Although a halt to canter transition is not required in dressage tests, it can be a very useful schooling exercise that can help to develop engagement and sharpen up the horse’s responsiveness to your aids.
Read on to learn how to ride halt to canter.
First things first
Halt to canter is something that most horses naturally do when playing in the field.
Racehorses also learn to go straight from a standstill into a gallop as two-year-olds, so, in theory, a well-schooled, mature dressage horse should find going straight from halt into the canter a pretty straightforward thing to do.
However, before you attempt to fire your horse straight from halt into a canter, you need to have a few basics in place.
- Your horse must understand the half-halt
- You must be able to ride a good, balanced halt
- Your horse must be attentive and responsive to your aids
- You must have a balanced, independent seat
Now, you can begin teaching your horse how to make a direct transition from halt into the canter.
How to ride halt-canter
Where to ride it?
It’s best to start riding this exercise on the track a few meters before a corner. Somewhere near a corner marker is ideal.
Riding on the outside track will help you keep the horse straight, and riding the transition before the corner will help indicate which canter lead, prevent the horse from rushing off in the canter, and encourages him to ‘push’ more from the hind legs during the transition.
Once the horse is proficient in the transition, you can then increase the difficultly by riding it at different places in the arena.
First, ride a good halt
Before you can ride a balanced transition from halt directly into the canter, you must be able to ride a decent halt. Why? Well, if the halt is unbalanced, crooked, and not square, the canter transition will most likely be the same.
Prepare the horse for the downward transition by using half-halts to collect the strides and hold him with your seat.
You’re aiming for a smooth halt. Don’t make the halt too sharp or abrupt or the horse will lose his balance and probably trail a hind leg.
Wrap your legs around the horse’s barrel and close your hands. Keep your hands ‘forward’ and don’t pull back or down.
That should result in a well-engaged halt with the horse staying round and soft in your hand.
It’s important that the horse doesn’t lean on your hand and halts in self-carriage. If the horse is leaning on you, he will most likely be on his forehand, and the upward transition will be flat and downhill.
Once you’ve established the halt, don’t fidget and wriggle in the saddle! Sit quietly so that the horse relaxes. If you make the horse tense, he will probably lurch forward and hollow into the canter.
That said, you still need to keep the horse attentive to your aids so that he doesn’t switch off, so keep your aids on passively.
It’s helpful to think of ‘pausing’ the horse’s energy and engagement on his hind legs when you’re halting, rather than thinking you’ve ‘stopped’.
Second, ride a transition from halt to canter
When you begin teaching your horse this exercise, it can be helpful to allow him to take a step or two of walk out of the halt before making the transition into the canter.
Once the horse is proficient at that exercise, you can ask him to canter directly from a halt.
Don’t dwell for too long in the halt. You want the horse to keep thinking forward.
When you’re ready, allow the horse to take a half-step forward.
Bring your outside leg back. At the same time, push down and forward with your inside seat bone to give the horse the signal to canter.
If the horse is slow to react, give him a nudge with your inside leg on the girth. If necessary, back up your leg and seat aids by giving a tap with your whip.
Keep a steady contact through the outside rein to prevent the horse from breaking into trot or exploding forward into an unbalanced, onward bound canter.
Allow with the inside rein so that the horse can reach freely forward and upward with his inside foreleg without restriction.
Once the horse is in the canter, use half-halts to rebalance him.
Ride the canter forward to maintain the impulsion and engagement, and then repeat the exercise, first making a smooth transition from canter into halt.
How to clean up the transition
There are a few things you can do to make the halt-canter transition cleaner and smoother.
#1 – Make the transition indirect
Until your horse gets the gist of what you want him to do, it’s helpful to ask for the transition through a few steps of walk.
Gradually reduce the number of walk steps until you can make the transition directly from halt into canter. Remember to reward your horse with much praise each time he makes a responsive transition.
#2 – Use your voice
Since this movement is not required in dressage tests, there’s no reason why you can’t use a voice aid to make what you want crystal clear to your horse.
If you lunge your horse, he will understand your verbal ‘Go’ commands, and you can use that under saddle, too.
Transitions from halt into canter aren’t required in dressage tests but they can be a useful training aid.
Asking the horse to go into the canter directly from halt encourages the horse to step more underneath his body, improving engagement and balance and developing self-carriage.
These transitions are also extremely helpful in waking up a lazy horse and making him sharper to your aids.