I was recently invited to give an all-levels masterclass in Perth, Western Australia, which happens to be the home of German dressage legend Harry Boldt. It was a delight to catch up with him, now nearly 90, but looking like a spring chicken.
Back in the late 80s I trained with Harry while I was at the Bechtolsheimers’. The phrase I really took away from that time is “half-halt”. In a world where “half-halt” is bandied around a lot but not always with meaning, it reminded me that explanation is what is so important in a lesson, not orders.
So many people misunderstand the term’s usage, definition, and what a half-halt really means. My favourite way of explaining it is as a circle of “whoa, release, go”, and a rider needs good core strength to deliver perfect timing. Without the half-halt, your dressage can be considered to be like a wheel without a cog.
The other thing I realise when I do a class or clinic is how fixated people get on the idea of riding forward. It’s true that in many instances going forwards is your cure for problems, but I still find on my travels that too many people are riding their horses forward but out of balance.
Remember not to generate too much power before the horse’s balance is established, otherwise you’ll have horse on the forehand and an inharmonious picture of the horse pulling.
So often we talk about the horse being in self-carriage, but the question often is whether or not the rider is in self-carriage. Without core strength as a rider, self-carriage is difficult to develop. You really can’t expect it from your horse if your own self-carriage isn’t in place.
Dressage in Western Australia does have significant disadvantages; it’s a four-hour flight to Sydney, which means a drive of at least two to three days to transport horses.
Looking back at how British equestrian sport used to be so fragmented reminded me of Australia today, where equestrian sport is heavily politicised, not helped by those huge distances. But the masterclass at Perth’s State Equestrian Centre drew a very enthusiastic audience of around a thousand. Their thirst for knowledge stood out with a warm reception.
Leaving Perth behind, I headed over to Hamilton for Equidays, New Zealand’s three-day equine event which features plenty of equestrian variety. Natural horsemanship is hugely popular in the southern hemisphere, and being on a panel with experts in natural horsemanship was a treat and an eye-opener for me.
I realised that whatever the discipline, a certain amount of natural horsemanship is involved — whether it takes the form of bonding or generally getting a better tune from a horse. One thing was obvious: how everybody comes together in a lovely atmosphere.
Then it was off to see some breathtaking scenery. I can’t emphasise enough that New Zealand is such a vibrant and wild place. I met up with Vaughn Jefferis, my old friend from the early 1990s, when he was training in the UK before winning the 1994 World Championship. Vaughn showed me round with great delight — including an unexpected fully clothed estuary swim!
Ref Horse & Hound; 7 November 2019