Your horse will remain standing still at the halt because he is relaxed. I always tell my students that you can't force a horse to relax. If your horse doesn't stand relaxed, you have to go forward, stop again and give again until he stands still without your having to influence him. Take whatever time necessary for your horse to relax even if you need to temporarily lose some activity. In the end, your horse must be able to come back from the rein aid, and you must be able to release the rein without your horse running off from tension.
Your horse also must be able to go forward from your leg, like your car goes forward when you press on the accelerator. You need to release your leg pressure when your horse goes obediently forward. If your horse doesn't move forward sharply enough from your leg, you're not going to be able to lengthen his steps or increase his activity.
Once your horse is sharp to both of your stop-and-go aids, it doesn't mean that he will be obedient to them for the rest of his life. You have to check and correct his reaction level every time you get on him.
Forward to Smaller Steps
When your horse is listening to both your rein and leg aids separately, then you can put them close together to make half halts to shorten his steps and improve his balance--remember my walking-on-ice analogy. As you make his steps shorter, you keep the energy, which goes up in higher and more expressive steps, leading toward collection.
To ask your horse to make his steps shorter but maintain the energy, put the aids together like this:
- Your hands take and give to ask your horse to shorten his steps.
- As your horse is shortening his step, your legs remind him to maintain activity--he is not allowed to just slow down the rhythm.
- When your horse's step is the desired length, rhythm and activity, release your rein and leg aids. Your horse should maintain the same quality. That is, he must keep the same length of step, speed, activity, rhythm and frame when you release the aids. If he does this, he is in balance.
- Once your horse has his balance while taking shorter steps, you can use your leg to ride more forward with longer steps and improve his impulsion with a light contact with the mouth. If he starts to rush and come out of balance, repeat the exercise.
When you're successful with this exercise, you will feel that your horse will take more weight on his hind legs and lower his hindquarters. His forehand will come up higher in the withers and the poll, and his frame will become shorter. You will have a more uphill horse--in essence, a more balanced, collected horse.
This exercise is equally effective for both hot and lazy horses. The hot horse has to learn to relax, and the exercise helps him to think and realize that it is quite nice when the rider gives the rein. The rider has to come to a point where he can release the "brake" of the hot horse without him running off.
The lazy horse needs to be able to be ridden forward. The rider has to bring this type of horse back a bit so he can accelerate and then stop pushing. If the rider gets his horse's steps shorter and more active, then he can accelerate and release the leg so he doesn't have to push all the time.
Most performances, regardless of the level, need increased balance and relaxation, and if the rider is successful in improving every movement from a 6 to a 7, he goes from a 60 percent to a 70 percent--which is a big change.
Explaining how a balanced horse feels is not easy because riding is a question of feeling, and feeling is difficult to explain. But it is this feeling that will improve the quality of your riding. There are many riders today who can ask their horses to do all the movements and "tricks." At the lower levels, they can do travers, and at the upper levels, they have learned the piaffe. But, often, winning is not a question of whether or not a horse can do the work, but rather how it is done--the quality is what matters. And the quality comes from controlling the balance in your horse's step--the basis for all of the work.