The half halt should be one of the earliest things that riders learn to master when learning to ride their horse. It is a vital part of riding well and being able to performing accurate, balanced movements with your horse.
However, while many riders understand the concept of the half halt in theory, unfortunately the carrying out of the actual movement leaves a lot of room for improvement.
The half halt is essentially a rein check or a postponement. You are asking your horse for his undivided attention and letting him know that something is about to happen.
When ridden correctly, the half halt can be used to re-balance your horse, to ask him for his attention, to prepare him for an upcoming movement, to ask for more self carriage or collection, to steady or slow him down, to set up transitions and, in fact, should be sprinkled generously throughout your ride from start to finish.
There are so many different situations where the half halt is required while riding that many riders may become confused as to where exactly to perform the movement, how often it should be applied and with what intensity or firmness.
The half halt, in essence, is similar regardless of the reason for using it, however there are slight differences depending on many factors between the horse, rider and present circumstances. The more you ride and practice the half halt, the better you will become at using just the correct amount of pressure at the correct time, regardless of the horse or circumstances.
To perform the half halt, the rider uses three different aids, the seat, the legs and the hands. Many riders struggle to use all three aids in such close conjunction with each other and this lack of co-ordination from the rider often results in a deterioration of the horses way of going. A true half halt, as we mentioned before, is a postponement of the forward energy. However, what is important to notice here is that the forward energy must remain and continue to be created by the rider, at the correct times, so the horse does not stop or break from what they are doing.
The other point worth mentioning before we get into the nuts and bolts of the half halt is that it should be barely visible to others watching you ride. I say barely, because if a person is well-trained in what to look for, they will of course see these little ‘rein checks’ however, to the average spectator, it will look as though nothing is happening and that the horse remains in a balanced and consistent way of going.
The half halt does require a certain amount of strength and development from the horse, as there is a transfer happening from the front end, more onto the back-end. This results in the hind quarters coming underneath the horse and bearing more weight. Many riders forget to allow for this lack of training and development in young or green horses, and can become frustrated when the half halt does not result in the desired action happening underneath them. Horses must learn what the half halt is, and over time, become capable of performing it correctly.
Practice by firstly using the thought of the half halt as an opportunity to correct and ‘fix’, if necessary, your position while riding
Check that your basic position is free of any obvious errors and that your legs are underneath you. It is important that your legs must remain underneath you throughout the half halt. In order to maintain the forwardness of your horses movement and energy, your legs must be ‘on’ and applied first when asking for the half halt.
Once you have engaged your horse with your legs, you will then use your seat and hands together to ‘resist’ or ‘slightly contain’ the energy and perform that ‘rein-check’ that we spoke of. This will only happen for a split second, before you will soften allowing your horse to move forward again and using your legs once again to help create that forward energy.
Remember, the half halt only lasts a split second; any longer and you are having a tug of war!
One of the biggest challenges riders have is when they activate their seat and core in the half halt, their lower legs tend to shoot out in-front of them, resulting in the riders feet being somewhere near or on the horses shoulders! Practice engaging your core in a ‘resisting’ motion for a split second, all the while making sure your legs are correctly underneath you. Your legs are vital to keep your horse moving forward and working correctly.
As I mentioned earlier, the half halt is a slight postponement of the energy, not a cancellation!
When using your seat and core, make sure you are carrying your upper body, to allow the muscles around your pelvis to work correctly. Try not to brace your lower back, in an attempt to lean back. This will result in a jarring feeling and the beginning of the end with regards to the forward energy you have created! Also, make sure you don’t crouch or curve your upper back as this movement generally correlates with an overuse of the hand and lack of seat and core in the half halt.
Also keep in mind that you may need to perform numerous half halts in order to achieve your desired outcome. Keep each one short, quick and correct. If you ‘hold’ the position or the half halt for too long, your horse will begin to lean against you, which is exactly opposite to what you want to achieve in the first place.
Take time to begin coordinating your different aids so that once ‘put together’, your half halt will appear seamless and fluid; working with your horse and not against it to balance and steady. It often helps to say something while you are performing the movement, as it will help you better establish the cause and effect that you are making happen underneath you. A simple ‘Steady’ can be enough to help this movement become a subconscious one for you in the long run.
As with all things relating to horse riding, the timing of the half halt is also important. Once you have successfully manged to use your different aids together to achieve the desired result, begin noticing what is happening underneath you. As you become more adept at feeling which foot is falling when you will grow more confident in asking for the half halt at the correct time, which is essentially when the horses back hoof has been placed on the ground.
Train your body to automatically begin using the half halt in particular areas of the arena or parts of your ride. I initially suggest using corners, bends or changes of direction as the initial trigger you use to remember to half halt. Soon, riding the half halt without thinking about it during one particular aspect of your work will become second nature and will allow you to free up your mind to begin working it into other areas. Again, I suggest methodically and consistently until it again becomes something that just happens while you ride.
Finally, develop your feel as you use the half halt… Different levels of intensity or different ways of riding the half halt will be necessary depending on the various factors that make up each situation, such as rider, horse and circumstances surrounding that particular ride.