From Endurance to Dressage
When in Doubt, Half Halt
When I rode with Chemaine last month, those were almost her parting words to me. I actually think I heard her say, "half halt, half halt, half halt!"
I've kept that idea in my mind over the past month. When things seem to be going haywire, and I can't figure out how to get back on track, it will occur to me that I should probably half halt. Of course, I'm usually about 45 seconds too late, but at least it is now occurring to me to half halt as a solution. I got a great reminder of that last night when I rode Izzy.
Before I go on, I should point out that Izzy is not easy to ride. He is not scary like Sydney was, although when people watch me ride him, I know they are thinking thank goodness she's on him and I am not.
I might be frustrated at how hard he's making things, but I am not scared of him. In fact, after he nearly flipped me over his back twice last night after scooting forward - at the walk, I just laughed at how silly he is.
Every day that I see him, I marvel at the things that he now takes in stride: he is a doll in the cross ties, he can go through the gate without bolting past me, he leads quietly, he lowers his giraffe neck to the ground with a simple touch to his poll, and he even lifts his 12,000,000 pound feet up for picking out. But ...
Each ride is a painstaking ordeal. I know we're making progress, but he questions the need to frame up every single day. Are you sure I can't run around with my nose sticking waaaay up here? And when my answer is no, dude, you can't, he squeals, grunts, shakes his head, and looks for a way around me.
Every. Single. Time.
Right now, I am doing the same exercises for each ride. I start out on a circle at the walk and bring him to a halt and ask his him to soften before walking on again. We do this about 400 times. As we're walking and halting around the circle, I am slowly spiraling down to the other end of the arena by leg yielding into the open end of the circle. Before he knows it, we're at the scary end. As we leg yield, I do lots of halt halts to encourage him to step over instead of forward.
When we've done that spiral down to the end while half halting to both directions, I do it at the trot. Of course, he questions that as well: are you sure that's what you want me to do because it feels really hard, and I would rather buck, squeal, or run off somewhere else. My answer is always the same, a hard jerk with the outside rein to say no, stay right here.
It's tedious, and it's frustrating that he is such a slow learner, but little by little he is figuring it out. After several firm jerks, he quits trying to run off. And after about 30 minutes, just as I am losing daylight, I feel his brain engage, and he asks: wait, you mean you just want me to trot around with this bit carried softly in my mouth? Why didn't you say so?!
And then we're done. Last night, I had to be a Nazi about the half halts. Every single time he poked his nose into the air or tried to run through my aids, I half halted hard until little by little, the half halts came more from my core than my hands. My response was always the same - an audible nope, accompanied by a tightening of my core, and rein if I needed it.
We're getting there - it's slow, but it's happening. And the exciting thing is that when he finally relaxes through his neck and lets his back swing, he is so fancy and uphill. Like Chemaine told me last month, the great scores come from riding that knife edge of "almost out of control." Izzy's got it in spades!
11/19/2015 07:33:36 am
Oh man, I have so been here with Paddy. Like, how many w/t transitions do we have to do before you figure out that we're not going to go mach one-Haffie at the trot? Are you seriously that dumb? How many times? 400? 190234781? 9234871872398184786983498? And, dude, it would go so much easier for you if you would actually do what I ask, instead of trying out every possible evasion you can think of. We could have this ride done in 5 minutes instead of 50.
11/22/2015 06:01:42 am
Yes, yes, yes - EXACTLY! :0)
11/19/2015 06:33:32 pm
It is my understanding that for a horse to carry its front end in a frame ( head vertical, poll bent neck curved) takes quite a bit of muscle strength all over their bodies, especially when the neck and poll are involved. As far as I know a horse who is learning to do this can only do it for so long before they are in discomfort. I also was lead to believe that any jerking to the mouth led to small stress fractures on the bars. Correct me if I am wrong here. I thought that the release of pressure was the biggest learning tool. I am confused.
11/19/2015 07:36:23 pm
You're right, Marlane - carrying yourself in a frame with a rider on your back is hard. That's why Izzy gets so resistant to the idea and tries very hard to talk me out of it. Rest assured, he gets plenty of walk breaks and is encouraged to stretch long and low.
11/20/2015 01:14:55 pm
Thanks for the reply and explaining in detail, and I understand more now !!
11/20/2015 03:23:19 am
I do agree with this comment. It's been...what? Just under a year since Izzy has been in consistent work under saddle? No matter how muscular a horse looks, it doesn't mean they have the strength and stamina to hold themselves in a frame for extended periods of time. That strength can take a while to build. My understanding and experiences have been that you work on the quality of the gaits *first*, especially with a green horse, and the frame comes on its own (or at least with much more ease) once the horse learns to carry him/herself. Pulling a horse into a frame just results in teaching the horse to work on the forehand because it's harder for them to push from the hind end when their bodies are compressed: it is the opposite of riding back-to-front. Or so I've been taught by my trainers. My horse had been started under saddle only a year before I bought him and he did *not* take well to being asked consistently to work in a frame before he was physically ready. He actually dumped my trainer at the time during one of these efforts. It took almost two years for him to develop the stamina to be able to work in self-carriage, and even then it only comes after a proper warm-up: he is an Appendix and while he has plenty of muscle, he is not naturally built for uphill movement.
11/20/2015 04:57:57 am
Thanks for sharing, Nicole. I must not have been clear in my post. I am not forcing Izzy into a false frame. I am asking him to 1) not run off - literally. HIs first evasion technique is to shoot his head straight up so that I have no leverage, and then he bolts (or tries to). This is when I have to give a jerk.
11/20/2015 01:29:29 pm
Thanks Nicole for sharing what you have experienced. My background is in training slowly. I am a native of England where I learned the classical training methods. ( Lunging, long reining then riding) This takes at least two years and maybe three to have a horse develop enough to consistently be " in a frame" I think that it helps also to have a horse with a long neck. I have also trained horses in the USA as I live here now. I was quite frankly horrified by what I saw when I first came here in the 1970's. That was before the " new age trainers" came along. However there are still those who want results fast. I have seen a lot of tie downs and short side reins, the worst is tying horse heads around to the side teach them to yield to the bit. I am so glad that many trainers who are in the limelight are teaching the value of the release of pressure as a reward and also respect for the horse. More of a 50/50 instead of the old ways of submit or else. I know that it has worked very well for me.
I totally get what you are saying in this post. A horse holding it's head way up is inverted in the back which is not good for the spine and building up the under muscle which will make it hard to carry themselves appropriately. Not to mention that it can be dangerous as an evasion.
11/22/2015 06:10:21 am
I should have asked YOU to write this post, Teresa, but I didn't seem to express myself quite as well as I had hoped. You got exactly what I meant. I am not asking for collection, but his head has to be somewhere down closer to Earth's atmosphere. And he's not just carrying it high, his nose is actually pointed at the sky when he's evading, even at the walk!
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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.
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