Ask a student to execute a half-halt, and you’re sure to see a very wide variety of very odd movements. Even novice and elementary level riders are often ineffective in performing this simple but extremely crucial movement. Without it, you simply can’t get your horse re-balanced so that he drives from behind rather than pulling himself around the arena on his forehand. An effective half-halt is vital in many disciplines, from Show jumping, Dressage to Western.
Executing the perfect half-halt needn’t be a mystery. Here is what you need to know:
A half-halt is the secret to elevated gaits, brilliance, and expressiveness in your dressage movements. It is the call to attention for your horse that something is coming up. You might now be thinking, “I already knew that.” But do you really know how to execute a genuine half halt? One that doesn’t block and kill the energy?
The essence of the half halt is sending your horse’s energy back to his haunches. This not only affects his speed, it puts him in a more balanced position to jump. Green horses typically carry about 75% of their weight on the forehand, giving them a “downhill” feel when being ridden. The job of a quality trainer is to teach the horse a better way of going under saddle, which moves some of that weight toward the haunches. When executed properly, the horse becomes more balanced back-to-front, and feels more “horizontal” than downhill. In the highest levels of collection, the horse feels very “up hill”. The more “up hill” the horse, the more he can drive from behind, a characteristic dressage riders call impulsion. And the more in control the rider is.
The half-halt is not just important for dressage. It is absolutely crucial for jumping. The half-halt is how you control your horse as he jumps a course. Without this skill, your horse will progressively increase speed with each jump until you are practically flying out of control toward the end of the course.
The half-halt is a “forward” aid – that means an effective half-halt cannot occur unless you have already generated some activity from hind legs. Think of how you can regulate the water pressure out of a hose with your finger … this is what we want to achieve with a half-halt.
So, step one, generate some activity from behind. Do lots of transitions within the pace, between paces, really get your horse thinking “forward” and light off your leg aid.
Step two, as you generate activity with your leg first, look for the feeling that he is surging forward from a light leg aid. Once you have this feeling, you can regulate the power by not quite ‘going with him’ by bracing your back, close your shoulder blades and for a stride, brace against the forward movement with your upper body and core. But be sure to allow the energy forward again by going with him again once you feel him respond. Don’t stay too long in the half halt or it will become a Halt! Do more, but be quicker.
You can never do enough half halts! Before a transition, after, during, within medium paces, in turns….