Has your instructor ever reminded you to use a half-halt to slow or collect your horse? Are you unsure of exactly what you should be doing to execute a proper one? Take heart, because while half-halts are indispensable in schooling a horse, they're often misunderstood.
Has your instructor ever reminded you to use a half-halt to slow or collect your horse? Are you unsure of exactly what you should be doing to execute a proper one? Take heart, because while half-halts are indispensable in schooling a horse, they’re often misunderstood. The half-halt should not be thought of as merely a riding movement or training exercise in dressage. Every horse, especially those ridden in competitive events requiring speed or balance, needs an occasional reminder to maintain its pace and to listen to its rider’s aids.
The half-halt, as its name implies, employs about half as much rider influence as a full halt or stop. And it has two main purposes. The first is to signal to your horse that a change or transition is coming. For example, rather than surprising your hunter with a sudden request for a flying change, you can use a half-halt to gain your horse’s attention before applying your aids. It functions as a momentary wake-up call, such as, “Hey, I’m about to ask something new of you.”
The second goal of the half-halt is to rebalance your horse. If your horse is strung out, a half-halt helps to collect its stride. Is your horse too fast? A half-halt slows the pace. Both of these affects are accomplished because the half-halt shifts your horse’s weight back onto its haunches, thereby lightening its front end. Since no horse maintains its balance and lightness on its own, half-halts remind the horse to carry itself in a slightly uphill frame and not to lean on the rider’s hands for support.
To be executed correctly, the half-halt must employ both driving aids and restraining aids. Usually the rider is already supplying driving aids, through legs and seat, to keep the horse at its current pace. Then, restraining aids come into play when the rider braces his back with his upper body and increases the pull on the horse’s mouth by strengthening hand and forearm tension. It also helps to envision “lifting a boulder” or a heavy object, in order to stretch the upper back and shoulders slightly behind the vertical. As soon as the horse noticeably shifts its weight back to its hindquarters, the rider softens the tension on the reins as a reward. This softening of the reins is very important. Otherwise the horse soon perceives no difference between a half-halt and a pair of heavy, gripping hands.
A green or hot horse may need several half-halts repeated in succession. If there is little response, the horse can be schooled further by halting it completely, pausing, then returning to the former gait and repeating a request for a half-halt. As soon as the horse reverts back to being heavy on its forehand, flattening its frame or increasing its pace, the half-halt is used again as a reminder. With patient consistency, eventually the horse learns that, “Aha! This is the way my rider wants me to carry myself!”
A half-halt is not jerking on the reins. It is not checking or rating a horse by ripping on its mouth. By using half-halts as frequently as necessary, you and your horse will have a smoother ride.