Louie and I had a double lesson last Thursday, then another little lesson today as we're missing a few lessons this month with shows and field trials and such.
On Thursday we worked a lot on activating the hind legs in creating a half halt. This is a modified version of an exercise that we just hate (aka: still don't really get) called "the square." Okay, so here's how it works: you're going along at a walk and you want to halt. Well, you don't just want the front end to run into a wall and stop, you want the hind end to activate, and step under the horse's body into the halt. So, to do this, we ask for a half halt or a full halt by immobilizing the stomach to tell the saddle to stop moving, and applying a little bit of one or both legs (in this exercise, it's always just applying the inside leg, but if I were to go down the centerline and stop at X, I would use both legs so my horse stays straight). If we don't get an instant reaction from the subtle half halt cues, then we activate those hind legs by immediately going into a turn on the forehand. The piece that I think I have been missing in this is that I need to stay perfectly still in the saddle, still giving the cue of "halt" with my body. Once we get a few steps with the hind legs and a slowing/stopping of the front end, we ask again for the walk, or whatever gait we were in to begin with.
I haven't entirely grasped the process, but the goal is that this exercise teaches the horse to activate the hind legs and eventually "collect" the gait by creating a half halt. Eventually this can be applied to the faster gaits, of collecting/re-organizing the canter, etc. I just haven't quite grasped the quantum leap from the turn on the forehand to collecting the canter quite yet. . . some day.
Well anyhow, today, we worked just a little bit on that, but we worked more specifically making half halts go through and using them as a finite correction. Except we didn't really always refer to what we were doing as "half halting." We worked first on the same exercise we did to create nice cadence a few weeks ago. We slowed the gait way down, and then worked on getting more hind end activity without going faster, all the meanwhile encouraging him to reach out for the contact and lengthening the neck (do this with little gives). The usual chain of events would be something like: trotting on a 20 meter circle, slow the gait, add whip, but hold the speed slow with stomach and some rein, then do lots of little gives on the reins to encourage him to reach out and forward for the bit while keeping the hind end pushing. To get the neck down and discourage ducking, we added our favorite element: sideways. At times Louie would get quite above the bit, so we went very sideways in a shoulder in, but tried to keep him going really sideways without any neck bend, or almost thinking "renvers." After a few strides of that, Louie would begin to lean on the bit a little bit, which was a cue to lengthen the rein and let him reach down for the bit. After we got that connection, we straightened him out and continued with the exercise.
We followed this same procedure/recipe to re-balance him as needed, to "check" to see if he was carrying himself or would be willing to stretch down further. It eventually ended up being like the square exercise where I would apply stomach and inside leg to activate the hind leg, then release the reins into a more forward trot when/if we got the slowing/re-balancing on the hind end we were looking for- aka, a half halt.
We then proceeded with a similar process at the sitting trot and working on canter transitions. We would go along at the sitting trot, hopefully maintaining the ability to make a half halt go through, yet retaining connection with a long neck on the reins. We would then begin to do a downward transition into a turn on the forehand, then I'd change my mind and allow him forward again. We did this on a 10 meter circle, then after getting a few nice half-halts to go through, I would straighten him, bring my inside leg forward and ask for the canter. The big trick here was then to actually RIDE the canter. I tend to feel relieved when I get into the canter, so I stop riding it and just kind of cruise along. Well today, we worked on "renewing the upward transition with every stride, and we worked on only cantering 3 strides, then asking for the downward transition (which by the way, has really improved in the past couple of rides) and getting back into a nice collected trot rather than a rushy fast, "run off" trot. This 3 stride exercise was good for me, because it makes me actually RIDE every stride, vs just being a passenger.
So, our homework, is to continue to work on making half halts go through, and refining our half halt to get good hind leg activity, and be able to do little gives with the reins and encourage Louie to reach down and out into the contact. We are also to work on the trot-canter transitions with the mini turns on the forehand in the trot as a half halt.
Oh- and one more little thing we figured out- my left wrist/hand is always a problem, but it works better if I keep my left rein shorter (when it's the inside rein, and pull it a little bit more away from the neck, as pulling into the neck makes my wrist brace).