From Endurance to Dressage
Half Halts and Forward
As I've mentioned about a billion times, Izzy is a challenging horse to ride. Many of you are amazing riders and would have no trouble with him, but sadly, I am merely average and not amazing. I am however, persistent.
As such, I keep on keeping on, mostly because he's teaching me so much. Just about the time I am ready to throw in the towel (like last week), he teaches me something new, and we move on. Let me explain.
My trainer, Chemaine Hurtado, rode in a clinic with Robert Dover last week. She posted several videos of the lesson (in a private group so I can't share), but one in particular really spoke to me. I didn't catch the context of the moment that Robert was schooling her through, but I think the gist of it was getting a better connection in order to achieve more forward and suppleness in his gaits.
Just the way Rocky was moving reminded me of what Izzy does when he's super tense. He gets way too round and sucks back. Then we get stuck: If I add leg, he bolts, but if my half halt is too strong, he rears. See above. It's a problem for sure.
At the beginning of the video, Rocky looks a little stuck himself. He keeps trying to break into a canter where his haunches are swinging back and forth. I know that feeling well. When Izzy does it, it means he's trying to go forward, but he doesn't think he has anywhere to go. Robert's response to Chemaine was this.
It's not from a lack of desire to please you. It's from a confusion of what it means when your lower leg goes near him. Does it mean you want him to react and like run off of it?
That's exactly what it feels like when I am riding Izzy. When he's that tense, putting my leg on feels like I am igniting a rocket.
Don't think you have to bring him so much back.
Hmmm ... that's when I really got to thinking because that's exactly what I do. I just keep half halting stronger and stronger until we're finally walking. My thinking is always about getting him to relax at the walk before going back to work.
As I watched Chemaine ride, Robert kept encouraging her to add more seat and leg instead of half halting. In fact, he had her think of getting a bigger stride.
Think more like, "You want me to extend?" and you say, "Resist the extension."
In the video, Robert was coaching her to think about an extension by adding leg and energy, but he didn't really want the extension. He wanted Rocky to lift his withers, drive with his hind end, and have more suspension in the trot.
As they crossed the diagonal on a right bend, he had Chemaine do a haunches in to really get the horse on the outside rein. When they came to the opposite long side, she changed the bend and allowed the haunches to fall in line. Through the corner, Robert urged her to push the horse forward. When Rocky broke into a sucked back canter again, he said this.
Contact, contact ... push him forward! Keep your reins. No matter what, keep your reins. Give him a kick forward if he doesn't go on the right rein. "Take my rein, pull on my rein!" He's got to want to go to the extension. I don't want to feel him back away. Less restricting in your hand until he pulls on your hand. Then you just resist the medium.
Without watching the video, I know this is hard to imagine, but Rocky was sucking back and not wanting to go forward. Robert was encouraging Chemaine to both maintain the steady contact while not restricting him. This is a problem I definitely have. Robert added one more thought in the video.
Give him a push that makes him go to the rein and then close it.
That last comment was like a light bulb coming on. I think that too often I push on the gas and pull on the brake at the same time. Robert's comment helped me see that I should be asking for forward, and once I get it, I can then ask for a half halt or simply resist too much forward.
Over the last few days, this is how I've been riding Izzy, and it's been working! Every stride, I push my hands forward as I ask for forward. I am hoping that Izzy starts to think that he has room to go forward. I've also been asking for tons of haunches in on the circle and across the diagonal. The benefit has been a looser back and a horse too busy to think about being spooky.
Chemaine will be here for a clinic on both Saturday and Sunday. If you live close by, we'd love to have you audit. She promised to bring us what she learned from Robert Dover. I am excited to hear what she has to say!
11/16/2017 07:41:35 am
That last bit reminds me of BM telling me to give them time to answer before jumping down their throat and correcting--something I've definitely been guilty of!
11/22/2017 08:05:52 am
Yep. How many trainers actually say, "let the horse make the mistake." If they never get to actually make the mistake, or choose correctly, they can't really learn what the right choice is. Easy to say, harder to do!
11/22/2017 08:06:38 am
Accepting the leg is a big idea, isn't it?
11/22/2017 08:07:46 am
Same thing with Speedy. Working on the walk to canter to walk transitions has been hard because of it.
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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
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Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
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