Learning about the "Half-halt"… and the dangers of too much bravado.

As the title suggests, this is about a recent (a.k.a. last night) adventure I had while attempting to ride Gracie.

Let’s start by admitting that I do not ride frequently and it has been some time since I was last in the saddle.  However, I felt that all was right with the world and my horse and I were ready to do whatever Amanda threw at us for our lesson… First mistake in the books.

Gracie felt fresh in the moderately chill fall air. She wouldn’t stand for mounting and she was very eager to do more than walk. Amanda was kind enough to start our lesson promptly and started telling me to post slower in an attempt to slow Gracie’s run-away trot.  She also suggested I relax A LOT and try a half-halt to get Gracie to listen.

So here I go, already trying to implement these words of wisdom to try and rein my wild horse back to a nice soft medium trot.  I am sitting tall, sitting down, leg back, core engaged, heels down, looking where I want to go and, trying to be relaxed all at the same time. Then Amanda says, “Now, half-halt and, release. Now, Half-halt and, release. ARE YOU HALF-HALTING?!?! YOU ARE JUST HOLDING HER FACE.” Mistake number two comes with my response… ” I am half-halting, and I am trying NOT to hold her face…”

Never make excuses with your instructor.  If she says you are not half-halting then, you are certainly NOT half-halting.  So, I got a lesson in trotting with no reins (essentially). I was told to loosen my reins SIGNIFICANTLY and, ask for the trot. Again, ask for the trot while, sitting tall, sitting down, leg back, core engaged, heels down, looking where I want to go and, trying to be relaxed all at the same time. (yes that is copy and pasted from above.)

The First Attempt:  I loosen my reins and get nice and set at the walk. I calmly ask Gracie for a nice slow transition to the trot and…. BOOM!   she runs away with me.  She takes a huge departure, rocking me back in the saddle, throwing my leg forward and, causing me to rebalance with the reins and pull her face…  Not anywhere close to the desired result.

The Second Attempt: Everybody resets, the trainer, the horse, the rider.  Amanda says, “I want you to stay balanced. Don’t kick her to the trot, just cluck at her.”  Loose rein, sitting tall, feeling balanced, ect. ect. ect.  So, I cluck at her. BOOM! off to the races… Amanda is insisting I sit heavy. Define the rhythm. HALF-HALT!  This one went better but as I was trying to sit heavy and define a rhythm Gracie took that to mean Canter…  hmm, now I have officially ben run away with.  Collect the reins, stop the horse and reset again.

Amanda is flustered, I am embarrassed and frustrated, Gracie is having a hell of a time understanding me and is quite done with me screwing with her face. Amanda decides it is time to step in and show me what to do. Thank God!

Surprisingly enough, when done correctly it is damn near impossible to see someone half-halt.  She took Gracie around the arena and asked me, “do you see what my hands are doing?” I looked and thought, maybe they twitched? But, unsure I said “They didn’t do ANYTHING!”  Hmmm. “That’s right! They didn’t and, they shouldn’t.”  Got one right… mark the time.

After Amanda was convinced Gracie knew what a half-halt was she decided it was my turn to actually learn to half-halt.  Back in the saddle I went.

Step one: Amanda put her hand between my leg and the saddle and asked me to half-halt. I pulled on the reins lightly to simulate my half-halt.  “You didn’t squeeze here?”  “Nope, am I supposed to?” “Yes! You half-halt with your body and reinforce with the reins. NOt the other way around.” “oh…”
(yeah, that exchange happened)

Step two: Now that I am half-halting with my body first and reins as a back-up, let’s try this again.  Reset at the walk, see above. loose rein and cluck for the trot. NO KICKING. Ahhhhhh, nice easy trot departure.  Now we are trotting and everyone is happy.

Step three: Squeeze with the thighs and relax you seat… what?!?!  why did the horse stop?  OH!  THAT is a half-halt.

Step Four: Repeat step three but without bringing the horse out of the trot.  oooooooooh… she slowed down!  this is nice!  “Good job, Robert.”

Repeat steps two-four for the rest of your riding life. (adding this in at the canter eventually)

Lots of valuable lessons were learned in the arena last night.  One, half-halt with your body. Two, communicate when you think you are doing something and not getting the result your instructor wants. Three, Gracie really does want to work. Four, my balance and seat has improved dramatically over the past year. The wild Gracie cantering would have had me on the ground back then.

All said, half-halting and transitions will be my new warm-up plan when I ride. It will help Gracie start off right and will allow me to warm up my riding muscles as well.

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Buck Davidson Clinic Recap

This past weekend was a fun one, I got to audit a Buck Davidson clinic at Pine Hill! Jeannette signed up to ride, and I ended up driving down to watch all of the stadium day on Saturday with one of my students. We left town before dark and arrived just before the first group started riding.

Each group started by discussing their current state and goals before they warmed up with some general w/t/c. The first exercise was then presented: Buck told them to ride in a straight line, with their eyes locked on a light pole beside the arena. Then they were supposed to turn left or right before the fence. He discussed perfectly straight at the trot. The horses were ready to go, but the riders made improvements at the trot before moving to the canter. Buck was particular about where and which lead and continuing to ride with eyes locked on the light pole. The hoof prints made a very long flat figure eight. He made clear suggestions for improvement to each rider.

After warming up on the flat, the riders were instructed to trot into a gymnastic exercise. There was a placing pole, then a cross rail. Buck instructed riders to trot in, balance with a half halt approximately two strides from the placing pole, then gallop for one stride after the cross rail before making a sharp turn alternatively left and right. The next step was to add an oxer one long stride from the cross rail followed by five ten-foot canter poles and another oxer, then 3 1/2 strides to a narrow brick filler/wall.

There were additional complications added to make an entire course! I didn’t get a photo, but the riders would turn right and balance in the turn, then jump an oxer, then six strides to a one stride. After this line, they would turn right and come back through the grid or turn very sharply left and reapproach. After the second time through the grid, they would turn left and jump a vertical then a four stride bending line to an eight stride bending line to the one stride. Ok. This is crazy to explain, so I made you a diagram with the potential lines:

Don’t I make beautiful diagrams? Anyways. He added different lines to modify the difficulty. Different rider levels jumped different heights, but all groups jumped the same combinations.

Jeannette and Panda appeared in the second to last group. They looked pretty good, Panda is such a great sport. They chipped in a couple of times when they had a miscommunication, but for the most part it looked effortless (Youtube videos)! Jeannette got to log some more experience points adjusting Panda’s stride, especially longer, aka almost galloping!

As the day progressed, some themes jumped out from the riders. First, straightness was paramount. The half halt before the gymnastic was key, as the course required a forward canter (the canter poles were set at 10 feet). Buck really hit hard on directing the horse with your body through half halfs and moving one’s hips to indicate direction. Having a plan was a bigger problem as the levels progressed downward.

Buck also discussed training horses and how it was important to ask the question clearly so the horse would get the correct answer.  Several riders rode the course differently in each repetition, Buck pointed out the horse would have difficulty knowing how to go through the grid correctly if the rider lacked consistency. Some of the riders had problems with horses being too excitable; the solution was still forward. Buck stressed the importance of riding up into the bridle. He explained very clearly how each rider could improve their round, and he was especially good at watching a round while discussing with the previous rider.

All in all, I’d say it was fantastic way to spend a Saturday. I got to learn a lot from watching the different challenges different riders had, and I was inspired by the exercises. I definitely feel like I have a renewed appreciation for the importance of body control. Now I just need to get my body under control…

Jellybean’s Christmas List

So the humans tell me there is some sort of holiday around this cold dark time where some baby was born or something. I don’t really understand, but I notice the people coming out to the barn with new things. And! Amanda pulled all my beautiful hair out. Now I have this ridiculous boxy look that makes my neck look fat.

During the extra time between round bales, I have been thinking about what I want for this cold holiday, and I made you a list so Amanda can read this and get shopping.

1. More hay
2. Tastier grain
3. A treat ball (look! a link)
4. Grass to eat
5. Sparkly Hoof Polish (look! a link)

Cross your fingers that the humans will stop slacking and get on the program. Maybe I won’t buck Amanda off next time she rides.

Christmas Party Fun

We had a fantastic Christmas party last night. We have over 20 people participate in the Dirty Santa gift exchange and lots more attend. We had lots of food and fun! We were really grateful, because the Christmas party really shows how much we have expanded our barn family in the last year. Last Christmas we had five people participate in the gift exchange, and we all fit very comfortably in the living room at Maggie’s house. We couldn’t even fit in the clubhouse this year! We are so thankful for this wonderful barn family 🙂

Robert almost got to take home a cute “I ❤ HORSES” bracelet, but at the conclusion of the game, a cute little girl approached him for a trade for her pocket clippers. Robert happily accepted, but was then approached by another cute little girl who wanted the clippers for a sign she won. I managed to get some Horseman’s One Step, which thankfully, no one tried to take from me, since you can never have too much leather cleaner.

There were a lot of fun and interesting gifts at the party. Lots of horse mugs, cups, and water bottles. Lots of horse treats and ornaments and even a halter and lead rope. There were a few practical gifts, including a dry erase dressage board, clippers, and leather care. I think the most interesting gift was a handmade hoof pick from a horse shoe. Everyone was generous and friendly and all the kids had a fantastic time. I definitely think this was a great year 🙂

My Welcome Back Story

How have you been?!?!?

As you can probably tell from Amanda’s posts, Prelims are over, Thanksgiving vacation was a success and, Riding goes on forever.

On a not so happy note. There was a derby scheduled for just before thanksgiving but, as most horse people know, mother nature can be finicky and we were rained out. 😦  that’s not all bad news, This gives Gracie and I a solid chance to work on our Dressage…. something we have severely been slacking on.  The D-Day is now early January and as you can imagine finding ride time is becoming difficult with the sun setting so early.

This is the time of year that I tend to over extend myself the most.  This year seems to be exceptionally bad.  On top of christmas parties and riding lessons there is also the push to finish my research, start writing a dissertation and, keep my life in some semblance of order.

Wish me luck in all that we do.  Horses, science, martial arts, social obligations and, general craziness that is the Christmas season.

Just to emphasize the upside-down nature of the world right now, I present to you a current picture of Byron…. laying on HIS dog bed.

Enjoy and thanks for reading.

Still trucking along, and more balance

When I come back from vacation I am always so excited about making my life even better than it was before. Normally because something that was consuming my life before vacation is usually going to the background. I generally set ambitious goals when I get home, and work at keeping the enthusiasm up. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. 

I’m happy to report that thus far I have maintained my enthusiasm. I have ridden Knots twice in the last few days and I rode another horse last night. Thursday evening I rode with Robert during his lesson and worked on two-point. We made it ten laps of the cutting pen before I melted and couldn’t hold it any longer. Still, progress. 
Saturday I rode with the kids in the jump field and went over some small cross rails and verticals. We had a nice pace, but we got in a tiff about moving off my leg which made Knots kind of frustrated. When he’s frustrated he starts running and throws his head way up in the air. So we could have had more harmonious work, but we have to remember to move off the leg. I also didn’t wear spurs, which I think was a contributing factor. 
Monday night I schooled one of our western horses a bit and worked on her stops and canter departs. She is such fun to ride, and just a bit of a workout when she does what she is supposed to do. 
Jellybean and Gracie are a bit lonelier in their paddock; Knots moved back out into Maggie’s pasture, since he has put on a little bit too much weight. Hopefully working and eating less will get him feeling in better shape soon. 
We have a dressage lesson on Thursday afternoon and a jumping lesson next Tuesday. Hopefully this will help me feel the progress so I can confidently go out on the BN course in January. So excited 🙂
Thank goodness Knots is looking less hairy bear and more show pony! Jellybean got a haircut and clean up also, she looks almost grown up.

First Night Back

After spending all day at the airport, I was really feeling like I wanted to get out and do something. Prelims were so exhausting, I didn’t really allow myself to even think about anything else. So over the break I have been planning world domination and how to clean the house. This leads to the lofty goal I set for myself: Novice.

Step one of this goal is running the BN Derby at High Point Farm on Jan 11th. I think further steps will be running BN at Meadow Creek in June and Pine Hill in… sometime. Then planning on Novice in the fall, maybe November or December. 
Back to step one. So as part of my return to the real world, I wrote out a schedule with my riding plan. Weekly lessons in dressage and jumping. Conditioning rides. But the rest of this week is about evaluating our progress. So I went to the barn almost as soon as we got home. I pulled Knots out….
Wow. He was so unkempt. Like rained on, scraggly long mane. And sooooo fat. Like monster size. Just a quick aside about the feeding situation… He is on a round bale. And gets about 3 quarts of grain twice a day. Which is what is needed to keep Jellybean and especially Gracie looking good. He needs exercise badddddd. I don’t know if keeping the three of them in the paddock will be good for his size long term, it will depend on how his workload increases and how his size goes.
So I tacked him up (yes I needed a longer girth) after brushing out his crazy messiness. We hopped on in the cutting pen and walked around. Then we trotted for about five-ten minutes. He was out of breath. We walked around and worked on accepting the bridle and contact, which he happily remembered just a bit. Then we walked around on a long rein and called it the first ride. (Full disclosure, I also had to catch up with the barn owner after being gone for a week.)
So I think its fair to say we are starting from square one. Although, I am very excited because I think rebuilding muscles from fat will be easier than skinny, and I think we have less ‘wrong’ muscles (ie from tie downs). The hill for the snowball seems to be getting shorter each time we roll on up. 
Sorry there are no pictures, left my phone in the car. I want to find a conditioning app for Knots and I, or at least some sort of activity tracker. We also need to do a fitness assessment this week…