One movement that appears at least once in every dressage test is the halt.
On the face of it, the halt should be an easy mark winner – all you have to do is stand still!
So, what is the dressage judge looking for in a good halt, and how can you teach your horse to halt well?
Read on to find out more.
What is a good halt?
In a good halt, the horse should be straight and square.
Each leg should bear the same weight evenly so that the horse has ‘a leg at each corner’.
If the halt is unbalanced, the horse may tip onto his forehand and drop his poll as he halts, or he might throw his head up against the contact and not halt square.
The horse should remain still and relaxed but attentive whilst waiting for his rider’s next instruction.
When asked to move off, he should step forward immediately and smoothly into whatever pace his rider asks for.
How to ride a good halt
Regardless of the pace you are approaching the halt from, it’s important to ‘think forward’ when riding into the transition.
If you just close the reins and fail to use enough leg, the horse will lose engagement as he halts. The halt will become unbalanced, and he will probably not be square behind.
As you prepare to halt, help your horse by riding two or three shorter, more collected trot or walk steps in the approach to the transition, while keeping the horse moving forward. That will push the horse’s hind legs underneath him, helping him to maintain his balance and giving him every chance of halting square.
Give your horse a clear half-halt, and cease following the movement with your seat.
Be careful not to ride too abruptly into halt. That will only serve to unbalance your horse, and he will probably not halt square.
Close your hand and leg.
Don’t simply pull backwards on the reins, instead, use a ‘forward’ hand. That will keep your horse soft, round, and stepping underneath with his hind legs so that he doesn’t lean on your hand for balance in the transition itself.
Keep both legs on and maintain an even contact in both reins to make sure the horse stays straight.
Don’t be tempted to “fiddle” with the halt. That’s a mistake that many riders make.
Once the halt is established, sit still and allow the horse to relax and mouth quietly on the bit.
Unless you need to make a very small adjustment to correct a crooked halt, it’s better to leave well alone. The judge will mark your first attempt at the halt, and making major corrections will probably just lose you valuable marks.
When the horse has achieved a good, square, straight halt and has waited obediently for your next instruction, always make a big fuss of him.
It’s just as important to reward your horse when he gets it right as it is to correct him.
When you’re happy with the halt, ask the horse to walk on (or proceed in whatever pace is required).
Make a correct halt a habit
If you only ever insist on a square halt when you’re in a dressage competition, your horse will never learn how to halt correctly!
Each time you allow your horse to trail a leg, swing his haunches to one side, or fidget in the halt, you are effectively training him that this behavior is acceptable.
Every time you ride a halt during your schooling sessions at home, when you’re out hacking, and during competition warm up, insist that your horse gives you a square, obedient halt.
Learn how to “feel” a good halt
When you’re riding a halt in a dressage test, you won’t be able to look or ask a helper to tell you if the halt is straight and square. So, you’ll need to learn how to feel when a halt is a good one.
Each time you ride a perfect halt, sit for a few moments and teach yourself to recognize what a good halt feels like underneath you. The same applies when your horse isn’t square or straight. Eventually, you will know right away if the halt needs correction.
Common faults and fixes
A square halt will only happen if the horse was straight and engaged. If the horse is moving crooked, it’s virtually impossible to arrive at a square halt. Therefore, before you can expect your horse to halt square, you’ll need to teach your horse to halt on a perfectly straight line.
As the horse halts, glance down at his shoulders. If the shoulders appear equal, the front legs are square. If one shoulder is further forward than the other, it follows that the halt is not square. To fix this fault, ask the horse to step forward so that both shoulders square up.
It’s more common for horses to halt with their hind legs not square. To achieve this, you’ll need to keep the horse active and stepping through right up until the exact moment he halts. That will stop your horse from trailing a hind leg. If you feel a hind leg trailing, nudge the horse with your leg on the side of the offending hind leg. You might need to touch your horse gently with your whip if he ignores your leg.
A very common fault in the halt is a lack of straightness. This often occurs if the horse is unbalanced on the approach to the halt. He may run against the rider’s hand and swing his quarters to one side as he halts, or might step sideways into the halt instead of standing still directly.
You can make it easier for the horse to keep his balance as he halts.
Start at the walk. Use little half-halts to collect the walk and make sure that the horse stays straight. When you feel that the horse is slightly collected, attentive, and perfectly straight, close your fingers, let your weight drop deep into the saddle, and ask the horse to halt.
Try to ease your hand slightly into the transition and don’t try to make the transition too direct. You can sharpen things up as the horse becomes more experienced and better engaged.
If the horse swings his haunches to one side, try to catch the haunches by moving the horse’s shoulders. Don’t resort to kicking your horse’s quarters back onto the straight line, because that tactic won’t work. You’ll probably end up playing a game of haunches ping-pong, as the horse wriggles its quarters back and forth!
Instead, as soon as you feel the haunches swinging out, move the horse’s shoulders in the same direction as the haunches so that he’s straight.
If the horse persists in swinging his quarters out, practice riding halts alongside the fence, making sure that you keep both legs on equally.
Carry your schooling whip on the side to which the horse habitually steps out. Sometimes, the mere fact that the horse can see the whip there will do the trick and help you to keep him straight.
If you feel that the horse is about to halt crooked, walk forward straight away and ask him again.
Sometimes, using two poles placed parallel on the ground and halting between them can be a good way of teaching a horse to halt on a straight line.
Does not stand still
Some horses fidget in halt. This is a serious fault in dressage and will lose you many marks.
The impatient horse that fidgets in halt can be difficult to cure. It’s really just a question of practice and insisting that he stands still until you ask him to move off.
To achieve this, you may have to sacrifice straightness at first, but you can tidy things up once the horse has accepted that he must stand still.
If your horse begins to step backwards, ride forwards immediately.
Ride the halt again and ease your hand as you do so.
Be positive with your legs and keep thinking forwards.
Anticipates the halt
Some horses quickly learn that they will be halting on the centerline every time they enter the dressage arena.
Anticipation is a serious fault that often leads to the horse losing impulsion as he comes onto the centerline.
If the horse is not moving forwards into the halt, he will not step underneath himself in the transition, and the halt will probably be crooked and not square.
When schooling your horse at home, practice riding centerlines without halting and work on improving the halt at other places in the arena instead.
Your horse should be straight, square, attentive, relaxed and immobile during the halt, and the move-off should be immediate and obedient.
The key to a good halt is balance and submission to your aids. Remember to include riding the halt during your schooling sessions, using the tips given above to help you.
- How to Ride a Half-Halt
- How to Ride a Good Trot-Halt Transition
- How to Ride a Good Halt-Trot Transition
- How to Teach Your Horse to Stand Still