Here’s another useful exercise I picked up from Horses Inside Out last month. The purpose of doing it at the demo was for us to observe the action of the hindlimbs on the painted horses through transitions. However, I felt it would be a very useful warm up exercise for a number of my clients. So I put it to good use last week.
I find that sometimes half halts can be ineffective, either the rider isn’t asking correctly or the horse is choosing to be ignorant, and this exercise sharpens a rider’s aids and the horse’s mind.
From a good, balanced trot, ride forward to walk to five strides then ride forwards to trot. This checks that the rider is thinking of changing the sequence of their horse’s legs rather than slowing down because if you lose energy into walk, you can’t ride the upwards transition accurately. At this point, I usually correct any issues with the aids and repeating the five walk strides until the downwards transition is fluent, maintaining energy, and the upward transition is prompt.
Gradually, you reduce the number of walk strides from five, to four, to three, two and eventually just one. Repeat each level until it feels harmonious and you can feel a bit of activation in the hindquarters. Some horses only need to go down to three walk strides for it to be effective, and you’re better off stopping there than having fewer walk strides of a poorer quality.
In a downward transition, the hind leg steps under the horse’s body with the joints flexing more. This means they take their weight off their forehand and then push themselves up into a lighter, floatier trot. If you ever get the chance to see this exercise performed by a painted horse, have a look because it’s far more illustrative than my words.
Back to my clients and their progression through this exercise. The lazier horses soon woke us and came more off the aids, developing a far superior walk because they hadn’t switched off to their rider. The riders were more alert and not collapsing into walk and likewise switching off. For the whizzier horse’s we put in circles and changes of rein to stop them anticipating the exercise so much. These riders learnt to refine their aids so the transitions were less sudden and tense.
All of my riders found it hard to get the precise number of steps – the upward transitions all included at least one stride of walk between asking and executing it. They had to think and ride faster.
The transitions helped those horses who were ignorant to the balancing effect of a half halt because there was no grey area. It was black and white. Their riders could feel the effect of an exaggerated half halt – especially when there was only one stride of walk, which meant that they had a clearer idea in their head about the desired effect of a half halt was. It also taught them to ride with more leg, and to put the downwards and upwards aids together quicker.
After using this exercise, all the horses had a better quality trot, were more connected because of the action of the hindquarters, and came off their forehand and worked over their backs into an outline. I found that the rider’s feel had improved and they were then using half halts more easily, subtly and more effectively. I felt that their understanding of a half halt had improved by riding the extreme version.
Try it yourself in your next warm up, and see the effect it has.