There is at least one halt in all dressage tests, and in some, there can be as many as three. So, it’s essential that you can ride a square, straight halt and that your horse stands still.
If the horse doesn’t maintain immobility, that’s a big mark-loser.
So, how can you stop your horse from fidgeting in halt?
Read on for some top tips!
Riding a good halt
If you ride a good halt, the horse will be engaged and balanced, and he will halt square with each of his legs equally taking his weight.
When the halt is unbalanced and the horse’s hind legs are trailing out behind him, he is likely to fidget as he tries to rebalance himself.
Many riders try to make the halt square by encouraging the horse to take a step forward or, even worse, backward. Unfortunately, that can lead to the horse expecting to move during the halt, which can cause him to do it every time you stop moving.
Essentially, if you ride the halt correctly, and the quality of the work preceding the halt is good, the horse is more likely to halt square first time, thefore, the likelihood of your horse fidgeting is reduced.
Related Read: How to Ride a Good Halt
Why do horses fidget in halt?
Sometimes, even though you ride a straight and square halt, the horse can still fidget. There are many common reasons why horses do this, often with simple solutions.
Here are a few other potential reasons why your horse may fidget during the halt. See which one best suits your situation.
Potential reason #1 – Balance
As mentioned above, if the horse is unbalanced in the halt, he is likely to fidget to help him rebalance himself.
So, your first step is to make sure that you’re riding a good halt.
Potential reason #2 -Tension
For the horse to stand quietly, he must be relaxed mentally. If the horse shakes his head, snatches at the rider’s contact, or constantly gnaws at the bit in his mouth, he is most likely tense.
(Please note that the horse softly chewing the bit is desirable.)
Potential reason #3 -Lack of practice
Some riders never practice halting. They simply work their horse, end the schooling session by walking on a long rein to cool down, and then dismount.
That’s fine, but the horse doesn’t learn how to stand quietly. So, remember to practice at least three square, immobile halts during each training session.
Potential reason #4 -Anticipation
If you always halt for two seconds, your horse will learn to move off after two seconds.
In dressage tests, you’re sometimes asked to halt for four or six seconds. If your horse can only maintain a halt for two seconds before moving off, you’ll lose marks for the brevity of the halt.
So, when schooling at home, practice halting for two, four, six, and even ten seconds so that your horse doesn’t learn to anticipate moving off.
Potential reason #5 -The rider doesn’t keep the horse on the aids
Many times in a dressage test the rider gets to the final halt, breathes a sigh of relief, and drops the aids.
The halt is a movement in itself. So, you need to maintain your elastic contact and keep your legs on passively to keep the horse’s focus and attention. If you drop the contact and take your leg off, the horse will come off the aids, sticking his head above the bit, and possibly even walking away.
Potential reason #6 -The rider doesn’t sit still
If you wriggle around in the saddle, you can’t expect your horse to stand still!
As you go into the halt, take a deep breath in. Then, once the horse actually halts, exhale completely. That helps to relax you and discourage you from fidgeting in the saddle.
Sit still, deep, and balanced in the center of the saddle. Don’t tense your muscles or move until you want the horse to walk out of the halt.
Potential reason #7 -The rider fiddles
If the horse halts above the bit or comes against the rider’s hand in the transition to halt, many riders see-saw or fiddle with the bit to try to get the horse back into an “outline.” Unfortunately, that will only lose marks.
If the horse lacks a genuine connection through a supple back to an elastic contact, he will probably come off the aids in the transition to halt. The judge can see that! So, attempting to fiddle or fix the horse into a false outline is pointless. Also, you might even encourage the horse to step back or push his quarters sideways in an attempt to evade your annoying hand! And that will lose you even more marks.
How to stop your horse fidgeting in halt
You can improve the balance in the halt and, therefore, help to prevent the horse from fidgeting by using the following exercises:
Exercise 1: Adjust the stride in each pace
To keep the hind legs active and stepping underneath the horse, try riding transitions within the paces, adjusting the stride length. (E.g. working trot to medium trot to collected trot.)
That encourages the horse to step underneath his body, preventing the hind legs from trailing out behind him, making it more likely that the horse will step under during the halt and halt square and balanced.
Also, asking the horse to change his stride length helps to keep the horse engaged and responsive to your aids.
Establish a rhythmic working trot around the arena on the right rein.
Ask the horse to collect the strides for a few steps every time you ride past A, E, C, and B.
After every collection, pick up working trot again.
When the transitions are smooth, ask for a bigger trot with a longer stride as you pass each letter.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times.
Now, ride a smooth downward transition into halt but make the transition through a collected trot like you did in step 2.
Your horse should make a balanced, four-square halt with his hind legs well underneath him. Because the horse is balanced and comfortable in the halt, he won’t feel the need to move.
Exercise 2: Cowboy halt
This exercise is very useful for correcting horses that fidget in the halt. In fact, the cowboy halt exercise is used by cowboys for training their horses to stand obediently and quietly.
Basically, the exercise asks the horse to work in short bursts and then rewards him by asking him to stand quietly in the halt. As soon as the horse fidgets instead of standing still, ride him out of the halt and back into the pattern that you were riding. Keep repeating the exercise until the horse opts to stand still without moving.
You’ll most likely find that you need to keep repeating the exercise until the horse obliges, but it almost always works. The cowboy halt exercise is much more effective than trying to discipline or correct your horse and using stronger aids that usually only make the situation worse.
The principal of the exercise is that the horse learns that it’s much less strenuous to stand still than it is to fidget, so the halt becomes a reward rather than a demanding exercise.
Ride the horse into an active trot or canter around the arena and pick up a 10-meter circle at B.
Go large and then take up another 10-meter circle at C, keeping the pace active and forward so that the horse has to work hard.
Go large and ride your next 10-meter circle at E.
Keep repeating the exercise, riding 10-meter circles at intervals around the arena. The idea is to make the horse work hard, stepping underneath himself and increasing engagement.
Now, ride a smooth transition to halt. Sit quietly and keep your contact light and elastic.
As soon as the horse tries to fidget or takes a step forward or back, ride him forwards and into the trot or canter.
Repeat the exercise, riding your 10-meter circles, working your horse forward, and demanding his total attention.
Now, repeat smooth and quiet transition into the halt.
Eventually, the horse will understand that standing still in the halt is his reward. If he refuses to stand still, make him work hard again, and then repeat the halt.
Even though you are asking the horse to work hard when not standing still, he must stay free from excess tension. If the horse’s adrenaline levels rise and he becomes overly tense, then he will go into ‘fight or flight’ mode and will be less likely to stand still.
If your horse fidgets in the halt and won’t stand still, you will lose marks in dressage tests, especially if the horse steps backward.
Generally, horses fidget in the halt because they are unbalanced and don’t stand four-square. So, if you teach your horse how to step more underneath his body with his hind legs, he is less likely to lose balance and fidget in an effort to correct himself.
Horses that tend to fidget because they can’t wait to get going can benefit from the cowboy halt exercise that demands hard work in return for a quiet halt.