The half-halt. Elusive, mysterious and downright amazing.
I can quite easily tell you that my half-halt epiphany of last week is not the last half-halt epiphany I will ever have. But, let me share my current half-halt understanding and the epiphany that followed:
As I transition from hunt seat to dressage I have discovered that the half-halt is the secret weapon. It is without doubt, the most difficult thing to master and the most amazing thing, when ridden properly.
From my First-Level perspective I know this much about a good half-halt: Ride it. As my amazing trainer, Susan Buchannon tells me, “it is only as effective as its brevity”. Quite simply put, the mechanics of the half halt requires the synchronous and BRIEF use of: 1) the rider’s inside leg applied as the horse’s inside hind leg tracks forward to add forward thrust—you want to encourage their “go” button here 2) the outside rein is ever so briefly and strongly closed at the same time the inside leg is encouraged forward in order to re-balance the forward thrust and recycle the energy “back” to the hindquarters –you might think of the rider’s leg applied as a “go” button, whereas this is the “whoa” button 3) you maintain a sympathetic, or yielding, inside rein which only encourages the horse’s look to the inside, in order to yield for bend through a supplying of the horse’s inside jaw 4) perhaps most important, a rider’s seat that drives forward with a soft, forgiving seat to encourage “go” through the rider’s hips but braces with a strong back, core muscles and a deep seat to encourage the “whoa” as the inside leg of the horse comes forward 5) for my horse, I need to sit deeply on my inside seat bone just at the moment the horse’s inside leg comes forward 6) my inside shoulder needs to come slightly behind my outside shoulder. 7) and finally, I need to ride my cob to forward, to his nose, as if I was pushing him to the bit. Whew, sound easy? God, no. That is why I have spent a million dollars on instruction.
So what is up with the epiphany? Well, as I have been working to perfect this half-halt business at EVERY STRIDE, I heard from my visiting instructor, a man from Spain which is classically trained in the most well-regarded Spanish system, I will only apply the half halt at transitions. Really?
This STOPPED ME IN MY TRACKS. I thought I was applying the half-halt at every stride. What is this business about only at transitions? I was so confused I was embarrassed and didn’t ask enough questions.
So, I did some research.
Carl Hester says: “Riding a Grand Prix horse, the half-halts should only really be in the transitions – so really a rider would do as many half-halts in a test as there are transitions and a well-educated horse should stay in his own balance if just trotting down the long side, without the rider needed to guide him”.
Okay, I get it. My horse is not educated enough to stay in his own balance. This is why I provide a half halt at every transition. Jezz… the well-educated horse sounds like WAY less work then my guy. He is serious and constant work out.
Today, my trainer Sue explained a different yet related version: when my horse, Arrow is holding balance on his own, I need to not nag. I need to “Trust my seat”. I think this means that I need to allow Arrow to have self-balance once he obtains it from effective half halts, even if it is only for one or two strides. My seat will ride him forward and my legs and hands are there for re-direction if I need it. As Arrow and I become more educated, I understand that the half-halt will become lighter, more abbreviated and less pronounced–unless we are in a transition.
Elementary? Well, not for me. Today I heard, rode, and felt a multi-faceted intersection of perspectives all of which supported the notion of lightness (not Arrow’s natural way of going), self-balance (of Arrow AND me) and, trust. Trust means I don’t need to nag. I don’t need to “over ask”. Trust means brevity will work and be effective. And, trust that Arrow can have self-balance.
If only for a few strides, it worked.
****Above image: my toe is turned out and my wrists are turned in…other things are going wrong… but, overall, I was sitting in rhythm with Arrow. I was applying my inside leg in concert with my outside rein. He had lightness in the half-halt. He recycled energy and had more “up and down” rather than exclusively forward impulsion. He swung his back and, he responded to my seat. This was a moment the mysteries of dressage were revealed.
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