14 December 2016

The impossible half halt

    In the dressage (and English) riding world, there is this invisible, obnoxious thing called the 'half halt'.

   It's been described in many different ways: it is akin to pushing in the clutch to prepare your transmission to change gears. A way of preparing the horse for a change in gait. A means of telling your horse to collect himself, balance himself, calm down or  speed up.
I read the articles written by professional riders, riders who KNOW how to ride, and they toss the term off as if it was something EVERY one uses-except me. 

  I haven't a freaking clue how to do one.

  Oh, it's not through lack of research and personal training. I've read the books, the magazine articles, talked to the trainers, the pros, even people who claim they can see when a rider does a half halt. I've read articles by people who claim they half halt all the time, every single time they do something as simple as change rein. 

  Every one of the sources knows how to do a half halt...and their descriptions are all DIFFERENT.
  Every single one.

  "Squeeze with your calves to stop the hindquarters." "Set your hands without pulling on the reins."" Don't use your hands".  "Push with your seat bones and squeeze the reins three times". "Stop following him with your pelvis." "Stop him and then change your mind."
"Use your core to push the horse up into the bridle".

  Don't start me about 'core'. It's the term du jour. Everything, I'm told, can be solved if you only use your core. Really? I didn't even know I had one until I used a training aid, and now I know I have my "core" "engaged" ALL the time-without any result whatsoever. 

  I have tried. I swear to all the equine gods I have tried.  

 Any 'pushing' I do with it merely scooches me up closer to Raven's withers. He must wonder what in the bloody hell am I doing up there, wiggling and pushing and pulling and squeezing and changing my mind for no reason whatsoever. It shows, too, as he calmly continues on with whatever he was doing in the first place. 

  I've read the Master: Alois Podhajsky. Not once does the word 'half halt' cross his pages.
  "Riding Logic' s W. Museler mentions that a properly made horse is 'taken up by half halts' but that is as far as he goes. "Classical Equitation-Simplified's author takes two and a half pages of very detailed instructions on how to do a half halt and for god's sakes don't use the hands.  This author: moi: doesn't have the brain capacity to be able to do more than a few things at once. And those things are usually "breathe from your diaphragm". "Keep your ear shoulder elbow heel aligned'.  'Engage your core core core core core core'. Damn it that's six things all at once. Now I have to add more?

  I give up. From now on, I refuse to do a half halt, or attempt one. Because I am beginning to realize that, with a million different ways of doing one, it means there IS no such thing as a
half halt. 

  I take a bit of comfort, though, again from the Master, Podhajsky, who said in utter dejection: "I think I better give up riding altogether. I am never going to learn it!"

09 December 2016

How to cheat a horse

How to cheat a horse.
Taken from Craigslist, 9 Dec 2016

The above ad was cut and pasted from Craigslist.

   The person selling the horse is, ironically, the same person who I pictured in a post  titled “Someone who rides worse than me”. In fact, the horse, "Vadar", is out of the chestnut Appaloosa mare being ridden in such a strange way in that post. 
(see 8/30/15 "Someone who rides worse than me."

   This woman bred her Appaloosa mare to an Appaloosa stallion, “Weydor’s Secret”. He apparently has some TB waaaaaaaay back in his pedigree, like fifth generation on the distaff side. (interestingly, that TB was First Secretary, Secretariat’s first foal. Secretariat was bred to an Appaloosa mare as a test for virility. I don’t believe the horse ever raced but he looked very much like his sire, but with spots.
 I don’t know if she owns/owned the stallion but she did own the mare and rode her at a dressage show last year.

 The gelding, “Vadar”, is 6 years old. He has had NO handling. They allowed him to run loose on their 5 acre property without any training whatsoever (something tells me it’s because they can’t catch him.). He is, in short, a feral horse, save for the fact that he’s always been behind fences and around humans.

   Vadar is not broken. He has never had shoes. In his entire life he’s been hoof trimmed four times. That’s once every 18 months. No shots other than a tetanus shot when he was gelded. This is irresponsible, as the bacteria/viruses for equine diseases (i.e strangles, Western Nile, etc)  are everywhere. You can’t see them or prevent them, so you vaccinate your horse against them.
  If and when Vadar goes to a new barn, he’s going to be exposed to them and has a good chance at catching one or more.  
   He’s never been inside a barn. He’s never been trailered. I bet my lunch he’s never been groomed much if at all. I bet, too, that he’s never had a blanket, which is okay, but still…there are so many things we do for a horse that we take for granted: medical attention, farrier, tack, grooming, clipping, bathing, etc. that will be utterly new and strange to him. True, all foals are born as innocent, but a foal is much easier to handle and train than a 16.1 HORSE.

   Now they want to sell him. The ad says he was bred ‘for dressage’ but are planning to enter him in “natural horsemanship’ in March. I wonder if they’ve told the trainer that this horse is as green as any mustang off the range. Every horse trainer I’ve ever met expects the horse to be at least manageable.

    The owner asks to “please don’t judge me until you meet the horse.”
Yet the questions arise: how in the world do they propose to transport the horse should someone buy him? They never trained him to be handled, they never taught him what a horse trailer is..and now they expect someone to come with a horse trailer and take him away?

  I can think of no better way to inspire unnecessary terror and immediately instill all sorts of problems with the horse than to force him into a trailer for the first time in his life, take him away from the only home he’s ever known, and then try and get him into a stall in a barn filled with strangers. If he gets out of the trailer without a blemish I will be surprised. I have heard of situation where a terrified horse attempted…and almost succeeded..in climbing out of trailer through a window. The horse did not survive.

   The seller, then, has totally abdicated responsibility to the horse’s well being. ANYTHING that the buyer does to the horse will not be on HER conscience.

  What these people (for there are two of them, husband and wife) are expecting is beyond me. I emailed her and asked the same question I posit regarding transport and  got an unprintable answer.

   How cruel they are. She says they’ve never neglected him, but they have. Neglect isn’t just failing to feed or water a horse. Neglect can be “benign”. How can he be a good equine citizen without training?

    If they truly had ‘planned’ for this horse to be a dressage horse, ignoring it for six years is NOT the way to do it. It is so easy to take a foal and teach it manners-how to lead, how to load, accepting a girth, a saddle, a bit, how to accept floating, sheath cleaning, farrier work, veterinary work. Foals are amazingly malleable as long as one handles it gently and patiently.  One needn’t actually back a horse to prepare it for riding. By two, a foal should be comfortable with tacking, grooming, handling, leading, loading, etc. A truly responsible horseman or breeder would do this because it’s the right thing to do. Teaching a horse to be a good citizen only increases its value.

   But no. They ‘let him grow’ into…a 16.1 mustang.  A relatively tame (I’m assuming) and pedigreed mustang, but nevertheless…a completely green, untrained horse. I can hear her saying, well, he hasn’t learned any bad habits. That may be so, but he hasn’t learned any good ones, either.

   I hope any sucker  person who is thinking of buying him. (he’s not on Dream Horse, which is telling all in itself) takes a good long look at what he or she is getting into. I know that, were I horse shopping, I wouldn’t give him a look. Not one. Not because I dislike him (although I won’t ever buy another Appy), no, it’s because I don’t want a feral horse. I want a horse that I can handle, load, lead, tack up, and RIDE right now.

   “Vadar” is a project horse, not a riding one.

03 December 2016

A Question about Stadium Jumping

  Fortunately, a television station in my area has begun showing the Longines FEI Grand Prix show (stadium) jumping.

   I've seen many of the 14 (or so) competitions from around the world.

   I don't know much about show jumping. It's fun to watch, but I haven't paid as much attention to it as other horse sports. I understand the scoring, the jump offs, etc, but I've only jumped a few times in my life...and the last time, the horse and I parted ways. I remember thinking oh, how odd the world looks and then boom...I'm on the back in the arena with a puzzled horse looking down at me. I am the type who doesn't let go the reins. Yes, I got back aboard...but my friends said maybe you're not cut out to be a jumper when you come off over a little bitty jump like that.

   I realized then that no matter how much I dreamt of eventing, I would never be a jumper.
    As I've watched the 2016 Longines competitions,  I've begun to notice something about the horses that I'm asking anyone out there to clarify for me. 

  Several of the horses in the competitions are wearing the red warning ribbon on their tail that indicates they are kickers.

   In all my time hanging around barns, dressage tests, endurance rides, three day events, shows in general to include the World Equestrian Games (admittedly, I couldn't get tickets to the show jumping) I have seldom seen a red tail ribbon.
 In all my years of massaging horses, only once did I run into a bitch mare who tried to kick me.
   Yet in this series of competitions, with big BIG names, like Pessoa, Ward, etc...I'm counting at least SIX horses wearing the "kicker' warning ribbon. 

   Six, in this case, is a statistically significant amount. 

  I'm wondering then, is kicking a by product of high stakes stadium jumping? Does the horse jump because he's a kicker? Or is he a kicker because he jumps?

  I would definitely like some feedback.