the transition, she had to start to anticipate how much of an aid she was going to need to apply to make the walk happen where she wanted it to. She repeated the movement over and over, not really getting the walk that she wanted.
I realized that Speedy wasn't really stepping underneath himself in order to get an active transition to walk. As they approached the end of the first circle, I instructed J to add leg and ask with the outside rein. That moment of asking was the halt halt. The leg said keep active while the hand said not forward. The walk transition wasn't always right on the centerline, but it was a walk, and she was able to get Speedy stepping up into an active trot in the new direction.
Best of all though was that J was able to feel all of this happening: moving Speedy onto the new outside rein, how much "blinker" to use on the new inside rein, and keeping the walk active enough so that he lifted into the trot in the new direction. I maybe misspoke when I said all of that was best of all. Yes, that was important, and it's the reason she's riding. We all ride to get better. But truly, the best was that J never felt frustrated, or at least she didn't appear to be frustrated. Instead, she looked as though she were actively learning and enjoying the process.
As a teacher, I know it can't be all fun and games. Sometimes it needs to hurt a little bit as we stretch our minds and bodies, but it always has to leave the learner feeling good about the process. If not, is teacher is only discouraging learning, and that is the opposite result we're looking for. So why am I teaching if I am not a trainer? The answer is because I have found that by applying my knowledge in a new situation (teaching someone else), it allows me to see if I've truly learned it well.
I hope these ladies don't learn too quickly, because I am a slow learner. Remember, this is not-so-speedy dressage!
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 Second Level. 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%
2021 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
(Q) Must Qualify
2021 Pending …
8/7-8 SCEC (***)
10/30-31 SCEC (***)
2021 Completed …
10/24-25 SCEC (***)
11/7-11/8 SB (***)
4/10-11 SCEC (***)
5/16-17 El Sueño (***)
6/26-27 SCEC (***)
7/17-18 El Sueño (***)
2021 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2nd Level Qualifying
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%:
Score 1: 60.610% Bhathal
2nd Level Qualifying
5 Scores/4 Judges/61%:
Stuff I Read