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Half-halt in half a minute. March 22, 2015

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, competition, contact, dressage, half-halts, looseness, performance standards.

A half-halt is half of a halt.  A halt is a forward going stop.  To ride a horse forward to a stop (halt) he must understand what you want and do it because you asked him to.

You can (sometimes) make a horse “stop” with strong use of hand and leg by making it difficult or impossible for him to keep going.   However, a rider cannot use strong physical aids to “forward going stop” a horse.  To ride a horse forward to a halt you must use aids that allow him to go forward.  Aids that request, encourage and allow.

A rider can slow a horse down with strong hands and legs – but that is a slow down, not a half-halt.  A rider cannot physically half-halt a horse (FEI definition be damned!).  He can only ask the horse, with whispering aids,  to collect himself.  Since we rely on the horses’ understanding of the aids for the correct response, there is no problem with the horse listening for what we want next  and doing that as well.

Times up.



Dressage Today Review of Riding in the Moment April 23, 2013

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, contact, corrections, dressage, half-halts, Natural Horsemanship, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.

Dressage Today – May 2013

Book Review
Riding in the Moment,
Discover the Hidden Language
of Dressage
By Michael Schaffer
Softcover, 170 pages, available at

Reviewed by Mary Daniels

This book is a bit of a sleeper. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the author had written something so useful and so innovative that it could be called brilliant. Though the problem of how wooden and obscure the traditional language of dressage is has been cropping up here and there in the work of other authors, this is the first book I have come across that offers a system of viable solutions that won’t offend the rule-bound.

Schaffer, an FEI-level trainer, instructor, clinician and author of Right From the Start, Create a Sane, Soft, Well-Balanced Horse, says the conventional language of dressage is “top down and mechanical.” It begins at its end goal, with definitions and descriptions of trained horses ridden with refined aids. But the actual process of training a dressage horse is “bottom up and cognitive (getting the horse to understand what it is you want and allowing him to do it from light aids).”

Schaffer’s ideas bring to mind that some of the best trainers of performance horses don’t talk much. Perhaps language is inadequate to explain what it is they do. Schaffer’s reduction of dressage-speak into common and easily understood ideas gives you a simple but effective plan to introduce a green horse that hasn’t a clue to a mutual language by which a rider is able to communicate with him. I have never had anyone teach me this, though I have been able to observe trainers very experienced in starting young horses patiently go about it, and I am pretty sure what they are doing is not too different from Schaffer’s bottom-up method of training.

Schaffer begins with what he calls the five first-tier basics: go, stop, turn in, move out and soften. These concepts are at the core of all dressage, he says. Master them, and then by combining them, you can easily create all of the movements we seek in a made dressage horse.

One important idea the author emphasizes is that it is always more important to use aids in a relaxed way than in a precise way. Ask often, accept what you can get, imperfect though it may be, but keep trying to do better, and reward lavishly when you get the closest semblance.

There are excellent photos breaking down how to go from having to develop and use light, cognitive aids. And isn’t that the way we all want to ride, but never knew how to start?

Most likely, any thinking rider will find this book useful in switching on new neuron paths in the brain. But I believe someone who is trying to either personally introduce or supervise the very early basic training of a young, green horse is going to find it useful and a way to prevent frustrations from escalating.

My helmet is off to this guy for thinking in an innovative way and putting it down on paper for the rest of us.

August open schooling session August 9, 2012

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, The Training Pyramid, training.
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Here’s this months video – generally pretty good stuff, new 3 and 4 tempi changes.  Things are coming along.




Easier to ride… December 21, 2011

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, contact, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, training.
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I had a very relaxing ride on Deedles today – no video, no training schedule,just got a ride in before the rain. So, there we were, up to the ring plopping around for a while when it hit me – we were just plopping around.

I realize that sounds so ordinary – what’s the big deal? Well, with Indeed, getting to the point where we could just plop around is a milestone. He didn’t come with a “plop around” gear. He didn’t come with a “relaxed ride” mind set. He came with a “life is a continuous struggle” outlook.

However, in looking back at the more recent videos I just put up (making excellent use of new camera, software, and computer upgrade to produce them primarily as a mirror for me and training aid for any who wish to look in) I realized that at some point Indeed stopped arguing and trying to figure a way out, and now he’s just trying to figure me out. About bloody time! Usually it
takes days or weeks, he took years!

All the same, I think it’s obvious that although much of the work is still far from perfect, it has all become fun and easy for him and me. So, in a head slapping isn’t it obvious moment it has occurred to me that a primary goal and test of training is that the horse becomes easier to ride. Well, duh!

Here’s the latest video from a couple of days ago – in this tape I’m just checking out his new “up” frame – he doesn’t look too bad if I say so myself. I’m also looking at his change from left to right which is improved from the last video.

You see, the work isn’t perfect by any means but it’s all fairly easy.

In this tape from a few days before that, I just look at the changes in a variety of different ways. I used the software to zoom in on the action and put everything in slow motion (ya know, sometimes being geek IS cool!) See if you can see what I learned by watching this tape and put to use in the video from the 18’th above.

(Oh – and they’re in hi-def )


3’rd place August 22, 2011

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, competition, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, training.
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I love this horse and he keeps getting better!


Eyes on the ground – part 4 December 21, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, training.
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So Indeed had the weekend off as I was away doing a clinic. Today was really cold! But I got on him and we were continuing with the lateral suppling, etc I mentioned in the last post. Basically, I’m doing the lateral engaging step in the trot on the circle with him. I do it with him in a “normal” way, over bent to the inside of the circle, and in the counter bend – overbent to the outside. I didn’t bother with changes at all today, but what I did notice is that he was much more “through” as a result of this work. So my thoughts to pass on to all today are, “improving anything improves everything.” This is just another example of it. I was looking for a blockage that was messing with his flying change, I got him more through than I’ve ever felt him before. At one point I gently touched him with the stick to ask for a little more, and it felt like 2 more cylinder in his engine kicked in. Very nice, very soft, just a whole lot more there, there!

The other thought is that, within reason, you’re always better off to just press on and move on to the next training level rather than trying to make the lowest  level stuff perfect. This is a typical example of what I mean. I thought I did have Indeed supple and through, and had I not pushed on to the changes I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Another good day! November 2, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in calmness, contact, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, training.
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Just thought I’d mention I had a great day on my horse today.  Actually, I’ve been having good days with him all summer and now into the fall.  Yes, he still challenges early on every day before settling in, and today he was even a bit more adamant than usual,  But then, once we got past that, which did take longer than usual, he really settled in.  I think we may have crossed a Rubicon.  Sometimes ya just need to get on ’em, and stay on ’em, and ride ’em through it.

Yea though I walk through the valley of warmbloods,

I shall fear no evil…

For I am the most stubborn SOB there.


Letter from a Reader.. October 29, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, calmness, competition, corrections, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Natural Horsemanship, Riding, training.
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I recently received this from a reader of Riding in the Moment – The Hidden Language of Dressage.


Mr. Schaffer,

I have bought over 100 books on riding in my lifetime and your book is by far the most useful of them all!  In fact that statement doesn’t really convey exactly how useful it has been to me.  I bought the book yesterday and read the whole thing in one sitting.  I made a few notes and went out to ride my horse that day.  I have been riding my whole life and most seriously with tons of professional assistance for 15 years and I cannot believe the difference these simple exercises have made in my riding.  I too have an affinity for Thoroughbreds off the track.  My current horse which I purchased only 2 weeks ago has, I believe, spent his life(16years) leaning on the bit and racing around as if he were still on the track.  I was really struggling with how to get this horse retrained and we were having all kinds of battles resulting in him bucking and running away.  After reading your book, I figured this is EXACTLY what I need to do.  Take this horse back to some very simple singular movements.  I thought 5 concepts, pretty simple but I have all the time in the world.  Who knew I would make it all the way to soften in 2 rides!!  With each exercise, he picked them up quicker and quicker and by the time I got to “turn in” he had it on the second try.  2 days ago it took me the whole length of the arena to stop him and by the end of my ride today all I had to do was think about stopping and there he was!

With sincerest thanks,

Jennifer F……..

Riding in the Moment April 8, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, Behind the bit, calmness, competition, contact, corrections, dressage, equipment, half-halts, hyperflexion, looseness, Natural Horsemanship, performance standards, Riding, roll kur, rules, training.
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Read this book and try the program for a few days.  If you don’t think it’s worth a lot more to you and your horse than it cost,  I’ll gladly refund your money!

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Want to see more before you decide?  Download a sample of the book and look through it at http://www.mikeschaffer.com

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Correct Contact January 7, 2010

Posted by mikeschaffer in balance, contact, dressage, half-halts, looseness, Riding, training.

Many people have trouble understanding contact. In part this is the fault of writers trying to describe what contact feels like rather than offering an objective definition. However, contact is not that hard to define, explain, or understand.

Contact can be defined as correct when the horse reaches more into it.

A horse is reaching into the contact when the muscles under his neck remain soft, as his neck gets slightly longer over the top while maintaining a supple poll. With these prerequisites the horse moves his bars comfortably into bit and the contact is correct.

There is no stiffness or rigidity anyplace. Rather it feels a little like a rubber band, mid range between no tension whatsoever or pulled so tight there is no more stretch.

On a trained horse, obtaining correct contact should be no more difficult than gently taking the slack out of the reins. As the horse feels the initial light touch as the slack is taken up, he will respond by reaching into the bit as I’ve just described. It is this simple.

Training a horse to take correct contact is a little more interesting. I’ll be talking about that in future articles.

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