The half halt is one of the simplest, yet least understood concepts in riding. In very basic terms the half half is half of a halt. A halt is performed by the horse rocking back onto his haunches, balancing, and slowing his gait until he stops moving. If we think about doing half of that the half halt is then the horse rocking onto his haunches, rebalancing, and shortening his stride.
A lot of people want to think of the half halt as a way to slow a horse down, but it in fact often has nothing to do with speed at all. A half halt is a way of rebalancing the horse, not of slowing the horse down, although it can be used for this application as well.
There are many different uses for the half halt and therefore many different variations of the half halt. This is one of the reasons riders find it so very confusing. The half halt is used to balance the horse before turning, shift the horses weight back before a transition up or down, collect the horse before a lateral movement, prepare the horse for a change of terrain, or really any other change in what the horse is going to be asked to do.
There is also a very different aid used to slow the horse and take energy away. To me this isn’t quite a half halt, but is often used interchangeably. In a proper half halt I would like to see the horses energy maintained, just pushed into his haunches.
So how do you do a half halt? As you probably already guessed, it has nothing to do with the reins. A half halt should be performed by closing the seat and core to slow the shoulders while the leg maintains the forward movement of the hind end. Sometimes a small inside bend can be helpful in order to help engage the inside hind. An accompanying outside rein should also be present to maintain straightness and keep the outside shoulder in line.
A half halt used to slow the horse down and decrease energy is slightly different from the above. This is also accompanied by sinking into the saddle and exhaling or softening your body to release the energy you were using to maintain the forward. Again, this has nothing to do with the reins although a slight outside rein can help keep the horse’s shoulder straight and keep the horse focused on the rider’s aids.
If the reins are used in order to half halt they end up stopping the front end while the back end runs up on top of the front. This creates a dropped, hollowed back, tension in the head and neck, and anxiety in the horse. Instead of balancing the horse and preparing the horse for the next aid, the horse is now unbalanced and tense.
I find it useful to teach this aid to people while on a long rein on the buckle so that they can feel the variations of the horse’s gaits without grabbing for their reins. It is often very hard for people to half halt or halt without an involuntary closing of both reins.
To me this is the very foundation of all riding above relaxation and suppleness. Without a correct half halt every maneuver is introducing tension and anxiety when it should be relaxing and balancing the horse.
The half halt is also why most of my new students struggle to slow or control my horses. They immediately grab the reins to slow the horse without using any seat and the horses just duck under and keep going until the pressure becomes enough that they get frustrated and try to grab the reins back. Even though the majority of riders don’t ride this way, so far every horse I have ever ridden has responded in some way towards my half halt without reins. They don’t always get as much as I would like, but they all have the inherent idea that they should rebalance and settle.
Check out your half halt this week and see how much you rely on the reins to cheat and bring your horse back. Then see if with less rein you can get a better response without introducing as much of the tension. Practice the small half halts from your seats before every turn and transitions. I’m sure you will notice a huge difference in your ride!