Tag

dressage riding

dressage, dressage training, horses, natalie perry dressage

The Beauty of An Excellent Halt

A good halt looks deceptively easy — emphasis on deceptive. 

In fact, an excellent halt takes focus, coordination, and preparation. That’s why, when I achieved a prompt and balanced halt in last week’s riding lesson, I shouted, “Wow! That was the best halt of my life!”

Heading down centerline for a halt

Natalie and Mari were in the arena with me at the time. They laughed at my exuberence but understood exactly why I caused a commotion. An excellent halt is an achievement. 

I had worked hard for that halt and was especially pleased. So I couldn’t stop myself when, that evening, I tried to explain the beauty of the halt to some non-horse friends. It went like this. 

Confused looks and polite nodding, followed by: “What’s so hard about stopping?” 

Fueled by a glass of wine, I ventured into territory I should have circumvented.

“Imagine this,” I said. “You’re driving your car and, when the light turns red, you slam on the brakes. You weren’t paying attention and were caught off guard. Your passengers’ heads snap forward and the dog falls off the back seat onto the floor. That’s an ugly halt.”

“You can do a similar thing to your horse if you don’t prepare him. Instead of using your legs, core, and then hands to let him know a halt is coming, you simply haul back on the reins — which is equivalent to stomping on the brake. You throw your horse off balance, he tosses his head in the air trying to compensate, and –instead of being able to tuck his four legs neatly under him — he scatters his feet and gives you a dirty look. In competition, a judge would make comments like ‘abrupt,’ ‘unbalanced’, and ‘needs more preparation.’ You’ll get a crappy score.”

My dinner companions shifted in their seats, understanding the analogy but questioning where I was going with it. Deb stole a few french fries off my plate.

“At the other end of the spectrum is the overly cautious driver,” I explained. “Imagine you’re driving home a friend who’s just had back surgery. Not wanting to jolt your passenger, you creep to a stop five feet before the intersection, then inch up to the pedestrian crosswalk. This is a smoother stop but the drivers behind you wonder what you’ve been smoking.”

“When you’re riding, meandering into the halt is as much an error as is slamming into the halt. The judge wants to see the rider maintaining the gait, riding smoothly forward into a prompt, balanced halt at a very specific location. In short,” I said, “you’ll get dinged if you’re early, late, too abrupt, or too lackadaisical. Precision is important.”

My friend, Liz was regretting her decision to practice Dry January, because I wasn’t quite done. “The halt is so important in dressage that in competition, every test begins and ends with a halt. How you execute it speaks volumes about how well you and your horse are communicating.”

While I was having a grand time, I’m pretty sure the Dormouse fell asleep in his tea at that moment. And, because I love my non-horse friends, I changed the subject to skiing and suggested Deb eat the rest of my fries. 

Related posts
The Pre-Purchase Exam
October 26, 2019
Skipper Gets a Makeover
October 8, 2019
Revelation on Center Line
September 11, 2019
Adult Rider Camp, dressage, Heather Oleson, Stephen Birchall

Lessons from Camp

Dear Diary,
I am home from Adult Amateur Riding camp and have finally caught up on sleep and laundry! This was my third year of attending camp and the event is a highlight for me — a chance to hang out with good friends and my horse for four uninterrupted days. The instruction was superb , with lessons from trainers Heather Oleson and Stephen Birchall.
The format is intense. I normally ride three days a week, so jumping into six lessons in four days was a push for me, physically and mentally. The heat was also a factor, when temps hovered in the upper 80’s – testing the limits of my declining heat tolerance. I guzzled water and told myself I was in an endurance event, pacing myself between rides and even getting in a quick afternoon nap.
My first three lessons were with Stephen, who has a very positive and encouraging teaching style. He helped me with my leg position, using a lot of two-point, and it was exciting to make progress with what’s been a long-standing issue for me. Stephen gave Micah and I some great exercises to do at home and the results have been terrific. I’d train again with him any day. Stephen was so good, I really didn’t want to train with Heather. I’d heard that Heather was making students work really hard and I got a bit intimidated.
Fortunately, I was able to spend time with Heather at dinner (she and I being the two ravenous people who filled their plates first) and during the course of the evening I got a feel for her dry sense of humor. She’s very funny in her own way.
In our first lesson together, Heather immediately pointed out a habit I didn’t know I had. When she asked me to push my horse’s haunches out, I automatically looked back at them. “Don’t do that!” she yelled … again and again and again.
It soon became a running joke and I simply had to sass back. I’d jump at the chance to train me again, if she’d let me.
Since we’re a bit isolated here in Central Oregon (being separated from the Willamette Valley by the Cascade Range), Adult Amateur Camp is a terrific opportunity for us to train with high-caliber instructors and experience their insights.
This year especially, I came away feeling I had learned a lot and had some new tools for dealing with old issues. And, I dare not look at my horse’s haunches.

A special thank you to everyone from Central Oregon Chapter who helped to organize this event, in particular Lisa Koch. Thanks, also, to Shevlin Stables for hosting the event at their beautiful facility.

Related posts
Notes from Dressage Camp
August 26, 2016