Improve your ride with half halts

Establish your horse’s rhythm using half-halts.

Your horse will have a natural rhythm in each gait in which he will become more balanced and so find it easier to work. The rider’s job is to find and establish that rhythm. Here’s how to start the search for your horse’s rhythm using the half –halt.

Rhythm is the beat of your horse’s hoof falls and temp is the speed of this rhythm.

half halt

The half-halt

The half halt is a vital tool in establishing your horse’s rhythm because it helps you control his speed and impulsion. It allows you to collect your horse together for a second by creating energy with your legs and momentarily keeping it with your hands. A half –halt also helps re-balance your horse so he is in a much better position to maintain his rhythm. As long as your horse is going freely forwards and is obedient trough transitions, he will benefit from being taught how to half-halt.

Before your horse can learn how to half-halt, he must readily move forwards from your leg aids. So if he doesn’t react immediately to these aids, improve his obedience first by riding transitions. As you ask for a half-halt, apply your leg aids, wrapping your legs around your horse as if you were using them to pick up a barrel. This will create the energy. Remember you can use aids of different strengths – so if you already have plenty of impulsion, a light aid from your leg will maintain it; if you don’t have enough you must use a stronger aid to create more.

• Catch the energy created by your legs with your hands by squeezing one or both reins, as soon as you feel your horse hesitate allow him forwards again. Think of having a holding rein rather than a restraining one, you must have a soft, feeling contact with your horse’s mouth rather than tightening your hands and pulling back. You don’t want to restrict the forward movement, you need to catch it, control it and allow it.

• As you allow your horse forwards after the half-halt, make sure you don’t throw the contact away or your horse will fall on his forehand, just allow the contact to return to the way it was before the half-halt.

• If your horse does not want to go forwards into a stronger contact, he will try and evade the movement by hollowing his neck and back, settling his jaw against you or swinging his quarters to one side. This may mean that you are using too harsh a rein aid or that you are not creating enough impulsion with your legs, it may be an indication that your horse is not ready for this exercise, so improve his transitions before you try again.

• Ride your horse on a 20m circle; this will be easier to control his forward movement. Ride a series of transitions to check that he’s obedient and accepting your aids. Try to visualize what you will be doing before you attempt the half-halt. In effect you are applying the same aids as for a downwards transition but, as you feel your horse hesitate, you allow him forwards with your hands. Your legs must create impulsion throughout.

• Momentarily tighten your tummy and back muscles and by stretching your body upwards will help you reinforce your rein aids and lighten your seat.. Remember you are tightening not tensing your muscles.

• Because a half-halt asks for a more contained impulsion, it engages the hind legs. As a result your horse will carry more of his weight on his quarters, lightening his forehand and improving his balance, he is then more likely to maintain his rhythm.

half halts
  1. It is not only you who is learning how to perform a half-halt – your horse is too.
  2. Unless your horse is well schooled don’t expect a half-halt to work miracles on your first few attempts.
  3. Ask for only a small difference at first and reward your horse for responding.
  4. If you have problems achieving the half-halt, have a lesson on a more experienced horse who is used to half-halting as he will show you which aids work and what it should feel like. You will then be in a better position to ride the movement on your own horse.   
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