Half Halts and Slid­ing Stops

A reiner’s foray into the dres­sage world

Dressage Today - - Transitions - By Lind­sey Mul­vany

Idis­cov­ered rein­ing in 2007. I bought a lit­tle Quar­ter Horse mare named Jolee and never looked back. There is some­thing about sit­ting on a horse dur­ing a slid­ing stop that al­ways feels like slow mo­tion. See­ing dirt fly be­hind you, look­ing down to see thun­der­ing hooves crawl­ing to a stop, then check­ing out your tracks. It’s all in those two to three sec­onds where you be­come hooked.

I have al­ways ad­mired those who ride dres­sage from afar. It’s some­thing that is so for­eign, yet sim­i­lar to rein­ing in many as­pects. The foun­da­tions of good horse­man­ship are present in both, but the two dis­ci­plines are very dif­fer­ent in prac­tice. The pre­ci­sion and body move­ment re­quired are all so un­canny to me. That’s the part I liked. I wanted to do that, too. I have trav­eled to many dif­fer­ent equine shows and con­ven­tions and I’ve watched an ar­ray of events. But each time I was mes­mer­ized by dres­sage. The fi­nal Ok, just do it—try out a les­son hap­pened when I was at World Cup in Las Ve­gas. Mind you, I had been con­tem­plat­ing lessons for years. The sta­dium was packed to see all the mas­ters of the dres­sage world, in­clud­ing Char­lotte Du­jardin and Vale­gro.It was in­cred­i­ble, unforgettable and a push to get mov­ing. Soon af­ter that I was hit­ting the In­ter­net search­ing for lessons.

Try­ing some­thing new usu­ally never scares me. But this? Ter­ri­fy­ing. Ev­ery­one has their pas­sion. Horsepeo­ple? Well, our pas­sion is the horse, plain and sim­ple. Try­ing a new dis­ci­pline, es­pe­cially on the op­po­site end of the spec­trum and in a dif­fer­ent sad­dle, can mess with the mind a bit. Dur­ing my search for lessons, I came across quite a few places and sent a few emails. Fi­nally I found a fa­cil­ity that just seemed right, so I booked a les­son.

I drove to my les­son with noth­ing but but­ter­flies. I was wor­ried about be­ing looked down upon for rid­ing Western, wor­ried that my jeans and boots would not be al­lowed. I walked through the barn see­ing horses twice the size of my lit­tle mare. I turned the cor­ner to the in­door arena only to be greeted by the smil­ing face of Vanessa Chavez of Dala Dres­sage. She was sit­ting atop a large Ir­ish Sport Horse named Sean. This horse’s face was twice the size of Jolee’s. All I could think was how this horse would look so odd do­ing a slid­ing stop or a spin.

Vanessa hopped off her beast of a horse and walked me into an­other barn. There, she in­tro­duced me to a Haflinger mare named Lily, who would teach me the rookie ropes. Lily and I be­came fast friends af­ter I of­fered her a few pep­per­mints. I picked up a dres­sage sad­dle for the first time in my life, which was won­der­fully light com­pared to my rein­ing sad­dle. Vanessa was pa­tient with me and sat qui­etly while I tacked Lily up. She fit­ted me with a hel­met, tossed me a whip and we walked out to the arena.

This is where my nerves set in. I thought for sure once I sat in that sad­dle, the bark­ing or­ders were next. I was wrong and I re­gret ever think­ing that. Vanessa was well aware that I knew how to ride and she treated me with the same re­spect as her other clients who have been rid­ing dres­sage for as long as I have been rid­ing rein­ing. Vanessa coached me through

the mo­tions of sit­ting up straight, imag­in­ing a line from shoul­der to foot, keep­ing my el­bows at my sides and hold­ing pres­sure on the bit. I learned the im­por­tance of mov­ing with the horse and work­ing on half halts. I had a blast with cav­al­letti. My hands were noo­dles by the end of my les­son and I thought, This is re­ally hard. This is so dif­fer­ent from what I thought it was go­ing to be. Need­less to say, I was hum­bled and sore.

I felt a lit­tle dis­cour­aged af­ter my first les­son only be­cause, as a rider, you have to firmly be­lieve in your­self. While Lily was so pa­tient with me, I felt sorry for her as I was try­ing hard to give every aid cor­rectly, but at times go­ing about it wrong. Horses like that are worth their weight in gold.

As weeks and months have passed, I have im­proved quite a bit. I still take lessons from Vanessa, bor­row a dres­sage sad­dle, prac­tice on Jolee and watch an as­sort­ment of videos on­line. There is a no­tice­able im­prove­ment in Jolee’s per­for­mance, too. I taught her to half pass at a young age, so I just took that up a notch. Her lead changes are much smoother, her turn­arounds are more grace­ful and her stops drive longer. It’s amaz­ing how the two dis­ci­plines can com­ple­ment each other. Be­ing able to ride two dis­ci­plines keeps things in­ter­est­ing. It keeps you open­minded, urges you to al­ways ask more ques­tions and never stop learn­ing. If you think you’ve learned it all, you’ve missed the point. I’ve never be­lieved that more than I do now.

My part­ing words: Get out there. Go try a new dis­ci­pline, ride a new horse and keep an open mind. There’s noth­ing stop­ping you from try­ing out a reiner, a jumper or what­ever you’ve had on your back burner. Af­ter all, we’re all here for the horse, right?

Lind­sey Mul­vany dis­cov­ered rein­ing in 2007 and re­cently be­gan to ex­plore dres­sage lessons af­ter be­ing cu­ri­ous about it for many years.

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