What does it feel like to get on your young horse's back for the first time?
If you've owned him since he was a foal, you might have waited two, three or four years before the breathtaking moment!
From that very first ride, to the subsequent weeks of awkward walk, to trot and finally canter - and then for the rest of the horse's life - there is really one thing that needs to be managed at all times while under saddle.
You guessed it: the horse's balance.
Which of course also includes your balance. In fact, everything we do on top of that horse will affect his balance, so we have to be equally obsessed with our own balance even while we help him maintain his.
Balance is a major issue for many reasons:
- Physical: Lack of balance can cause all sorts of harm to the horse in the long term. Think of leg and tendon injuries, stumbling, back pain and so much more.
- Mental: Sensitive horses especially react to lack of balance. Note the horse's expression when he is on the forehand or tight and tense through the back. Of course, there are more subtle signs like teeth grinding or pinned ears.
- Rider Discomfort: Finally, the rider should be able to actually feel the imbalance, whether through uncomfortable movement, jarring through the gaits or general all-over body tension which creates the "cardboard back" that is difficult to sit to.
So how can you maintain balance, you ask?
We've discussed the half-halt in detail in previous articles. This time, though, we're going to look at when we need to apply the half-halt. If we are interested in preserving balance while we ride the horse, it all comes down to the timing.
Time the half-halt correctly during the horse's movement. In general, you want to time your aids while the inside hind leg is up off the ground (so the leg is free to move).
Also, time the half-halt so it occurs between the various movements. Many people say you should ride "half-halt to half-halt" - as in, the half-halts begin and end each and every movement (= changes of balance). If you think this must mean that you are constantly using half-halts, you're right!
When exactly should you balance (rebalance/catch the energy/give a "heads up")? Here are 38 moments in a ride that you could use the half-halt.
- Before the walk to halt
- After the halt to walk
- Before/after the trot to walk
- Before/after the canter to trot
- Before/after the trot to canter
- Before/after the walk to trot
- Before a corner in the ring
- After a corner in the ring
- Before a turn
- After a turn
- Before a circle begins
- Halfway through the circle
- Before the circle ends
- A few strides after the circle
- Before the "sit down" in trot/canter
- After the "sit down" in trot/canter
- Before a change of direction
- After a change of direction
- Before going into a straight line
- Halfway through the straight line
- After the straight line, in preparation for the next movement
- Before going downhill
- While going downhill
- Before positioning into the shoulder-in/haunches in
- During the shoulder-in/haunches-in
- After the shoulder-in/haunches-in
- Before the leg yield/half-pass
- During the leg yield/half-pass (especially to help the hind end catch up with the front end)
- After the leg yield/half-pass
- Before a spook
- During a spook
- Any time to refocus attention
- Before an increase in engagement
- After an increase in engagement
- Any time to regain balance
- Before any new movement
- Before slowing down the tempo (regardless of gait)
- Before speeding up the tempo (regardless of gait)
I considered leaving out the "before" and "after" qualifiers but then I decided I wanted to make it very specific. We tend take the half-halt for granted and use it sometimes while forget about it at other times. In this case, I wanted to highlight the frequency that it needs to be used - basically, before and after everything!
Which brings us back to the first ride on the young horse. Even while he is finding his feet and learning about gaits, gait changes and what our aids mean, it is our responsibility to help him maintain the best balance possible during each phase of his education. Introduce the half-halt fairly early in his riding career and keep using it through all of his riding life!
Do you have more to add to the list? Comment below.
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More related reading here:
Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem: It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.
4 Steps To Help Your Horse Through A Turn: I’m sure you’ve seen it before – there are many situations where a horse turns too abruptly, unbalancing himself and also the rider. Most often, the rider hangs on but other times, she might be unseated, losing balance, stirrups and/or seat.
How to "Flow” From the Trot to Walk: Although we rely on our hands too much and initiate all movements from the horse’s mouth, there are many alternate aids we can go to.
Find the Space Between the Give and Take in Horse Riding: As with so many other things in life, we need to find the happy medium.
‘Go and No’: The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: How to develop the two seemingly opposite aids.