Updated: May 20, 2021
This week i wanted to take a look at the term 'half halt'. Its a term that you hear trainers take about all the time and as a rider im sure you have heard it a lot. The problem comes though because there is confusion over firstly, what it is and when we use it, and secondly how to actually ask for it.
It is such a fantastic aid that i know i will use countless times in a training session as well as many many many times in a test so it is something that is hugely important and so helpful to add into your training.
What is a half halt and why do we need it?
The purpose of the half halt is to re-balance the horse by transferring the horses weight off the forehand and onto their hindlegs. Think of it as being a 'wait, sit on your bum and get balanced' aid.
Its a hugely helpful tool to have in your toolbox that you can use in training. From the moment you sit on a just backed horse we use half halts to teach them to be balanced and not run through the contact. We continue using them all the way up when preparing for a movement, if we need to rebalance them or to keep the energy underneath us. This is why trainers talk about using this technique so much is because it can be used for so many different reasons in so many different scenarios.
The problem though, is that half the time, no one actually explains what the aids are for a half halt, how to ride one and when to use it. You might find that, by tweaking a few things, your half halts could become extremely effect and hugely change your horse and your riding.
What are the aids for a half halt
Here's the confusing part, everyone asks for a half halt in a different way. Some people ask just with the seat, just with the legs, just with the reins or a combination of all three. Generally i prefer to use a combination of all 3 because i think its always best to try to encourage your horse to balance and react to your seat as much as possible and your hands as little as possible. And, as riders we love to use our hands first and everything else second, so i tend to try to avoid using my hands as much as possible,
The seat aids: When it comes to the seat, there are multiple things riders could do. You could squeeze with your knees, sit taller, deepen your seat, sit slightly more back, push your weight through your stirrups, some riders even find breathing in helps.
The rein aids: Applying pressure down the rein is a common way to ask for the half halt but, this is where we get to the most common question: one hand or both hands in a half halt?
Should i use one rein or both reins to half halt?
The easiest way to think of this is to always imagine, half halting with your right hand asks the horse to carry more weight on their right hind leg, the left hand asks the horse for more weight on their left hind leg.
So, when we are doing anything that involves a bend, circles, serpentines, half passes canter pirouettes, we know the inside hindleg always carries the most weight. So if we half halted with our inside rein we would be encouraging our horse to take even more weight on that inside hindleg which would, of course make them unbalanced and could cause injury, a horse is not supposed to carry the majority of the weight on one leg. If this is asked generally a horse will react by bringing their hindquarters in or curling their neck in to avoid it (understandably i feel). So we always half halt with the outside rein if we are on a bent line, in other words anything where our horse has their neck or body bent.
In canter, we know that the inside hind leg moves much more forward that the outside hind leg, the horse is therefore naturally carrying more weight on that inside hindleg. So no matter whether you are on a straight line or your horse is bending, we always use the outside rein to create a horse that carries his weight evenly on both hind legs.
Riders who use the inside rein to half halt may find their horse curls in, drops their hindquarters to the inside or just bends to the inside more instead of transferring weight onto their hindlegs. This is because you will be asking the horse to carry more weight on a hindleg they are already putting a lot of weight on.
In trot, the same system applies if you're riding a bent line or movement you will use your outside rein. But, if you are in a straight line you will use both reins. This is because a horse trots symmetrically (or at least they should do!) so they will carry their weight evenly on both hind legs as they trot so when we do our half halt, we need to do it with both reins as we want to be keeping those hindlegs sitting and pushing evenly. If we half halt with one rein it would ask our horse to carry more weight on a certain hindleg which is obviously not what we want. And that is when we start getting those hindlegs coming in or a falling in or out of the shoulder.
The only time i would ever think of half halting with one rein in trot on a straight line would be if a horse gets heavier in one rein than another.
Is a 'half halt' the same as a 'wait' aid.
In short, no. A lot of people confuse the aid for 'wait' or 'slow down' or 'shorten your stride' as a half halt. But theres a big difference between the two. An aid for the horse to wait involves the horse taking a shorter or slower stride but the crucial part is that they dont take more weight behind and that is what would make it a half halt.
So, you could stretch a horse, which we do at the beginning and end of a session, and you might find you dont have control over the speed so you ask your horse to 'wait' and slow down and take a shorter stride. Whilst it might balance the horse more, the horse wont take any more weight onto their hindlegs so it wont be the same as a classical half halt.
What happens if my half halt aid doesn't work?
The thing that i think a lot of people forget is that the half halt is an aid, and just like when a lazy horse doesnt react quickly enough to the leg aid, a horse can not react in the right way to our half halt aid. the important thing to remember is that this doesnt mean necessarily that your aid is wrong but that you need to teach your horse what to do when you apply the aid.
When we first apply a half halt aid, our horse wont instinctively know what they are supposed to do, we have to show them and train them what they are supposed to do when we use our half halt aid.
Again, like with anything, this is done best through repetition and consistency, if your horse doesnt react quickly enough in a transition you would repeat it and perhaps add a bit more leg, when they do a nice transition we praise them. The same applies for a half halt, if they dont react by taking more weight onto their hindleg and rebalancing themselves, use the same aids but maybe slightly stronger. I dont mean you pull your horses back teeth out but you could sit deeper and taller in the saddle and take a stronger pressure on the rein before releasing this pressure when they react and bring their weight onto their hindlegs. All we need when we first introduce the half halt is a little reaction that we can then build on.
A great exercise you can try is to ride a 20m circle and apply the aids for a half halt, remember its outside rein when we are riding anything that requires our horse to bend , then if your horse doesnt react, ride a 10m circle, this will similate a similar reaction to the one you w ant, the horse will carry more weight onto their hindlegs and lift the forehand and rebalance although do bear in mind you will be adding a bend into that too. Then you can go back onto your 20m circle and ask again.
A half halt can be a super helpful tool to have and once trained and established with a horse can be used to create balance and sit and push in the hindleg which is the best preparation possible for a circle, half pass, canter pirouette or in fact pretty much any movement we ever do in dressage as well as the perfect correction aid to bring our horse back on their hindleg.