Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Riding Reflection: Half-pass From The Center

Continued from Sideways From The Center

Unfortunately, our next ride together was on a very hot day.  Cantering was out of the question and I kept a very close eye on Harley's neck sweat.  What I wouldn't give for a covered arena!  Thankfully, we can have a lot of fun at just the walk and trot and we could certainly continue our experiment of riding from the center.

We spent a good amount of time walking on a long rein and then picked up the reins and practiced some halts.  I still tried to think about my center initiating the movement, even if the movement was a stop.  Sinking my bellybutton helped me to communicate that I wanted to halt; lifting my bellybutton up and forward started him walking again.  Harley also leg yielded very easily from my center, just like our last ride.  To conserve energy and shorten out time in the sun, we did not practice many repetitions.

Basically, I asked "Do you remember?"

He said, "Yup.  Like this."

I said, "Good Boy, let's trot."

In trot, I also kept the warm up short.  We rode a few circuits in each direction and a few transitions, until he felt even in both reins and honestly forward.  After a mini walk break, I asked him to trot and I kept my seat.  We came down the quarter line with my bellybutton straight ahead, and then I turned my center to the rail.  My inside leg rested against his side.  Harley leg yielded without hesitation.  We tried a couple in each direction and then I was eager to try the half-pass before we both melted.

I like to ride half-pass from a small half circle on the long side returning to the track.  Something that I noticed right away was that when I turned my bellybutton to make the half circle, Harley started to leg yield.  Maybe I was turning my center to abruptly?  Too sharp an angle?  I did not correct him, because the mistake was definitely mine, an error in communication and something that I would have to work out.  Our next half circle was successful, so as we approached the track I turned my belly button to the fence while keeping my legs in half-pass position.  I felt Harley assume a gentle bend in his body and bring his hindquarters into the direction of the movement as he moved laterally toward the rail.  Good Boy!

Here are my observations after a number of repetitions:

  1. It is difficult to keep my bellybutton facing the fence while my inside leg is forward and my outside leg is back.  I did feel very tall and balanced, but the position was awkward and needs revisiting.  I am not sure if I am doing something wrong or if the correct position just feels funny right now.
  2. Harley was able to maintain his forwardness into the movement with a gentle bend in his body.
  3. My horse felt like he was dictating how much bend he could cope with and still perform the movement, rather than me trying to control his position.
  4. I needed to use taps from the whip to remind him to maintain his impulsion.  My legs were telling him what we were doing, but if I tried to give an impulsion aid with my outside leg the opposite happened.
  5. I bend and raise my right leg too much when we are moving to the left.   This is my tight leg and side, so I have to remember to keep it down next time.  I could feel that this upset the balance, but that habit is so old (and so difficult to dissolve!).
  6. My reins seemed to take on a new role.  Harley turned his face toward the rail on his own.  I have always felt that half-pass is a more comfortable motion for the horses than leg yield.  It is physically challenging, but I think that the act of moving and looking where you are going makes much more sense.  Since my reins were not really asking him to turn his nose, I found that he was kind of searching with his neck for my end of the contact.  I had to make sure that I was not floating around and dropping the contact when he needed my support.  Sometimes I asked for more impulsion and waited from him to find me at the end of the rein.  Other times, I had to adjust the rein length or change my hand position by opening or raising a rein.  A couple times, when we found each other in the contact I felt him lift his shoulders.  I do not know if the shift in balance would have been very noticeable, but the feeling was quite dramatic and sudden.  My teacher would have noticed!  She doesn't miss a thing.  ;)
  7. With repetition, Harley became more and more attuned to my seat.  I had to start riding with great care, because he tried to interpret any turn or shift of my center.  This is something that I want to encourage, but this meant that I had to control my body.  A couple times, we went to half circle and he started to half-pass from the rail.  This is much more difficult (psychologically) than half-pass to the rail so I was happy, but glaringly aware that I was still creating too much noise with my seat.
  8. Harley interprets my bellybutton rocking backwards as a signal to collect and this makes him want to canter.  This happened entirely by accident.  I did not initially test this on purpose, but must have shifted my center to regain my own balance.  Harley collected his trot, raising his shoulders a bit, and then I felt very strongly from him that he wanted to canter.  Or he thought that I was about to ask him to canter.  I told him "No, it is too hot", but then started to purposefully shift my center to see if he would collect.  He did, but still thought that I would like to canter.  There is no doubt that he was fishing, because he always likes to canter!  I thanked him for his attentiveness, but confirmed that I wanted only to trot.  I am very excited about this, because I always feel that my outside leg, in asking for canter, disrupts the balance as we depart.  To depart only from the seat would be marvelous and now seems to be a real possibility.

Half-pass left

These stills are from a later ride.

I was feeling more comfortable with the position.  My right leg is more relaxed.

This post was much longer than our actual ride.  We ended just as he started sweating on his neck.  I do not want to over do it before we have even entered July.


  1. Magical many Harley header!

    Sounds like you and Harley have such a great connection. I am really enjoying following your training :)

  2. Your header is very cool, I would like to know how you did that, but I fear it may involve a program that I don't have. I too really enjoy reading about your riding, you explain things so well, and those aha moments are really neat! Good boy Harley!

  3. Mary,
    I used Paint! If you have a PC, the program is under Accessories. Not fancy, but still time consuming. The photos are from a video with a stationary camera. Thank you for your kind words.

  4. I wish most of this wasn't way over my head right now. Hopefully this post will still be here when I'm ready for it.

    Anyway- I have barely any idea how to teach a horse canter leads but I stumbled on a post somewhere about feeling what lead the horse was on by paying attention to which one of your legs was naturally being thrown forward. I played around with that and found it was right on. I wondered if I could get my gelding to canter on the lead I chose by positioning my hips and legs like he was already on that lead and scooping with my seat while squeezing a little. It works! I can get a canter depart on the lead of my choice without swiping my outside leg- which is great because swiping that outside leg makes me curl into the fetal position for some reason. Trying too hard I guess.

  5. smazourek,

    That is SOOOO awesome!

    I am trying to get away from my outside leg in the canter, also. Harley tells me when I have everything balanced to his liking by not swishing his tail in the depart, but man is he particular!

    The leg position you described is the same for half pass. Your intent and seat tell the horse if the request is canter or halfpass. Try it in walk and your horse may surprise you. Love it!

  6. Val - thanks again for the belly button ideas ... Speedy G really likes that idea. He is also responding very nicely to the canter transition with the inside leg forward of the girth.. We had zero bucking during our last two rides. And even though I spent two days on the road, I still managed to ride him! I am enjoying the exchange of ideas, stories, and experiences. Keep it up!


  7. Wonderful to hear! Thanks Karen.


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