Riding Half-Halt to Half-Halt

A couple new students started with me recently whose main concern was how to ride some of the new movements in tests they had entered for an upcoming show.? The first thing I pointed out was that tHere’s a difference between a new pattern (like a turn from B to E) and a new movement, like a trot lengthening.? You don’t enter the show and then start to learn a new movement ? that’s a process of training that should take place over weeks/months, not days.? Depending on your learning curve, you may be able to pick up a new pattern just by reading it or by riding it once in a ring. I’ve always been good at this test-learning stuff.? I can read the most illogical-sounding pattern and picture it in the ring right away, and I don’t have a particularly good sense of space or dimension, which is a much bigger problem going down to a jump! In 40 years of riding and showing dressage, I’ve almost never had a standard marked arena for practice, even for freestyles ? I just go to the shows and ride the test. It always rather tickles me when I read online when people need elaborate methods and devices to learn a new test, although of course we all have different learning capabilities. Picturing the pattern in one?s mind and actually remembering the test are two completely different things.? Lendon Gray is famously known for riding seven different horses ? 14 different tests ? a day at a show, never using a reader and never going off course.? I asked her once how she did it.? One insight she gave is that she doesn’t consider accuracy to be so a matter of a specific pattern in a rectangular space as it is doing a specific thing at a specific place.? Therefore you can practice the same halt you?d do in the ring in the middle of an open field.? Pick out a rock or a fence post and aim your halt for that rock or post the same way you?d aim your halt at X in the ring.? Sounds simple, and I guess it is, but it’s also more complicated, especially in the ring with all those corners getting in the way. Two of the big keys I try to give people to help ride their tests concern half-halts and their inside shoulder.? If you lead with your inside shoulder on a curve or corner, you fall into the curve and lose balance.? If you bring your inside shoulder back, the turn takes care of itself.? Therefore, with that turn across the ring from B to E, it’s just right shoulder back to turn at B and then left shoulder back to turn at E, or vice versa.? Simple as that. The other big key is something that Robert Dover has been famously quoted:? Dressage tests should be ridden half-halt to half-halt.? It doesn’t matter so much at the lower levels where the patterns are relatively uncomplicated, but you can’t get through an upper-level test without carefully planning all the half-halts.? In fact, one way to memorize a test is to think it through with just the half-halts and not the actual patterns, because if the half-halts are in the right place the patterns will pretty much happen on their own. I think this is particularly true for the eventing dressage tests, which are fairly complicated patterns even at the lower levels, and they are ridden in the smaller 20×40 arena.? If you know where your half-halts are so you can plan ahead for all the turns, and you keep your inside shoulder back, the tests ride much more smoothly than if you wait until the last possible moment and then just haul on the inside rein.

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