Well, I know you’ve heard of the half-halt. Zelador and I have, too. But Zelador has demonstrated repeatedly that his interpretation of the half-halt is “Go like Stink!”
Riding a horse that has no intention of listening to my aids is not a lot of fun. On other horses if I want to turn to the right I turn my head to the right and the horse responds. If I want to turn to the right on Zelador he forges ahead and becomes a brick wall that is totally incapable of moving a millimetre to the right, let alone allowing me to create flexion, and you can forget about “bend.”
If I’m on the left rein and approaching the long side of the arena he cuts in and won’t go to the wall (which is on our right). I can put all of my weight to the right and occasionally I experience a subtle shift in his body slightly to the right, but the wall is still miles away. Fun? No.
To get a WHOA is impossible. I’ve learned that if I turn his head to the wall he might finally stop. I CAN stop him by taking both feet out of the stirrups. He stops because he thinks the ride is over. Taking both feet from the stirrups at a hair-rising trot approaches life-threatening. I need to circle him, flex his head to the wall, say WHOA a few million times and finally if nothing else sets him off I can find the WHOA in about five minutes.
Things are marginally better at the walk.
Our wonderful, kind, patient, knowledgeable instructor, Alex, has mentioned that “Zelador has to listen to your seat.” I understand what Alex is saying and I can imagine that having a horse that listens to my seat would be like the good ole days with Sherlock. Just think a thought and he was with me.
Alex has also said, “Do transitions. Get him listening to your seat.” And “Get the trot balanced. A few steps that are bigger. A few steps that are smaller. All with your seat.” Lovely thoughts…
Yesterday in our lesson Alex and I talked about my ONLY sure way of getting Zelador to WHOA (take feet out of the stirrups). With my stirrup length where it is right now it does take a bit of an effort to smoothly get my foot out. Alex doesn’t want to change the length (to longer) because he likes the angles in my leg. So, I practised raising my toes and this did help lower my seat more deeply into the saddle, sort of the position which results when I take my feet out of the stirrups AND, totally out of the blue Zelador responded to the toe rise. He actually almost stopped. Alex reminded me, “No use of the reins pulling back to create a stop. EVER!”
We practised me lifting my toes many times and Zelador actually sort of whoaed on each occasion.
Zelador is brilliant when I finally have him halted and ask for piaffe steps. My body for the piaffe is totally soft with no muscle in my legs contracting against his body. However, when I ask for the piaffe to move forward into a short trot we both get stiffer. I don’t know which of us starts this stiffness, but the total softness in my body is gone. There’s not much addition of firm muscles, but obviously enough to upset his lovely frame and the trot rhythm. My goal is to take the softness of the piaffe (reins soft, too) and continue it through the trot.
Alex pointed out that the softness in my body in the piaffe helps Zelador remain soft. When I tighten a muscle Zelador thinks he’s supposed to go more forward. So, the language is simple: soft, hard. The interpretation of the language? It appears that “soft” means “peace” and “stay with the peaceful person.” Conversely the word “hard” means “Go! Run for your life! No one can save you!!!!”
Today I rode with the clicker and practiced the toe lift at the walk. Zelador heard the click when he stood still and then he received a treat. The two of us tried the whoa at many different spots in the arena including somewhere out there in no-man’s land with no wall nearby and whoas along the wall.
On to the trot. Hmmm…things weren’t quite as good. But, I hung in there and tried really hard to lift my toes and feel his hindend step that little bit under him at which point he was praised. We cantered. Things were OK. Back to the trot. On one occasion he wanted to take over and not listen one iota, but I kept asking for new steps (flexion, counter-flexion, travers, renvers, volte, pretty much anything that just might bring his mind back to me). Finally I felt that he was looking to me for direction and actually happily collecting himself when I raised my toes for a half-halt. The reins were soft in my hands. No tension anywhere. His trot steps were like his piaffe steps. I brought him to a halt and told him he was a genius. I sat there, pondering. I could picture yesterday when Alex was riding Zeloso. The trot was gorgeous. Alex did many different exercises and Zeloso maintained his frame and rhythm. That picture nagged at me. The burning question was: would Zelador EVER be able to do a few things in a row without histrionics? A huge part of my brain said, “Find out some other day.” But I shoved that out of my mind and set off on a trot tour. We did everything I could think of. Zelador listened to my seat. He didn’t stick his nose in the air. He didn’t brace against me when I asked for lateral steps. We did the shoulder-in on the centreline, morphed into a half-pass, then back to the shoulder-in. Talk about “dancing”. I had to force myself to dismount, giving him the ultimate praise. I’m sitting here at the computer and working really hard at NOT fetching Zelador from the paddock, tacking him up and reliving those wonderful moments.
P.S. I told Bill about the last two outings with Zelador. He said, “You give the correct aid and the horse does the correct thing. What’s the big deal?”