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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