Time to (Not) Hit the Brakes

I’ve alluded to something several times in my posts on this blog, but I’m going to state it outright and give this some attention:

Addy has a go button. She loves the go button. She lives for the go button. Not a huge fan of the brakes.

I’m embracing the go button as an adult, but this wasn’t always the case. Addy is the type of horse that terrified me as a junior- I would’ve been crying and yelling to my trainer, “she’s going too fast, why isn’t she slowing down?!?!” I hated the go button, because I didn’t understand the go button (how many times can I say “go button” in one post?). I wanted a horse that was constantly on the brakes and only moved forward when explicitly asked.

Past me was such a ditz. Nowadays, I feel so much safer knowing that my horse is going to move up if I let her. On a horse moving sluggishly there are two extreme options for changes in motion- they could stop dramatically, or they could bolt. On Addy the only real extreme available to us is stopping, and she shows little inclination for that. Her power and speed make her predictable.

I’m about to all metaphorical up in here, so bear with me.

When you sit in a car and are not pressing the gas OR the brakes, you usually idle along around 5 mph. You hit the brakes to come to a full stop, or hit the gas to go faster. Most horses I’ve ridden are like this- idling along at a walk until told otherwise.

Once we’re warmed up, Addy does not idle at the walk. She idles at the hand-gallop. There is no need to ever hit the gas pedal, just varying degrees of hittingย  or releasing the brakes. My aids are almost entirely devoted to straightening and balancing, because there is no need to push her up in front of my leg. She lives in front of my leg. I do not ask her to move forward- I allow her to move forward into the pace she wants.

If you look closely you’ll notice the wrestling match going on trying to get this freight train to balance and slooooow dooooowwwnnnn.

I’m going to take this metaphor one step further: we all know that the brake is on the left and the gas pedal is on the right. Just like we were are taught that pulling hands back on the reins means slow down and releasing means move forward. Addy got that memo, but then became too smart for her own good- she knows that if she’s on a loopy rein it means we’re relaxing, and she knows that if I take up a contact it means we’re going to be doing something fun. Our brakes and gas pedals are mixed up. If we’re walking and I take up a contact she will canter off, and if we finish a course and I loose the reins she will come back to a walk. Clever girl.

All of this kinda makes her sounds like some snorty complicated beast that takes off with me and won’t stop, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have never once felt unsafe or out of control with her, and she always always always listens when I ask her to downshift (even if it is rather begrudgingly and takes a minute). But my struggles seem to be a lot different from many others seeking advice.

There is so much written about generating and maintaining impulsion and getting the horse moving with energy. But what do you do when your horse a) generates her own impulsion b) maintains her own impulsion and c) moves with plenty of energy? How do you harness that and channel it for the powers of good?

You ask people on the internet who know better than you. All you horsey people in blogland have given me some awesome ideas for exercises to improve our adjustability. And I took it one step further- I asked the experts on Judge My Ride to give me some advice.

Dressage goddess Karen McGoldrick delivered. I love reading through her responses to other people’s questions because she always takes the time to explain the mechanics behind the movement and takes everything back to the root of the issue. Seriously, if you’re struggling with something I would totally recommend posting in the “Ask the Judge” category, or even just browsing through to see if someone is asking your question for you. It’s pure gold.

Anyways, she gave me some really solid advice- go back to basics and NAIL that half halt. But she didn’t just leave it at that. She walked me through every. single. step. of how to get to that ideal half halt, and explained how my body should be positioned as we progress. And then explained how it should feel when we get it right. It’s the next best thing to having her there while I’m on the horse, and I was excited to give this a try yesterday.

I’m a big believer in going back to basics, which is why I have been struggling with certain exercises- they may have helped with Addy’s adjustability, but I didn’t feel like we were getting to the root of the problem. Taking the pressure off and going back to our half halts is the building block skill that sets us up for adjustability when we’re thundering down those lines.

Addy responded so well to this! Despite no turnout yesterday and a fairly light workload the last few weeks, she came right back when I asked properly. She very much wanted to move up, but she was so sensitive just to the stopping of my seat and a light touch on the reins. Being more conscious of my seat let me keep her on a contact when we were moving slow, and kept her going when I loosened the reins a bit. It all goes back to being more deliberate– I’m getting to the point where I can and need to ride actively instead of clomping on her back like a potato.

Her reward for this was twofold- she got to hand gallop around a whole bunch to get the ants out of her pants and stretch out (with periodic downward transitions to make sure she was still paying attention and staying balanced), and we jumped through a grid a couple times. We don’t usually jump outside of lessons, but the assistant trainer saw what I was working on and let me take her up the centerline a couple times. She was so good! She stayed balanced off the hard turn up the centerline, and then stayed straight to the end before balancing through the turn.

There’s plenty still to work on, but it was so encouraging to see the results of a few simple changes in position. Correcting just the angle of my hips led to a chain reaction of changing the pace of my horse! It was a productive and fun ride for me, and I’m sure Addy felt the same.

I actually never doubt that Addy is having fun during our rides, because she’s the one who asks to keep going (I have to steer her away from jumps when we’re done). So we’re going to work on our balancing, and our straightness, and engaging the hind end, and packaging her power, and not anticipating, and a whole slew of other things. But we are going to embrace that go button and keep the engine running.

How do you work with your forward horse? Any tips for perfecting our half halt?

PS- I impulse-bought a pair of white TS breeches the other day, and I’m so obsessed. Owner Lady has also announced that she has a breastplate and figure-8 bridle I can use any time and OH MY GOSH PLEASE CAN I TRY THE JUMPERS NOW. I’ve got the look nailed down so that means my trainer has to let me, right? Right?! 3’6″ looks like my new goal so I can get to those Jumper Classics…

25 thoughts on “Time to (Not) Hit the Brakes

  1. Lauren 03/03/2015 / 10:54 am

    I could have written this post. Used to be SO SCARED of the go but now am coming around to really liking that kind of ride.


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 11:05 am

      That’s awesome! Mine was more of a switch flip- some time in the 3 years I was away from the barn, I became less nervous. Thank goodness, because that’s what has let me click with Addy!


  2. The Exquisite Equine 03/03/2015 / 11:13 am

    I love this! I really like horse’s with go. With my short legs, it is a huge help. Sounds like you got a lot figured out, but my only suggestion is to never let her go intimidate you enough to take your leg off. Doesn’t sound like you do, but just my PSA: a little bit of me dies every time I see a horse who is prancing hollow, inverted, above the bit, chomping, etc and the rider is afraid to put leg on because the horse is prancing but he needs to GO into the bit. Holding and restricting does the opposite of what you want. Okay PSA over lol.

    I would love to hear what she has to say about the half halt. I have never been on Judge my Ride I will have to check it out!

    Linda Parelli is a big advocate for letting a horse go when he needs to. Here’s a perfect example of it! ๐Ÿ™‚ http://youtu.be/TZvBNv7y6HA


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 11:22 am

      I completely agree with you! I have (weirdly) long legs so I’m able to wrap around, but taking so many years off means I lost a loooot of strength that I’m still trying to build up. And I am with you 100% on your PSA- my trainer always always always has us fix any fussiness by moving forward and giving the horse a clear job to do. Every time a rider gets brave and adds leg, the horse responds positively.
      Definitely check out what she wrote on the half halt, because it totally changed how I work with Addy. I’ve tended to rely on my hands a lot, but now that I know how sensitive to my seat she is, that’s going to help immensely. That was a great video- horses really do need that stretching out and freedom of movement not just physically, but mentally!


      • The Exquisite Equine 03/03/2015 / 11:26 am

        Ugh that wasn’t the video I wanted. That was just the highlight of it. The actual episode contains SO much good info but I can’t find it. Grrr. If I can come up with it I will send it your way!!


      • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 11:27 am

        Definitely! Even that short clip was really interesting and made some great points, I’m sure the full episode has tons more good stuff.


      • The Exquisite Equine 03/03/2015 / 11:33 am

        Guess you have to be a Parelli member to see the whole thing. Bummer :(. Linda talks about how Christoph Hess uses the scale of training as a bible (as it should be) and whenever he does a clinic the first thing he says is drop your reins and trot. The horse has to be forward and FREE. It has to go freely forward because too many people ride with too much contact and the horse curls its neck and becomes tense. Until you get freely forward, you shouldn’t pick up contact. Then once the horse is relaxed and freely forward, you need to be able to do a downward transition without picking up your reins. So he uses those as pre requisites for every ride and doesn’t allow anyone to have contact until they can do both of those things. Super interesting stuff! Wish I could share it!


      • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 1:16 pm

        I think that’s such a great exercise, because I know I’m guilty of getting too handsy. We’ve got the freely-forward thing going on, but she does tend to brace against my hands when I downshift. Although she didn’t do that yesterday when I used my seat more, so that means I must be on the right track! I’m going to see if I can track down a version of the full video, it really sounds fascinating!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. heartofhope10 03/03/2015 / 12:28 pm

    OMG jumper classics. Yes. All the white breeches and fancy coats. DO IT!


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 1:18 pm

      Yasssss it’s all so pretty… Maybe if I get my blogging buddies to sign a petition, then my barn will HAVE to take me to a jumper show!


  4. Karen M 03/03/2015 / 1:31 pm

    I’m too lazy to own a horse that doesn’t have a go button ๐Ÿ˜‰


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 1:55 pm

      Haha me too, my legs are barely any stronger than they were when I first got on. She makes my job easier ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  5. nbohl 03/03/2015 / 4:13 pm

    I am right there with you, now that I trust my horse the go ride actually is much easier!!


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 4:57 pm

      It agree, it absolutely comes down to trust! Both trusting the horse and having the horse trust us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amanda Lee 03/03/2015 / 9:19 pm

    Oh man, I needed this post today! Mini, the horse I’ve been lessoning on, also has no brakes, and yesterday we ran into some trouble with not being able to half halt effectively to slow her down. This was great advice and I’m definitely going to be following it!


    • hellomylivia 03/03/2015 / 9:23 pm

      Yay glad it helped! I’m definitely going to be posting more questions there, I was delightfully surprised at how well her advice worked ๐Ÿ™‚


  7. carey 03/04/2015 / 11:24 am

    Cosmo is a similar ride when we jump. It’s all about keeping him balanced and compressed.
    Jumper classics!! My goals have been sneaking up to those, too. I don’t have the white pants yet…but I’m sure I could fix that.


    • hellomylivia 03/04/2015 / 11:41 am

      I think the white pants probably won’t make an appearance for another year, but they make a great incentive to jump higher! (and a great incentive to not gain too much weight haha)


  8. emma 03/05/2015 / 9:41 am

    Love this post!! Addy and my mare couldnt look more different – but I suspect they are secretly kindred spirits lol. It took me a long time (and I still need occasional reminders) to understand her “go button” and learn how to really ride it. And like another comment said – keeping leg ON is key, despite what I thought to the contrary lol.


    • hellomylivia 03/05/2015 / 9:43 am

      I find we have such a smoother ride when we embrace the go-button instead of fighting it, and DEFINITELY keeping leg on helps with that so much!!


  9. Annye / AnAmishWarmblood 03/05/2015 / 1:03 pm

    It’s amazing to me that she is so forward. The image of draft crosses I have of my mind does NOT thunder across the arena like that!

    I can’t WAIT to hear about your shows this year! You’re going to be amazing.


    • hellomylivia 03/05/2015 / 1:50 pm

      I know, I was so so surprised when I first got on her! She’s not “hot” like a tb, she just has so much power and no inclination to harness it haha.
      I’ll be sure to give a full report when we get to the show ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t think we have the slow and steady hunter thing quite right, but I know it’s going to be an awesomely fun time!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s