5 Things about Half-Halt You May Not Know
Some dressage riders look like they are doing absolutely nothing while their horses dances lightly across the arena. There’s a lot that goes into a performance like that, but one huge key is the half-halt. The elusive half-halt has caused more confusion and angst for the dressage rider than almost nothing else. Yet, the half-halt is an aid, just like any other. It has to be learned and practiced, by both the rider and the horse. The purpose of the half-halt is to communicate re-balancing, a reminder to the horse to stay longitudinally balanced, front to back.
- When you or your horse first learns to half-halt, it’s NOT invisible.
The half-halt is, and should be, quite obvious when you and/or your horse is first learning. The half-halt is quite literally “half of a halt”. If you watch a lower level rider learning half-halt, you should see the horse’s movement disrupted by the aid. The horse may slow down, resist or re-balance, depending on how successful the half-halt was, but you should see something happen.
- If you didn’t feel a change in your horse, your half-halt didn’t go “through”.
From the perspective of the rider, what you feel when you halt properly with the hind end engaged, is what you should feel if the horse responds correctly to the half-halt. If you feel nothing, and the horse’s movement does not change at all, either the horse did not understand the aid, or the aid was not executed well or strong enough. To practice, try halting, and at the last second, release and send the horse forward. Make the aid quicker and smaller until the horse understands and responds by re-balancing on the hind, as if it were preparing to halt. A common mistake when learning the half-halt is to apply the aid, and then release quickly before the horse has responded. If you don’t get the response, the half-halt wasn’t executed. Repeating the aid with no response from the horse will only teach the horse to ignore it as irrelevant noise. Wait for the response. Once your horse understands what you are communicating, it will become lightning fast.
- You can use as many half-halts as needed.
A rider can half-halt at any time, as often as needed. When a horse is just learning, he may need a reminder every other stride or more to check his balance. As your horse develops impulsion and becomes strong enough to hold the longitudinal balance for a longer time, less half-halts or “reminders” are needed.
- Every rider eventually develops their own half-halt.
As with many aids, there is no exact way to execute the half-halt. As you develop your skill, your aids become more of a reflex and may evolve with your own personal style, or adapt to what your horse needs. This is why if you ask ten different dressage riders how they execute a half-halt, you will probably get ten different answers. The basic half-halt is executed by creating impulsion (energy) from the hind with the driving aids, and then, for a split second, arrest the movement of the seat, and third, reinforce the seat aid by closing the fingers on the reins. It is meant to bring the hind end under and lighten the front of the horse. From this basic method, many different styles emerge. When you first start, you can count it out in seconds: 1 – leg on, 2 – seat holds, 3 – fingers close, 4 – release. Make it quicker as you and your horse develop the coordination to do it.
- There are different types of half-halt.
And to make things even more complicated, did you know there is more than one type of half-halt? Once you learn the basic half-halt, you can combine different pieces of the aid to direct the balance in a certain direction or to correct straightness. For example, if your horse is heavy on the inside shoulder, you can half-halt into the outside hind, sending his balance to the outside and back. The horse can be divided into four quadrants, and this key aid can influence each one separately. Check out the series of articles “Stiff vs. Hollow” in my blog to learn more about the four quadrants of the horse.
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