Irish Connemara goes to Superstar Level – Steve Halfpenny Lessons in Tipp July 2014

By , July 12, 2014 11:44 am

I was really lucky & had the pleasure of 2 days with Steve Halfpenny & some great friends, and our much loved horses in Tipperary this week. HOLY MOLY we had such fun, the weather was super, we rode all day in a huge field and made SO much progress it was tricky to really believe it! Here’s a recap of how I did with Oz.

A few weeks ago I was at a wonderful clinic with the Rashids so we sorted out some serious stuff we had been stuck with – mounting block, trotting & the bridle. With all that MUCH better this meant we could start to play with more fun stuff with Steve. And did we have fun!! 🙂

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DAY 1 MORNING

EXERCISE: Stick to my plans

The plan – Walk a few steps, backup a few steps, walk a few steps, repeat.

What was happening was half way through a manoeuvre (for example going backwards), Oz would start unexpectedly going sideways by himself. Instead of me continuing to ask him to go backwards as was the initial plan, I’d stop doing this and instead work on stopping him from going sideways. So Oz was in essence had now taken over control of what we were working on. Not good! Instead, if Oz does something I didn’t ask for, just ignore it. I need to keep focused on what I actually want, keep asking for it regardless of what extras Oz decides to do, and then reward when I get what I want.

Also, be aware that Oz has a habit of finishing my sentences for me. I’ll start off doing something and he often will try & finish it by himself rather than waiting for me to direct him.

EXERCISE: Leg Yields

Walk on. Put a little more weight on one side of my body, horse should start moving sideways and forwards.

DOING LESS Vs. Not nagging and being clear

So in general when things are going well, I need to use smaller cues. But on the other hand, when Oz leans etc, going in soft here is no good. What does work is one considered bump on the reins that matches the pressure Oz is using to lean. I was doing too little in these situations sometimes which wasn’t helping.

EXERCISE: Hindquarter yields

Tip the horses head but only a little so you can see his eye. The outside rein will stop horse from leaning forward / taking a step forward that you are not looking for.

EXERCISE: Forequarter yields

So we want the FQs to move in an arc, without really much forwards or backwards mvt, and definitely no leaning forwards. The hind end should stay more or less stationary.

Put both reins in 1 hand. Use my free second hand at the buckle end of the reins, to make one rein a fraction shorter in my main hand that’s holding the 2 reins. I sit back on my pelvis a little as Oz understands this to mean not to go forwards (which he tends to do, so it fixes a lot of that). I look to the side where the rein is a little more short. We will be moving the FQ in that direction. Still riding with the reins in 1 hand. Believe it or not this is actually easier for this exercise! Ask for FQ yield. Any forward mvt results in 1 immediate bump on the reins, which stops it. The other thing that can happen is the HQ swing out, usually if you have got too much bend in the neck. To stop that, use less bend, and put your outside leg back to control them. If they still pop out, figure out how many steps with the FQ you can do before it happens, so do that and then change the exercise to move the HQ over the correct way then.

EXERCISE: Not leaning

So Oz’s big thing we need to fix now, which will impact everything, is that is he still leaning a little on my hands. In walk he is sometimes actually running away while in walk. He’s not thinking back to me, instead he’s taking over a little, in a small but very critical way which I need to fix, to be able to move on & get better.
There are a few things we can do. Going from halt to walk – if he rushes in the first step or two, then I ask him to go backwards and stop leaning. Sometimes he gets worried then. The big lesson here was not to reward Oz when he’s just going backwards with what feels like softness – what I actually need to do with Oz, as he can get emotional about stuff, is to reward his physical actions ONLY when accompanied by a calm emotional state. If I reward an ok backup, but hes still worried, I’ve just worried an emotional horse. So thats really good to work on, as having Oz less emotional & worried is something which will also make a big difference.

In walk, if Oz started to lean, then turn walk into a leg yield, and then a HQ yield, so this will get rid of the lean. Then walk off again. This really worked.

MASTERCLASS:

On day 2, I was really lucky & Steve kindly agreed to ride Oz for a few minutes. The biggest issue were the leaning in his hands, and then while fixing that, only rewarding Oz when he was calm and not emotional about stuff. Oz was trotting backwards sometimes, so that was a new one to see! Got a masterclass then in this, it was magic to watch.

I sat back up on Oz then myself, and he felt like a totally different horse. He was THERE. WITH me. In my hands. No leaning. No emotion or fuss. Just thinking back to me, connected, ready and waiting. It was magic, I never felt him like that before. It really felt like I had his feet resting in my hands. Pure magic.

DAY 1 AFTERNOON

EXERCISE – walk and yields, keeping the same slight bend in your horse throughout this manouvre

– Walk forwards
– Ask for a little bend so you just see one of your horses eyes (don’t over bend)
– Keep your hand together
– Leg yield a few steps
– Move both of my hands to the other side of the horses neck. This blocks the forward movement and will cause your horse to do a HQ yield.
– Backup
– Then (while keeping the small bend still) do FQ yield, as we did in the mornings exercise. No forward steps. NO walking off afterwards if you didn’t specifically ask the horse to walk off afterward. The horse is not to take over of finish your sentences with what he thinks you are going to ask him to do.

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DAY 2 MORNING

EXERCISE: Move the HQs at halt (independent use of the HQs)

– Halt
– Pick up the reins. Both to be about the same length. Ideally hold them both in 1 hand, unless it all starts to get messy.
– Put one leg back to the horses HQs. Ask for 1 step sideways.
– If you get a lean fowards, do 1 bump on the reins to block it.
– If you get a weight change in the HQs, reward it with a rest.
– If you get a lot of unwanted shoulder movement, you make need to use 2 reins to block this unwanted mvt.

Oz found this tricky at the start & was trying lot of things, shoulder moving etc, leaning forwards, but we got a lot better after a while.

DAY 2 AFTERNOON

EXERCISE: Do not rush, do not lean

Same exercise again – if Oz rushes at walk, turn it into a leg yield, then a HQ then walk off again. Do not tolerate even 1 step of leaning. This worked really well. Also to turn walk into leg yield, what worked was to do one bump on the reins to stop the leaning then the leg yield was much better. So no rush steps in walk, Oz to be mentally with me. A critical thing to get right now.
Steve actually said that Oz is now ready for piaffe /passage etc. He reckoned I could do any discipline with him now, but that he wouldn’t do well in dressage competitions as he was too soft now. WHAT a compliment! (still smiling lol!)

EXERCISE:

– Walk
– Leg yield
– While leg yielding moving into a slow trot (jog)
– Trot a few steps, then back to walk
– Steve did this on Oz and WOW the beautiful soft jog we got was just fab.

Hahha brilliant and we did it!! Woohoooo o:)

EXERCISE: 1 handed yields

– Walk, 2 reins in 1 hand. 1 rein slight shorter
– HQ yield
– FQ yield with NO leaning. If you get a lean, do 1 bump to stop it. Don’t let HQs pop out while doing FQ yield. Put your leg back if you need too and be sure not to have too much bend in rein & neck.
Walk, put weight on my inside foot

RECAP LESSON

Got up on horse. First task was to walk about & fix all leaning. OZ was leaning again this morning but I knew how to fix it!

When I felt 1 step of leaning, say ‘no’ with my two hands together, then do a leg yield. This always got rid of the leans, which were getting much more infrequent now. Great progress! At the start of every ride from now on I’m going to do this and make sure I’m riding a horse who is not leaning any more. When there is no lean it just feels like magic, and a LOT more is possible in terms of what moves we can do then.

So after about 7-8 minutes, Oz had changed. There was no more leaning. Then it was time to move on to some of the more exciting exercises as I now had a horse who was listening back to me at every step and again I felt like I had his feet in my hands. (ps; wow!!)

EXERCISE:

-Walk forwards, ask for leg yield and keep my hands together. Only have small bend in neck. Keep this bend throughout this exercise. Keep hands together.

– Then move hands to the other side of the neck and this will block the forwards mvt and cause a HQ yield (AMAZING it really does!)
– FQ yield then with no forward steps. If you get a forwards step do 1 bump on the reins. Don’t let the HQ pop out, if they do, use less bend, put that leg back to stop them, or turn it into asking those HQ to really go the way you want instead at that point.

EXERCISE: Yielding with changing bends

– Walk forwards
– Get little bend in the body
– Do leg yield and go sideways a little
– Keep going the same sideways direction, but change the bend of your horse to the both way… (tricky but we started to get it!!)
– Reward all tried. It’s especially hard for the HQs to do this I found but we are getting there & got some great tries!


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Throughout the clinic, Oz was very mellow & relaxed. It was a bonus we were at home as we missed out on the ‘holy XYZ where are we I’m worried’ stuff he did at the last clinic. We do need to work on that, but this time we had more time then to move straight onto the more interesting stuff 🙂

We all rode out in a huge field for this clinic, it was pretty glorious. Great sunshine. Oz tried SO hard during the whole time, it was a little humbling really to be honest. I really do have a very willing, generous, smart, confident and soft horse out in my front paddock now. I feel very blessed 🙂

Mark & Crissis clinic really helped a lot a few weeks ago to fix some big blockers like the trotting, getting back with the bridle & bit & the mounting block. And then this was perfect to continue on & start working then on some of the more ‘fancy’ moves as I had my horse ready for them. Still smiling 🙂

Steve Halfpenny is a genius and none of this would have been possible without him. It was 4 years ago that watching him ride Oz (who was a bit of a mess at that stage) unlocked the keys I needed to figure out a way Oz & I could work happily together. Thank you Steve!!

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