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 hitting 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…