Guest Author - Susan Hopf
The term half-halt is (probably) the most misunderstood term in equestrian history. Many trainers, authors and clinicians have tried to simplify the meaning of this seemingly complex aid an aid (or more precisely a quick series of aids) that is, without question, the key to balance, collection, impulsion and beyond. Since so many, who have come before, have struggled to define this misleading term I will take some comfort in not being alone as I also attempt to explain the mysteries behind the
As it seems to imply this highly coveted aid is, sort of, half of a halt. Many have agreed with this and many more have argued that it is nothing of the sort. I belong to the school of thought that agrees with it being half of a halt BUT only if one knows how to correctly apply a balanced full halt.
For the purposes of this discussion we will think of trot/walk transitions and that you and your horse have reached the level of maintaining a forward and rhythmic trot. The trot can be ridden posting or sitting.
With your horse at trot begin to think of the following aids:
Deep breath in, sit and grow tall, push your bellybutton and diaphragm out through the ears of the horse, slowly but distinctly exhale.
Once you have the sequence running through your head then and only then physically apply this set of aids. If the horse makes the down transition you need do nothing else but balance the walk. If the walk is strung out, too fast or too heavy on the forehand the above sequence is re-applied until the walk is balanced yes indeedy the exact set of aids with which you began.
If you do not get the down transition re-apply the above sequence again still no transition same sequence with the addition of squeezing both fists still no transition shorten the reins and make sure you do not relax the elbow or straighten the arm to accommodate the shorter rein as I am sure your horse will indicate that you should do by pulling on the increased contact you must not allow this. Once the reins have been shortened re-apply the sequence and squeeze the fists if needed. If your horse still does not react the reins must be shortened again and again until the transition takes place. The reins can become quite short but the arms, hand or wrists should never be retracted backwards if you feel like doing so the reins need to be shorter. The very instant the horse complies the rein contact is relaxed and all is repeated forward trot, breath in, sit-up, bellybutton through the ears, exhale, fists if needed, reins shortened if needed, etc.
Once the horse understands that she must perform a down transition without addition of the reins the same exercise is repeated for walk/halt transitions. These are more difficult than the trot/walk transitions as there is no natural impulsion with which to work. Lateral distortions may occur and if so please reference the articles listed below.
Once you can produce a balanced walk/halt transition your attention can then be turned toward a clearer understanding of the half-halt.
Again begin at trot. Prepare for a down transition just as you have been practicing with the sequence above. If you and your horse have been successful in your preparation work as you approach the transition and the horse readies herself for such a point will come when she is in perfect balance. You need to learn to feel that point. It will seem like a momentary hover. This hover is the half-halt I repeat this hover is the half-halt. Think of this before proceeding.
Okay so you have reached the half-halt. The question now is what to do with it. Remember the horse is now in perfect balance. You can do anything at this point. Complete the down transition by following through with the aids for such. Release these aids and return to your forward trot. Slide your outside leg back and canter.
Once you and your horse are proficient with these ideas at trot advance to the same exercise at walk. Working with the half-halt at walk you must always be soft and giving with the hands or you may lose the quality of the walk. Instead of a squeeze try a pulse and if unsure release and try again.
While teaching I often refer to a quote by Jim Woffard an event rider, author, technical delegate and course consultant to mention only a few of the many hats he has and continues wear in the horse world. He states that riding is simple but not easy. Although most of my students moan and groan as a response to this statement it is however quite true. Riding is simple because the aids are the same whether your intent is to transition up, transition down, piaffe, passage, pirouette, whatever you and your horse wish to accomplish. All begin with the same sequence as noted above and these aids are simply those that the horse can actually accommodate all others are manmade modifications.
Once you and your horse reach that hover that half-halt you become one, in perfect harmony, and the rest is simply a matter of degree and decision whether to allow the horse forward or not. If you choose not to allow the horse forward you either direct the energy up as for a piaffe or passage, on a bend as for a half-pirouette, or under you for a halt. Allowing the horse forward does not mean allowing him to run on the forehand rather it means to increase suspension and impulsion. The one and only glitch in this whole sequence is the riders hands grab at the horses mouth and you have done in all of your hard work for that particular moment. Keep trying and the very forgiving nature of the horse will allow you the reward you are seeking.
All of this may seem out of reach but if you practice, practice, practice the half-halt sequence as described above your horse will get softer, lighter and less resistant. You will become a more tactful rider as long as you take the time to listen and feel for the hover that moment of perfect balance and know precisely where you wish to take the horse in the very next moment. This is the difficult part of riding thinking of what you want and knowing how to ask before you ask it of the horse.