For many adult amateurs the half halt remains an almost mythical subject often described by abstract feelings throughout their position. This is because the half halt is a complicated bodily process, involving multiple aspects of a rider’s musculature in very short succession. It is also rendered more complicated by the fact that there are many different kinds of halt halt (For example an FEI horse will hopefully have a different half halt than a first level horse and the half halt on a horse that is fresh and sensitive will be different on a horse that is more lethargic.). It is not so difficult in this nuanced world to give up the process entirely, or to decide that half halts are kicking the horse while simultaneously pulling on the rein. In this article we will explore some prerequisites to the half halt – pieces of the puzzle, which if in place, will assist you in your journey to a correct half halt.
Number One: A Solid Position At All Gaits
Yes, that smile on your face just turned upside down. Unfortunately though, there is no way around this basic and integral first step toward advanced riding and techniques. Having a solid position through the walk, trot and canter, as well as transitions therein, is the foundation for all further training. Too many riders attempt half halts without first having a solid platform from which to execute the aids. Think of it like this, if you were dancing the waltz and your partner could not lead you through the basic box step without stepping on your toes and tripping, then how would you be able to follow him through a double reverse spin? Your horse is in the same position. How can he or she follow you into a change of his body position and center of balance if yours is not stable?
The only solution to this is hard work. Lunge lessons, the often recommended but seldom practiced tool for position improvement, is the more concentrated way for you and your instructor improve your seat. This cannot be stated enough. Otherwise working the basics, walk, trot, canter until you can reliably ride the rhythms, is stage one in preparation for the half halt.
Number Two: Transitions Between the Gaits
Do you understand how to bring a horse from trot to walk, or canter to trot using your seat? Can you bring your horse from walk to trot, or trot to canter without having to hold onto his mouth for balance? For some of these questions, the answer is back in number one, with lunge lessons and position work being the key. But for other riders there might be a lack of knowledge on how to ask a horse to transition between the gaits using just your seat. Also you must understand that there are different types of transitions. You might have an amiable horse who flops down to walk whenever you squeeze your thighs, but this type of transition, even though you technically achieved the downward transition, and technically you weren’t using your hands, is incorrect. This type of transition does nothing positive for your horse’s hind leg activity and does not build either of you toward understanding a half halt. You should feel an increase of activity, a lowering of the croup and a closing of your horse’s hind leg joints through all transitions, not that he deflates like a balloon. Practicing transitions within the gaits are a great way to get a feel for the activity of your horse and edge in on the particular type of half halt that works best for your horse.
Number Three: Understand What You Want
Half of the battle with the half halt is mental. You as a rider must understand what your goal is with the half halt in order to have the consistency to not only execute the aids, but then insist that your horse listens to them. It is very possible to perform a great half halt and have your horse completely ignore it. Half halts, just like any aid on or off the horse, only work if your horse listens to them. If you execute what you perceive are the aids and your horse is no lighter, no more balanced and still feels like he is on the verge of breaking at the canter, then that was not a successful half halt. Consistency within any training aid is the key to responsiveness and the doorway to creating an ever more light aid. Ask yourself questions. Let’s say you are finishing your trot lengthening and beginning to half halt your horse back into working trot. Ask yourself, did he fall into my hand? Is he heavier? Did his rhythm become disrupted? Am I perched out of the saddle all of a sudden or in chair seat? Does the trot feel balanced, active and attentive? If I wanted to transition to canter right now, could I do it without any rushed steps or my horse coming above the bit? The answers to these questions (Please don’t ask all of these questions or your horse will be around the ring before you are ready to act!) will tell you how successful your half halt was or was not. If it was not successful then it is back to the drawing board. Analyze and practice your transitions, focus on your position and try again. After a truly successful half halt you should be able to ueberstreichen – which means release either the inside, or both, reins toward the bit for a few strides and gently retake the contact without losing balance or disrupting the rhythm and tempo.
It is only when you have confidence in what you are after, and have the tools to experiment with how to achieve it, that you will be a rider that half halts frequently, successfully and with lightness.
To read part one to this article click here.
- The Thirty One Flavors Of Half Halt (dressagedifferent.com)