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Saying it right – The Half-Halt. December 26, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage.
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I can’t imagine how dressage could be done without a half-halt.  It’s that important.  Yet, the current version of Dressage Rule 108, The Half-halt, is written terribly! For years the rule has been allowed to stand as though it was of no importance at all.   It’s as if the half-halt was just some esoteric after thought, a mere detail that is hauled out on rare occasion, or not, depending on some whim of style that faded in only rarely.  Let’s take a look at it:

DR108 The Half-Halt.

The half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the seat, the legs and the hand of the rider, with the object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the execution of several movements or transitions between gaits or paces. In shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are facilitated for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.

Admittedly, this version of the rule is very slightly better than the F.E.I. version, so I can’t say it couldn’t be said any worse — but it’s still just awful!  To begin, the very first sentence (of both versions), describes the aid for the half-halt as the half-halt.  That’s crazy!

The half-halt is an exercise the horse performs not something the rider does. This is why it’s in the section of rules that describe the movements of the horse.  It’s preceded by Dressage Rules 106 – The Reinback, 107 – Transitions, and followed by, rules 109 – Changes of Direction, and 110 – The Figures and the Exercises.  There’s no identity crisis in these rules — it’s the horse reining back that is the rein back, not the rider’s aid for the reinback.  It’s the horse performing the transition that is the transition, not the rider’s aid for the transition.   So, to say the half-halt is the aid for the half-halt is as crazy as saying the flying change is the rider sliding his new outside leg behind the girth!  (or whatever aid you prefer for a flying change).

Yes, it is preposterous to think that anyone would confuse the aid for a movement with the movement itself.   Except that most people have confused the aid for a half-halt as the half-halt.  Well, OK, I haven’t done an official survey, so let’s just say lots and lots of people, including many dressage  professionals, think a half-halt is just a squeeze of the rein.

Here is the problem with saying it this way.  If a half-halt is the aid for the half-halt, when a rider half-halts correctly, but the  horse doesn’t half-halt at all, whose half-halt is not fully half?   Wow – that’s a convoluted sentence! It’s a good match for the rule itself!  So, why not say things clearly?  The fact is, all the information to explain the half-halt is within the existing rule, it’s just not in the right order.  It can easily be restated without ambiguity:

The “half-halt” is a collecting exercise in which the  hind legs become more engaged,  shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, lightening the forehand, and increasing attention.  The half-halt is used in preparation for changes of movement, transitions, and whenever improved balance is required.  The aid for the half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

Well there you have it — simple, neat, clean.  All done.

Well, not quite.

The aids for all the other movements and exercises consist of “hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.”  It’s true! The aids for the flying change, half-pass, and even a simple turn to the left, to name just a few,  all consist of hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

So why leave the aid for the half-halt in the rule at all?  In this case, the description of the aid should be left in to show a conscious decision to correct the previous misconception of the half-halt being the aid.  Yet another reason is  there should be as much emphasis as possible on the aids being hands, legs, and seat working in “a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated” manner.  It’s an important concept.


Real Performance Standards September 10, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in competition, dressage, equipment.
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While the goals of the proposed performance standards may be admirable, there are problems with the approach and better methods to accomplish a more useful result.

The first problem is there are  costs both to the organizations and competitors.  These costs will be shared by everyone, however, the standards are only intended to deal with the problem of a tiny minority.  Further, for this tiny minority this system may not work.  Someone who can afford to purchase and campaign an upper level horse they can’t ride well can, in all probability,  afford to purchase or lease  a 2’nd level horse that they can get scores of 55% on.  After getting enough of those scores, there is nothing to stop them from again riding advanced horses badly.  The entire new system is now useless, however, the costs and paper work remain.

In order to avoid these pitfalls and still accomplish the goals of raising the standards of dressage, there are two alternatives that don’t require any additional financing or record keeping and are without question “fair” in that they apply to all riders.

I. The “Two Finger Rule”

The “two finger” rule would require the cavesson (and flash if so equipped) on all horses in all dressage classes (or perhaps all classes below 2’nd level)  to to be adjusted so the steward can easily slip 2 fingers under it.  (As a practical matter there may have to be a wood or plastic dowel of particular diameter to provide a consistent measure.)

The advantages of this rule are:

1. It doesn’t cost a cent.

2. Since it affects all riders at all levels it is inherently fair.

3. It will teach new riders that a horse properly accepting the contact does not have to have his mouth held artificially closed.  This  will assist young riders in learning to ride their horses forward and out to the frame instead of pulling the horses head  backwards into a frame.

4. Provides an objective standard in scoring as  every movement in which the horse has his mouth consistently pulled open should not be scored more than a “4″.

II. Earn Your Spurs Rule

This rule would eliminate spurs in all dressage classes below 2’nd level.

The theory here is that if  riders can’t ride these  walk/trot/canter tests without spurs they’re probably doing something very wrong and won’t be able to progress up the levels anyway.  Again, there is no cost involved and it is 100% equitable since it applies to ALL horses ridden in all dressage classes below 2’nd level.

Tight nosebands and spurs at low levels are incompatible with the entire concept of “free forward movement” which is at the very core of dressage. Is there any member of the Dressage committee that could not ride a training or first level test to a respectable score without spurs or a mouth clamped shut?

These rules would go a long way to fulfilling the educational function of the committee.  Yes, because these rules will affect the all riders there will be a tremendous amount of shouting about them. I submit those who scream the loudest are the ones who will benefit the most in fairly short order.

See what others say and add your comment.

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