So we all know that Thunder’s tests at the last show were both pretty good. The first one was somewhat tense, and I rode conservatively because I was waiting for a spook, so we had a modest 65.91%. The second one was actually kind of brilliant – the horse relaxed and I rode him forward and asked for the beauty I know he has inside him, and by the end of it the judge was ready to fold him up, stick him in her boot and take him home, awarding him 72.5%.
So obviously we had mostly 7s. The judge could have been a little generous, but she hammered Arwen for her mistakes, so I doubt it. We also had three big beautiful 8s – free walk and both canter-trot transitions. (Finally winning at a downward! Whoop!)
There were two movements that were consistently 6s and could be 7s, though:
- Halt through walk
- Stretchy trot circle
- Lengthening (not in those tests, but I know it’s not our best).
All three of them carry over into Novice (although the halt is from trot) so we’d best get to perfecting them.
We started with the halt through walk. It begins in Prelim 1 and 2 as a walk starting at least 12m before the halt. By Prelim 3 it’s a proper halt through the walk (“between L and I”) and by Prelim 4 it’s an accurate one at X.
Thunder’s is really not horrible. Comments are usually “steady and straight, but not square”. He is relaxed and will stand even on a loose rein for as long as I want. He halts the moment I ask, so the obedience is there. He maintains a rhythm and straightness. The legs just go everywhere in an unflattering heap. Not exactly the way to begin and end a 70% test, Thunder.
We started to play with it last week and I particularly noticed that halt from trot was dead square almost every time, while halt through walk was a consistent mess. We did my favourite centrelines exercise to figure this out:
- Down the long side, halt at B. Proceed to A and turn down centreline. Halt at X. At C turn left. Halt again at E. A down centerline. Halt at X. C turn right. Repeat. If the horse loses impulsion and starts to anticipate the halt or get behind the leg, replace some of the halts with little trot lengthenings. The halts on the long side help to keep the horse straight.
We repeated this exercise a few times and his halts just stayed the same – obedient and steady and straight and not square.
Back to my old friend Google. I eventually found out that square halts are linked to activity and impulsion, and that made perfect sense. Thunder is not exactly the world’s most forward-going beast and he was halting square from trot. So we played with an exercise we found on the Internet:
- Going on the track, ask for four steps of a smaller trot at A, B, C and E. Focus on prompt transitions up and down. We did almost collected trot, but I wasn’t pushing for it, just keeping him in front of my leg in the smaller steps.
- After a lap of this, do four lengthened steps at A, B, C and E. Thunder struggled with this, but it improved as we went on and he began to anticipate a little.
- Then start randomly throwing in a halt through walk, combining the forward from the lengthenings and the half-halts from the shortenings. As long as I kept driving him in the walk, and kept as few walk steps as possible (3 or 4), we suddenly and magically had a square halt.
After that we just did a bunch of halts on the centerline and while the exercise hadn’t taught him to halt square, it definitely taught me how to ride him correctly for the square halt. He really does have a brilliant walk (an 8 on the collectives) so I can get it as long as I hit the right buttons and really ask him to maintain the activity all the way down into halt.
Mission accomplished. Glory to the King.