Monday, February 6, 2017

Whoa Nelly


So, as discussed in a previous post, I found a wonderful little exercise to work on getting better more engaged halts.  The exercise worked well, using an engaged trot, to an engaged walk, to a balanced halt, gradually reducing the number of steps in the trot and walk.  But.  Something still felt weird in the halt.  Odd balance, sometimes on the shoulders too much, not always square, and feeling a little funky.  Just not quite right on a couple of levels.

This led me to thinking about all the different variations of aids I have used over my riding career to get a halt.  When I started out as a proud 4-H member doing hunter under saddle the halt was a slight rein pull.  Hands equal brakes and legs equal gas.  Simple.  Then I moved on to showing Morgans in a A saddleseat barn and the halt was a closing of the fingers with a squeeze of the knees as this was how all the horses were trained by the head trainer.  It always seemed to work better for her though!  Then in college and after college I started riding hunters with a couple of real hunter trainers and halts became a bit more nuanced and subtle.  The concept of outside rein was introduced.  Weigh aids were touched upon.  The trainers could both ride in very subtle and beautiful ways and their aids were almost invisible, but they couldn't explain how they got the effect a lot of the time.  Frustrating, because it all opened up a better way to ride but it always felt slightly out of reach.

Then, while still riding hunters and working with a wonderful old school dressage trainer on and off, I was introduced to Centered Riding.  The halt became as easy as halting myself and stilling my seat bones.  A really good moment the first time I tried that let me tell you.  Centered Riding was a true revelation into all the subtle ways riders and horses interact with things like energy and breathing.  I still struggled to move beyond Training Level but my Training Level was subtle and flowy.  Success, but when I tried to move up to a more connected and engaged horse doing First and Second it was really hit and miss.  Some forays into Enlightened Equitation, Mary Wanless, and When 2 Spines Align were helpful but I couldn't put the whole thing together about how to contain the forward energy into collection properly.

Then I found Dressage Naturally, which is classical dressage but presented in a slightly different way.  Average horses and average riders with an emphasis on light happy horses and feeling for outcomes rather than on getting stuck using specific aids over and over that aren't working.  So far, so good with this system.  Happy horse, straighter, able to stretch out and down or carry himself more up in a little bit of collection.  Some really nice First Level work that is correct.  But something about my halt was still not right and DN encourages experimentation to find the right combination of aids for your particular horse.

Because DN focuses on outcome and a correct feel there was not a concrete set of aids to reference.  Did I need more core?  More knee backward to hip?  More blocking of energy?  More stilling of the seat?  WTF?  I started digging around my dressage library and found Sylvia Loch's The Balanced Horse and the chapter about The Weight Aids of the Seat.  And there it was.  If you have a horse working in a relaxed, energetic, balanced frame with a three point following seat, poised like you are on the crest of the wave of the horse's movement, you can either continue in neutral or do either of the following.  If you want to close the door, so to speak, you push forward a little more which puts slightly more weight on the pubic bone and contains the energy.  This acts as a handbrake.  If you want to open the door, you shift your weight very slightly behind the vertical, add a little leg, and allow the energy to flow out the front, leading to a longer step.  The rider's pelvis works essentially as the gearbox for the horse's energy.  Could it really be that simple?

I went out and gave it a try.  Got an engaged working walk, made sure I was poised on the crest of the wave with a nice neutral following seat, and then I pushed forward slightly onto my pubic bone while breathing out, stilling my seat, and flexing my core.  Square halt in balance.  Hmmmmm.  Did it again four times in a row.  Every time square and balanced.  Tried the aids for opening the door at the walk and got nice lengthened walk steps.  Hmmmmm.  Played with all of the above at all three gaits.  Worked consistently with beautiful transitions.  More energy needs to be added in to get better cadence and collection but the immediate response by Jet to the slightly different aids is just astounding.  By working on getting correct halt aids I opened up a whole new way to interact with my weight aids.  Who knew?

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