Bran Mash: Half Halts, Big Field Canters, and Camels

I just had my second lesson in a row with Cooper the wonder pony! He has been improving so much in such a short time. With each ride, I feel him getting softer in the shoulder and straighter through the bridle. We even actually picked up the correct lead both directions! We have been schooling turns on the forehand and halts and even after only a few repetitions I feel like he is starting to understand the inside leg to outside rein connection, and I am learning that getting a horse on the bit has absolutely nothing to do with pulling. Better yet, I’ve had a riding epiphany about half halts, thanks to Natasha Althoff and her Your Riding Success Youtube channel. I’ve spent hours watching and re-watching her videos and I’m interested in joining her online goal setting and mentoring program. Anyway, I fell upon this wonderful explanation of half halts as an “energy stabilizer” and I finally understand! It’s sad how long it took for me to find a clear definition, and how many trainers that couldn’t give me a useful explanation for this technique without going over my head.

I’ve come to realize that dressage is indeed a high speed sport, as much as barrel racing or cross country is. It requires us to respond to the horse with immediate efficiency. You have to execute three half halts, apply the outside leg, and deepen your seat all in the span of a few milliseconds. All the while, you’re supposed to be so fluid and subtle that it looks like you aren’t doing anything. The best riders have quick silver-like reflexes and the intuition to carry out each correction even before the horse goes crooked or breaks stride.

Here are some raws of me and Coop attempting (and succeeding, albeit clumsily) to get the correct lead on both sides.

Armed with the knowledge of rein-vibrating half halts, Cooper and I sailed through our lesson. Flat corners became carved out and deep. The old outside shoulder “pop and drift” routine wasn’t quite as pronounced. We ended our lesson foamy and satisfied.

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The next day, I rode to the field with my best friend and her boy Piper. To get to the field, you travel almost half a mile down the road and turn off on a grassy slope. There is a massive green field with a flat track mowed around the perimeter and several trail loops that jut out like veins into the woods surrounding the field. Technically the property was built for mountain bikers and runners, but there is no official signage or directive prohibiting horses. We ran into a group of cyclists decked out in neon lycra. One of them looked at us with an expression of disgust. “You’re not going in there are you? We’re trying to keep horses off the trails.” We just told them we were walking around the perimeter and waved them off. These bikers were just a few of the many in our community that form the nebulous “we” against horses on the trails. They don’t own the land (nor do they make the rules) but they do symbolize a growing majority in communities across the country.

Why is there so much bad blood between cyclists and equestrians? Neither of us really do see eye to eye. The horse people see loud, pushy, fast moving “spookable” objects and people that are ignorant about horses. The cyclists see large, pooping, anxious liabilities that present an interruption in their ride and the inconvenience of having to pull over or go around. I just wish that both sides could become more educated about the other half so we could put this petty bickering behind us, put on our big kid panties, and share the trails. Rant over.

So we went up to the field and did some lovely cantering around the edge of the field. We felt the temperature drop and our horses seemed to forget about being tired or out of shape. I thought Cooper had problems with his trot-canter transitions but I was very wrong. Very. Wrong. We blasted off like the devil was nipping at Cooper’s hooves. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun. But it wasn’t pretty. I have this problem with storing my tension in my heels and feet so I have trouble reminding myself to sink into my heels when cantering and galloping (which we did a little of, after we overtook Piper and reenacted Secretariat’s win by a 16th of a mile). We were quite a sight, my little liver chestnut quarter pony blazing around the track with me trying to hold myself in two point and grip his mane for dear life. There is something very cathartic about leaving your arena (or pasture) behind and giving your sheltered pony a taste of wide open space, letting him tic it off one stride at a time, and feeling his tail flung into the slip stream behind him. I’m getting mushy now, but I really recommend a good gallop if you feel like you’re in a rut or you’re just bogged down by your regular work routine. It’s okay to have fun sometimes!

And finally, I promised you camels. Not the cigarette variety. On our way to the field, my friend casually gestured to the left and commented that the neighbors had a few camels that they were watching for a few weeks for our local safari drive through. Camels?! I looked closer, and sure enough, there they were making their cute little awkward faces and noises and batting their long camel eyelashes. Not just camels, but fuzzy white little baby camels. I can’t imagine seeing anything more peculiar and adorable riding down a quiet street just outside city limits.

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One comment

  1. Horse Sage · September 28, 2016

    What fun to read about your riding progress, and especially the gallop and the baby camels! Cuteness – I love the picture! I am in total agreement that everyone benefits from the occasional (controlled) gallop out in the great beyond. So glad you and Cooper are doing that, it will do wonders for you both. You have inspired me to put my mare in the trailer and go find a place to do it. Sadly, we don’t have trails right out from the barn. But I do have a trailer, so no excuses for me!

    Liked by 1 person

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