Hearing things a different way: the illusive half-halt
The section of my book this article stems from is about an epiphany I had when I was “practicing” walking after my accident. When I’d just begun to learn to walk with a cane instead of leaning on a person, I used to walk up the sidewalk with my husband on guard. During one of these walks, it struck me that training my body in therapy is starkly similar to training it in riding and all the same rules apply.
For instance, simply hearing the same correction described in a different way can help. In therapy, I’d always been told to take a longer step with my right leg, but try as I might I couldn’t make my body do it. Then my therapist told me to leave my left leg on the ground longer, and what do you know, thinking of leaving my left leg on the ground longer caused my right leg to take a longer step by necessity.
A rider must also find what she needs to think of in order to achieve the desired result, and, just like in my therapy example above, that thing often isn’t about the change she wants to make itself. For most of the corrections I want to have happen, I’ve found terminology that will achieve the desired result with most students. However, I always need to be willing to alter my language.
For instance, when I want the student to make a proper half-halt–one that doesn’t just slow the horse down but shifts his weight back and increases his power–usually telling her to get her horse’s “butt down!” will achieve the desired result: her core tightening; her seat sinking down; her weight shifting more onto her butt without her actually leaning back; her legs telling the horse’s hind end to keep going while her arms tell his shoulders to wait. But if I see that the phrase butt down isn’t achieving its purpose, I need to find another phrase that does.
Sometimes telling her to think of riding the horse’s hind feet to his pole does, sometimes telling her to tuck her tailbone in does, or simply to sit in him, not on him. Other times I find that I need to describe what I want her body to do in a way that she can relate. To do this, I have her stop and look at me, and I try to show her what I mean by something I have termed the everything half-halt. I sit up very tall and pat the upper part of my belly–my core–and say, this tightens. Pat the lowest part of my back and say, this kind of roaches. I put my hands (which are in riding position) down quite low and say, the hands come down and the elbows tighten–they don’t pull, they just stop following–for just a moment while the tailbone sinks into his back and the legs tell him to go forward.
These variances of the “butt down” command work with a rider who has previously felt a true half-halt, but for a rider who never has, I need to give her an exercise that will make one happen naturally so that she can feel what her body does during the natural half-halt and then mimic it when she needs to deliver one. Simply doing trot/walk/trot transitions provides the clearest sensation in both the rider’s body and the horse’s reaction. My own students are accustomed to me insisting that they must make the gait they’re transitioning from perfect before transitioning to the next, so they often spend too many strides in the walk trying to make sure it’s perfect, but I tell them in this exercise to think of it as one movement: trot/walk/trot. They must barely get into walk before trotting out of it.
The important thing in this exercise isn’t the transition walk to trot, it’s that the effect of the trot/walk/trot provides the feeling of what an actual half-halt is: essentially it’s making the shoulders wait and the haunches catch up. The rider asks for the walk, which will stimulate her core, but by knowing she needs to trot right away, she will keep the horse thinking forward. The transition to walk makes the shoulders wait, the transition to trot makes the haunches push off, and the rapidity between the two brings the haunches closer to the shoulders thus creating the uphill balance and increasing the power.
Once the rider has memorized the feeling that her body has during the exercise and has achieved the horse’s uphill balance, I have her trot and plan to walk, but as soon as he shifts his weight to his hind end and elevates his pole, trot on. She may walk or she may just almost walk, as long as the balance shifts back.
When she consistently doesn’t need to go all the way to walk, I have her not change the tempo at all, just do the everything half-halt. She needs to be prepared though, that any time the half-halt doesn’t make the desired difference to the horse’s balance, she needs to return to actually coming to walk to reiterate that that half-halt means something.
I tell students that this half-halt reminder of keeping the uphill balance is something that every GP continually uses everyday. We’ll do it without thinking every few strides. A viewer won’t see them, but they’re a constant reminder to keep the uphill balance and will be used in between movements, during them, and to prepare for them.
Written by Courtney King-Dye,
To get more on Courtney please purchase her book, Courtney’s Quest, Courtney’s Quest“>click here.