From Endurance to Dressage
"Introducing" the Half Halt
I missed a couple of lessons in November. Fortunately, two of them were planned, but the third definitely wasn't. I would much rather have missed the lessons for the two trips we had planned, but it all worked out in the end. Both Izzy and I got some time off that we probably needed.
Sean Cunningham, owner and trainer at STC Dressage, kept tabs on us while I was sick and he checks this space now and again just to see what progress I am making or where I might be getting stuck. That always helps because I don't waste as much time during a lesson trying to fill him in on how things are going. He can read about it himself.
I finally had a lesson last Saturday. When Sean joined me on the Pivo Play link, I had finished some walk work and was just getting started with the trot. From the first moment he watched Izzy, Sean was impressed. It seems as though each week things just get better and better. The two things that I wanted to address for this lesson were Izzy's reluctance to work past twenty-five minutes and my ineffective half halt.
For the first issue, Sean agreed with my strategy. I can't get emotional when Izzy starts to throw a temper tantrum about working longer than he thinks he needs to. I have to just be patient, but persistent. Right on cue, Izzy started to get fussy around twenty minutes into the lesson. It wasn't anything over the top, but an effort to avoid working was there. I refused to let him bait me into an argument. I flexed him, pushed him sideways, halted, and continued asking as though nothing exciting were happening. Through it all, Sean's feedback was simple: keep doing what you're doing. Within only a few minutes, we were back on track.
"Solving" that problem, even if only temporarily, was a good thing because I really wanted to work on getting a better half halt. I know what a half halt is of course, but it doesn't really work when your horse's jaw, poll, and neck are locked tight. Now that I am able to keep Izzy on the bit for longer stretches, I need to be able to use a half halt to help him rebalance. When he tips forward and loses his balance, it causes all sorts of tension and anxiety. I need to be able to avoid that loss of balance by cuing him quietly with a subtle half halt.
Sean agreed. Like everything, Izzy needs a very clear picture before he understands something. Sean had me do some trot to walk transitions where I very pointedly showed Izzy what I wanted with a "sharp" half halt. First, I asked with a quiet aid - exhale, resist with my seat, weight deep in my feet. When Izzy ignored that aid, I asked sharply with both reins and then let go. It took a few tries before he started to realize that when he listened more closely, the sharper aid never came.
We changed directions and continued working on trot to walk transitions. When Izzy blew through my aids, I halted and asked for him to soften and give before we trotted on. As Sean pointed out, we weren't expecting Izzy to learn a better half halt in one lesson, but we did want him to start putting the pieces together.
I know it sounds really late in the game to be working on a half halt; I've owned Izzy seven years. Shouldn't we have been doing this a long time ago? Well, yes and no. For so long, Izzy has been his own worst enemy. Using any kind of subtle aid with him hasn't been very effective. I've tried, but my half halts just haven't been getting through. As Sean helps me build Izzy's confidence, Izzy's body is beginning to relax, and his brain is now reachable. He's letting me make the decisions with less and less resistance. A true half halt is now possible.
After we had worked on some obvious-to-Izzy half halts, we moved on to some leg yields. The leg yield is such a basic movement, but even then I've had to use a very firm half halting rein to slow down Izzy's shoulder. With Sean's strategy of ask first with a quiet aid and then ask sharply with a louder aid and then LET GO, Izzy started putting things together. When Izzy would lean too hard on my reins, I simply halted and then began again.
As Izzy gets softer through his neck and poll and allows me to move him from one rein to the other, the idea of a true halt halt can now get through because he isn't leaning so heavily on one rein or the other. Several times during the leg yields I was able to apply a very subtle half halt, and it actually went through to Izzy's hind leg. Yah! for quick progress.
Once Izzy showed us that he was understanding what we wanted at the trot, we moved on to the canter. When I take a lesson with Sean, we generally work on a number of small ideas which keeps Izzy from feeling picked on, and it gives me lots of small things I can do on my own. For the canter work, Sean had me leg yield from the quarter line applying the same half halting idea. When Izzy got really braced while cantering on the right lead, I leg yielded out on the circle which achieved the same thing; he still had to step under with the hind leg.
I don't know who is more excited about our progress this fall, Sean or me. We're both feeling really encouraged by the changes we're creating in my big brown horse. Izzy is happier over-all, more willing to work, and his body looks less tense and rigid.
Hold up. Did I read that right? SEVEN years? Yep, and counting ...
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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
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: