Friday, April 22, 2016

Houston I Think We Have Liftoff

You know if you've been reading this blog for a while or pursuing dressage in general, that the perfect halt and half-halt are elusive beasts.  Like winning the big Powerball or marrying a hot Hollywood guy like Chris Hemsworth.  Technically possible, you've seen others do it, but you yourself have never even gotten close.  Maybe you've gotten as far as the $5 scratch off win or dating the sort of cute guy from the coffee shop, but not the huge home run.  You can get your horse to stop.  You can get your horse to hesitate and then move on in a couple of gaits in a horizontal balance, but never the oh so elusive rebalance and re-energizing half-halt mythologized by many a naturally talented rider.  Well, I am here to tell you it is possible.

I have been round and round on this one over the years.  Trying many different methods and sources.  Just Google dressage half-halt for a mind bending world tour.  My latest foray into Beth Baumert's When 2 Spines Align was promising and then after a couple of months I ended up with a slightly pissed off horse who didn't appreciated being driven together from leg, to vertical powerline.  The connecting half-halt worked, hind end engaged and shoulders rose but pony was not happy.  There was no driving into a hard hand, or a lot of use of hand, just leg and seat into a poised/strong core, but my sensitive guy was not very pleased.  Frustrating, because I could get all sorts of cool work(walk-canter-walk, trot-halt-trot, more engaged lateral work) but Jet was tense and slightly pissed.

So, back to the drawing board we went.  Again.  As I have been lately, I referenced Heather Moffatt of Enlightened Equitation.  I got my balanced position down, poised over the wave of energy, with the following hips, halt from the seat alone, and quiet, subtle aids to turn and for lateral work.  I added in slower tempo lateral work at the walk and trot.  I worked on turning from weighting the inside seat bone and the outside turning aids.  All was pretty good.  Soft and pleasant, with some decent Training to First Level work, a happier horse, fun to ride again, but still lacking the elusive rebalancing half-halt that leads to the sitting carriage that makes more complex dressage possible.  Back where I've been for 20+ years.  Sigh.

Then I had the break through thought the other day.  What if Jet already knows how to do the rebalancing himself and I just need to show him he wants to make it happen to make his life easier?  Instead of the balance being my problem, maybe it needs to be his problem.  If I make him be very prompt to my light aids for Go and Whoa, give him a consistent signal of slow a little with my seat before every transition and do slightly harder movements, will he just have put himself in the balance to get the job done?

After walking a couple of circles, I put this into action yesterday.  On a following contact I made sure I had immediate halts from my seat, backed up by a super firm block with the body/hand if not prompt.  Took about 1-2 minutes for him to get I meant business leading to prompt beautiful halts. Then I made sure any time I touched him with my leg for forward it was super prompt, backed up by the tap of a whip.  Again about 1-2 minutes for a nice impulsive horse.  Then I asked for contact and a slight flexion of his jaw, which he gave easily, and as he gave I asked for a little surge forward and got it.  Hmmmm...his back came up and much better balance already.  Then we worked on transitions on the circle.  Slight slow with the seat/hesitate right before either up or down transitions, expecting that slow to be prompt or we went back to the walk halt exercise.  Expecting him to figure out that any time I asked him to slow with my seat/hesitate something was coming up and I wanted him to be prompt whether it was an upward transition or a downward transition.  I made it HIS job to be really ready any time I asked him to slow/hesitate and low and behold he got it after about 2 minutes of reminders about being prompt.  Light contact, shoulders lifted, haunches a little lowered, prompt transitions up and down, even multiple walk-canter-walks easily.  A focussed horse but not overly tense or pushed together.  He was choosing to carry himself because he knew he had to do something promptly whenever I asked him to slow/hesitate.  He hates being wrong and after making him more tuned to my aids he put himself in the balance to do the transitions correctly and quickly.

Houston I think we have liftoff!

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