(“Your horse is the sponge.”)
Ever make a turn on the haunches, turn on the forehand, or reinback and be surprised how unimpressed your coach or the judge is with your effort? What do they want out of it anyway?
Theirs (and your) expectation should vary depending on where your horse is in his training. In the very beginning we can be happy with the horse simply getting the basic idea of which direction his body—and in particular his center of gravity—should go. If the rider is learning these movements for the first time, we can also be patient as she learns the kinesthetic sense of where her own parts as well as her horse’s are supposed to be going.
But fairly soon life ought to get more complicated. The point of these exercises, after all, is not simply to turn around or to back up— just as the essence of a halt is more than simply to make your horse stop (Although it’s not a halt at all if you don’t!)
The Quality of the exercise is what sets a good one apart from when you are just going through the motions. Is the rhythm pure? Are the steps active? Is the horse connected and through during the entire exercise? In schooling as you help your horse attend to these details, you should not simply be practicing movements but combining your aids to produce these qualities. Aside from what the judge is looking for, remember these are developmental exercises designed to enhance your horse’s suppleness and permeability.
Major Lindgren used to say, “Imagine you are standing at the kitchen sink wringing out a dish sponge. Your horse is the sponge and the way you use the aids must wring the tension out of his body. Then the exercise is truly successful!”
Developing your feel and creativity are what will make them really worth doing because then they’ll lead to half halts which go through and produce rebalancing and ultimately collection.