The half-halt is an extremely important concept in dressage riding.
You can use the half-halt to put your horse ‘on the bit’, to prepare for changes of pace, to balance your horse, and to set your horse up for lateral exercises.
The half-halt is also widely misunderstood; here’s what you need to know!
Half-halt or half-go?
The word ‘halt’ can be misleading.
Riders often override the half-halt and kill the impulsion that is so important.
Think of the half-halt as more of a ‘half-go’, and use the aid to gather together all the energy that your leg and seat have created.
Just to make things more confusing, there’s more than one type of half-halt that you can use.
Different combinations of seat, legs, and hands, together with variations in the intensity and duration of the half-halt aid can achieve different results.
You can use the half-halt to collect your horse, to connect him or to prepare him for something new.
The generic half-halt
The generic half-halt can be used to put your horse ‘on the bit’; it connects the horse’s quarters through his back to the contact.
To give a connecting half-halt, you’ll use three sets of aids:
- seat and both legs (driving aids)
- inside rein and both legs (bending aids)
- the rein of opposition (outside rein)
First of all, close both your calves around your horse and squeeze him to create a surge of power from his hindquarters.
As you ask for more power, cease following the horse’s movement with your seat, as if you were about to ride a downward transition.
This helps to shift the horse’s balance back onto his hind legs.
Next, close your outside hand into a fist. This captures, contains and recycles the energy back to the hind legs to bring them more underneath the horse.
Finally, squeeze and release the inside rein to keep the horse’s neck straight. This is important in order to prevent too much outside bend while you’re applying the rein of opposition.
The whole exercise lasts for only one stride. Once you’ve given the half-halt, go back to your original light contact and maintenance leg pressure, and ride the horse forwards.
Common mistakes when riding the half-halt
Keeping the aids on for too long
The half-halt should last for a stride; no more. If you don’t get the reaction you hoped for, ride your horse forward again, then repeat the half-halt.
Using too much hand
Many riders use too much hand when riding a half-halt. If the horse is inclined to barge against your hands, re-affirm your aid by closing your fist and squeezing, rather than pulling back on the reins.
Not thinking ahead
Riders often wait too long before using the half-halt to balance or prepare their horse.
When riding transitions, be ready to give a half-halt in the first stride of the new pace to balance the gait before it becomes out of control, rather than waiting until there’s a problem.
Not customizing the half-halt
Every horse is different, and you’ll need to adjust the half-halt that you use to suit each individual animal.
You may find that some horses need a stronger half-halt than others.
Sometimes, your half-halts will need to be incredibly subtle, so that you don’t disrupt the flow of your horse’s work. On other occasions, you may need to be a little more emphatic.
As with most aspects of riding, learning to half-halt effectively is all about practice and learning which combination of the aids is most effective with your own horse.
The half-halt is easy to apply once you understand the concept behind it.
When you’ve mastered the aid, you’ll be able to ride your horse with much better balance, collection and attention, both at home and during competitions.