The Magic in Letting Go
Let it go! Let it go!
And by “it” I mean your horse’s face. I see and feel more results in the let go part of the aid than I do the actual aid. Sometimes an aid is just too long, you must get in and get out. If you need a second or third, or infinity of aids that is totally fine, but please don't stay there..
How long should a half halt be?
I try to make it no longer than one stride. If you need another one, fine, but if your half halt isn’t working at all and you feel like you need to keep making it longer and stronger, then it’s time to go back to basics and school some transitions until you can make the smallest whisper aid and get the desired results.
What happens when you soften?
Your horse is much happier, who wants to have their face pulled on all the time? No thanks.
Your horse has a chance to seek the contact and lengthen the neck.
Your horse can find some softness in his body.
Your horse will not have the opportunity to lean on you if there is nothing to lean on
Some of us at some point in our riding were taught to wait for “submission” before softening an aid. If this is you, no shame, as we know better we do better. Try to start experimenting with lighter, and shorter aids. Soften a second before you normally would and see what happens. If it doesn't work, no worries, just do it again or re-route and change the plan to what your horse needs at that moment, maybe an extra circle.
There are different ways to let go. We don’t always want to drop the contact completely and that is why I like to say “soften”. Most of the time, this is how we soften our rein aids. Some sensitive horses really don’t appreciate you dropping them so much and like a steadier feel. In these moments, you can loosen your fist, relax the muscles under your shoulder blades and try to carry the contact as if your reins were attached to your core to carry the bit for them.
Sometimes it is helpful to make a full and complete release of the rein, the German word for this is überstreichen. This means you release one (usually the inside) or both reins and the horse is expected to stay in the same frame. It is both a test (Look mom! No hands) and a training tool to show your horse you will not be holding him up all the time. When you try this, really go for it! Make a big loop in your rein and really show me and everyone including yourself and your horse that you are not holding him together. Oftentimes when I ask riders to do this they barely give an inch at first, as if they are afraid it will all fall apart or the horse will go running off. Perfect! If it does go running off, now you know what your homework is! If your horse does go running off, it will tell you that you have been riding with the hand brake on.
The magic happens in letting go. Have a bit of faith and trust in your horse and let go.