Just a simple halt to walk transition. We do it all the time! So what's the fuss?
In my experience, horses often do something other than walk straight forward out of the halt. Try the transition a few times and pay close attention to what happens after you ask for the walk.
Let's break it down.
First, develop a strong, marching walk that shows "activity." In other words, the walk should be brisk and fairly up-tempo. Not so fast that it feels like your horse will break stride into trot any second; but develop a forward, reaching, free-flowing walk.
You'll know it's a good walk when the foot-falls are evenly spaced apart - 1..2..3..4. If it's more like 1..2.3.....4, then you know that it's still not a "pure" walk, or one that is balanced and strong.
You can prepare to halt after you get that walk!
The aid for the halt is mainly in your seat. While in the walk, you're walking with your seat bones, in rhythm with the horse's movement. Prepare to halt with a half-halt. When you halt, you stop the seat. If the horse continues to walk, don't be as free-flowing with the seat bones. Follow up with half-halts on the reins (not a steady pull) until you get the legs to stop.
Stay in halt for five seconds to really establish immobility. Work on keeping your horse's attention - no looking around!
Consider the halt as a movement rather than a "stop everything." Stay toned, "connected," tuned into each other, and just wait.
But don't wait too long! If you managed the five seconds, and your horse is still with you, walk out of the halt. It takes practice to stay immobile while ready to go at a moment's notice.
What happens during the very first step out of the halt?
Does your horse lift his head and stick the nose to the sky?
Does he take a large step left or right?
Does he take a few tiny, slow steps before establishing his normal pace?
Does he go to take a few steps backward before he realizes you wanted forward steps?
While it seems too simple, achieving a bold, powerful but contained, smooth walk out of the halt is something that must be learned by both the horse and rider. It doesn't always come naturally.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as your horse takes that first walk step.
- Is he ready to step out with an active hind end? One of the first things to notice is whether the horse pulls himself forward from the front end or pushes from the hind end. Make sure you are asking his hind end to move forward first. The horse should ideally step forward promptly and energetically from your two light leg aids.
- Is he straight? You can notice straightness by observing his front legs. Do they aim straight forward, or do they step slightly sideways? Does the hind end swing to one side or the other? Be sure to keep your reins even, your legs even, and your seat and upper body pointed forward. When the horse takes the first step, make sure you are not leaning or weighting one seat bone over another. Urge him to go straight from your straight body and aids. Use leg aids to counter any hind end swings.
- Does the horse throw the head up in those first few steps? We call this a "giraffe neck" - the head goes high, the horse flings the nose up in the air. If you try it yourself, you'll feel the discomfort through the back of your neck and shoulder blades almost immediately. When the head goes up like that, the base of the neck actually drops. The back hollows and the horse's underline lengthens. This puts him on the forehand immediately and he has to carry your weight with a compromised balance. In this case, make sure you are not letting your reins out through your fingers, or doing the Jelly Elbows routine as you transition to walk. Find a comfortable rein length for the horse, and keep that rein length right through the transition. Keep your elbows on your body and expect the horse to walk even while he stays round and on the bit.
Intersperse the halt to walk transition through your ride as a breathing break. Just after you've done some canter and trot work, go to the walk, halt (five seconds) and walk again. It might take some practice to get the immobility and then the energy and regular footfalls of the walk after the halt.
Use it also as a cool down at the end of the ride. Before you get off, do a few halt to walk transitions.
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