My horse’s paces are scoring well but our halts are a nightmare! Can you cure a fidget?!

Posted by in Q & A on Feb 4, 2018

I’m really pleased with my dressage results this season – apart from one thing – our halts! Why, when my horse gets 6s and 7s for his walk, trot and canter, are we throwing marks away when it gets to the end of our test? Our last test finished with a 3! The quieter I try to sit the more he fidgets. Do you have any ideas that can help me sort this out?

As you are very aware the final halt does matter. It’s the last impression the judge has of you before they write up your collective scores – and that can make a huge difference to your final score.

The problem usually stems from a lack of impulsion. I know that sounds strange when you’re talking about a stationary movement but think of halt as a stationary pace. It needs energy, balance and focus – three things which the judge will look for and mark. A loss of energy results in a staggered halt, legs far from square and hollowing or stiffness in the back. Loss of balance (which stems from a loss of energy) will cause your horse to fall onto his forehand – leading to overbending, leaning on the bit or swinging quarters. A lack of focus – as most riders are only too aware of – leads to pulling on the bit or lifting the head and looking around. None of these things are going to boost your score!

What you need to practise is riding forward into halt – and once you’re in halt sitting ‘actively’ as if something else is coming. Don’t tighten up (anticipating a fidgeting horse) or suddenly lighten up your hands, legs and seat because you think any movement from you will make him fidget (it won’t!). Not just keeping your legs on but really getting your legs wrapped round and driving into the halt. Imagine you’re about to ask for canter. You wouldn’t suddenly relax your legs, lighten your contact and stop riding – not if you want a 6 or 7 for your transition anyway!

Practise riding large in trot, riding transitions to halt at A, B, C and E. Count to three and trot away again – this will stop you focussing too much on the halt and get you thinking forward. You’ll find your horse will stay more focussed on what you’re doing and so will you.

The main problems with halt are lack of squareness (because quarters or shoulders are crooked), hollowness or stiffness in the back and inattentiveness (basically looking at the audience!).

Squareness is easily achieved if you concentrate on what you’re doing.

  1. Your hands influence your horse’s shoulders – if your hands are unlevel then so will your horse’s shoulders. So, if your left hand is higher so will your horse’s left shoulder. This will cause his weight to fall onto his right shoulder and that will make him put his right front foot out to steady himself.
  2. Your body influences his back – anything you do with your body he will do with his and anything he does that upsets his concentration will cause tension and stiffness in his back. Stay relaxed in your body so you don’t give your horse any reason to anticipate a problem and tense up. Sit straight in the saddle so your hips and shoulders face the front. Make sure your shoulders are directly above your hips to keep your weight central in the saddle so you don’t unintentionally push his weight to one side. Keep the distance between your bottom rib and the top of your hip equal on both sides to make sure you’re not collapsing to one side – which will make him drift away from the centre line.
  • Your legs influence your horse’s quarters. Keep them on his sides to push him forward and keep up his energy so his hocks push up under his body to keep him balanced. Make sure your legs stay at the girth – if one leg slides back his quarters will swing away to one side.

The transition into halt should be treated exactly the same as any other transition. Push on into it, keep your contact even on both sides of his mouth and sit up. If your contact is uneven he’s going to be crooked as he moves into halt. If you tip forward you’ll take his weight off his hocks and onto his shoulders – as his shoulders get heavy they’ll clam up and his quarters will have nowhere to go and swing to the side. Riding forward will keep his attention on you instead of everything going on around you.

Once in halt you should stay focused and thinking forward (even though you’re stationary!) by keeping your legs on and your contact steady – as of you may ask for trot any second – you’ll keep him focused.

When you school at home never finish a test at X or G in halt – always move off again in trot and finish by moving down into a medium walk for at least a circuit before you give your horse a long rein. Remember he doesn’t know the test so invent a ‘new’ ending to it so he never anticipates ‘The End’, it’s a handy tip and will keep him waiting for your next aid.

I hope this helps. Best of luck with your next test!

 

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