Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Real Half-Halt

"So, when are you planning to show next?" Nancy asked.
"We aren't, until we have developed a real medium trot."
"Good idea. Let's work on that."

So, we did.
(photo from last month, when the trees weren't even in leaf yet) I look tense, Guinness looks amazing.
Well, really we worked on half halts. The whole lesson was one big 45 minute long half halt. In a testament to the conditioning work I've been doing with myself and my horse, we both lasted out the time without getting exhausted. It was really hard work (I was drenched in sweat, and it was only 60 degrees!), but we both stepped up the plate and handled it. Go us!

The work I've been doing with my seat really showed off here. With the change to tucking my seat and lifting up on the front of my pelvis with my abs, my understanding of the half halt was greatly increased. Suddenly, a half halt from my core sucked my horse right up, slowed him down, and pushed his hind legs under. Without me jabbing my seatbones into his back, Guinness felt he could really round and step under himself. What a feeling!

My new job is not to override my horse, but instead generate energy from him with my legs and use my body to guide and direct that energy. My reins supple and manage him, keeping his spine straight and his neck and poll relaxed. This is much harder than it sounds. Every time I feel Guinness drop his impulsion, my first reaction is to push him with my seat. Now, I have to fight that tension and instead continue to guide with my seat and ask from my legs. It is very hard to use my legs separately from my seat, and keep my core forward and engaged so as not to be left behind.

Mentally, it's all there, but these things are hard to internalize. (I feel like a broken record, I've said this so much.)

Position aside, I have discovered a fantastic exercise for developing Guinness' understanding and reaction to my aids for the medium trot. Up until this point, no amount of half halt could keep him from dropping onto his forehand, rushing through my contact and bouncing me right off of his dropped back. I had tried to push him through the rushy stuff until I could re-balance and get a few good steps, but that just made Captain Nervous very, very nervous. He does not like to be off balance. So, I went back to the training drawing board and came back with this ...

Exercise for Developing Medium Trot: 
Step 1: I start by circling once 10m at A, focusing on half halts and creating a lot of collection. As we come out of the circle, I keep that collection and balance through the corner onto the long side. I then ask for a medium with my legs only, not pushing with my seat or throwing Guinness off balance. If he doesn't respond to my leg, I will go to a tap with the whip. At the same time, I make sure to keep my upper body with my horse and not get left behind.
Step 2: Almost immediately, I half halt strongly and we do another 10m circle at E or B (depending on direction). While in the circle, I really focus on collecting the trot and re-establishing any drive or balance we may have lost during the little bit of medium trot. Sometimes I have to circle more than once if he is resisting my half halts and still out of balance.
Step 3: Coming out of the circle, I ask for another medium trot, half halting just before the corner to bring him out of it. We then circle 10m again at C, and repeat on the opposite long side.

As Guinness gets more understanding of the response to my cues for the medium and we are able to stay in balance longer, I will change the exercise so that the circles come at the corners of the long side and try to keep the medium for the length of the wall. Eventually, I'll move the medium to the diagonal, with circles still in the corners. Then, the circles will get removed.

He's already showing a lot more push from his hind end, and staying in balance longer. His responses to my leg aids are getting clearer, too!

Do any of you struggle with trot lengthening? Do you have any other exercises that help teach your horse what you're asking of them?

6 comments:

  1. Here is how I was able to find Hampton's true medium trot (not just a lengthening):
    On a 20m circle: Haunches in for 20m, change to ranvers for 20m, change to shoulder in for 20m, then on the open side half steps for 8-10 steps. Back to haunches in for 20m. All of this at a slow "schooling trot", so that he has to bend his joints and compress. A horse who gets quick during this exercise is using a speed evasion. It has to be slow and compressed. Haunches in 20m. Change to ranvers for 20m. Shoulder-in. Half steps 8-10 steps. Rinse and repeat. THEN ... think forward and POW with the inside leg. When you think you have forward, another POW kick with the inside leg. Keep the poll up. Post high and deliberate. This was a brilliant exercise for my horse. It was about compressing him and making him flex and bend his joints so he had the push for the medium. :)

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  2. Wow, great idea! Thanks! I am starting to really understand how super slow and collected Guinness needs to be to have the push for a medium. It's a crazy amount of engagement!

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  3. Hey congrats on finding the true half-halt! We are still working on it but it's heartening to read of someone who has.

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  4. It's such a hard concept. These nebulous little training tidbits change so much that you really have to learn the feel, so you can be flexible in your application and creative in how you get them done. Ah! It's a good thing I thrive on challenges ...

    You'll get there!

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  5. Great post! We are starting to work on trot and canter lengthening and Riva also wants to rush and fall on the forehand. I am really concentrating on using my core and legs and not tensing up - I like your explanation of half halts! Alexis keeps telling me we have to have true collection before we get lengthening.

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    1. You do! It's deceptively hard!

      I'm also learning how much straightness goes into a good medium trot/lengthening. Part of our issue stems from Guinness being off balance and me being crooked. But, I'll get to that later... :)

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