Moment before the halt
Moment before the halt

Does your horse get offended when you pull on the reins to stop? Does he pin his ears, shake his head, hollow his back and keep going?

Maybe he's trying to tell you something: stop pulling on the reins! 🙂

There is a way to get your horse to stop without pulling on the reins.

But first, you both have to be "in sync" together, working in tandem instead of against each other.

If you haven't done this before, it may take a few tries to convince your horse that you want to work with him. Horses that are regularly pulled on seem to accept that the pressure has to be there before they should respond. They might learn to lean on the bit, pulling against you while you pull backward, hoping for the legs to stop.

Some horses are generous and eventually slow their feet, stop/starting until finally, all four legs come to a halt. Other horses might not be quite as forgiving and just keep going until you have to put more and more pressure on the mouth. Eventually, one of you wins but it's never pretty!

We all dream of finding the halt that looks like we are in complete harmony with our horse. You know - the one that feels like the horse's legs are your legs, and your mind is so coordinated with the horse that it looks like you are reading each other's thoughts.

It does happen. The secret: ride from your seat.

I'm perfectly aware of the fact that we've talked about the seat many times already, but there is no other answer. Everything in horseback riding begins and ends with the seat.

The instructions below might sound quite complicated. Initially, developing the timing and coordination of aids should be! Learning correct aids should be a lifelong quest for most of us, and if we have old, ingrained habits (like pulling on the reins), these changes may take even longer.

But in the long run, you won't have to think anything through and the aids will happen together on their own.

Setup for a Correct Halt

1. Contact

Prepare several strides ahead of the intended location. Your reins should be a good length - not too long and not too short. There should be a steady enough contact on the bit to be able to communicate very subtle changes of pressure.

2. Begin a series of half-halts.

The half-halts start at the seat. In rhythm with the horse's movement, resist with your lower back. Be sure to resist in rhythm. In other words, your lower back and seat will feel something like this: resist... flow... resist... flow... resist... flow.

2a. Use your legs.

During each flow moment, squeeze lightly with your lower legs. This helps the horse engage his hind end deeper underneath the body in preparation with the halt.

2b. Use the hands.

During each resist moment, squeeze the reins with your hands. You might squeeze both reins or just one rein (the outside rein being the usual rein) but in any case, do your best to use the hands after the leg aids. The rein pressure should occur in tandem with the resisting seat aid.

3.When you are ready for the halt, simply stop your seat.

Maintain contact with your legs and reins, but stop the activity. Don't keep pulling on the reins.

If the horse is truly with you, his legs will stop lightly and in balance.

***

Horses that have been trained to respond to the half-halt will sigh in relief when you lighten up on your aids and use your seat in the halt. You might be surprised at how easily the legs will stop if you can improve your timing and releases.



Horses that have always been pulled on might not respond at all. They might be expecting to be hauled backward, thrown to the forehand, and dragged to a stop. If this is the case, be patient. If you haven't done this before, it may take a few tries to convince your horse that you want to work with him.

You might have to bridge the learning gap by applying the half-halts several times, stopping your seat and then pulling to stop. In the end though, the pull should disappear completely from your vocabulary (exception: in an emergency stop).

Regardless of how you get there, the goal is to stop all four legs in a light, balanced manner that allows the horse to use his hind end when he takes that last step. Your horse might walk a few strides and then halt.

If you feel your horse’s front end lighten into the halt, you know you are on the right track. If you discover the four legs stopped square and parallel to each other, pet and gush over him, and call it a day!

What do you think? How do you halt your horse?

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If you enjoyed the above post, you might also like to check these out:

Interpreting the Half-Halt: This topic is a tricky one but here is a shot at it.

Do A “Forward” Back-Up! Tricks to developing an easy and rhythmical back-up.

Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: A happy horse is a willing partner, and many horses will give everything they have if they feel your acknowledgement and generosity of spirit.

Demystifying “Contact” in Horseback Riding: Does “contact” have other-wordly connotations? Here is why effective contact is within reach of the average rider.

From a Whisper to a Scream: How Loud Should Our Aids Really Be? Should we be “loud” in our aids, or should we be working as softly as we can in hopes that our horse can respond to lighter and more refined aids?

26 Comments

  1. Couldn’t agree more! Great advice. Ride with your seat! Stop, half-halt. But, you can also back up and turn left and turn right with your seat. It’s a great exercise to practice.

  2. I have quite a few different ways to stop and/or slow my horse from any gait. And I don’t even need to touch the reins. First I do suppling excersises and body control excersises so I can maneuver his front and hind end independently. Without too much detail I basically start in arena first and trot the horse round and round the arena on a loose rein- or for those of u with horses that can’t handle that then as loose as u can. If horse says – she isn’t holding me in so I guess il just go all out you keep a loose rein and do small circles all along the arena the whole way round. Keep this up but when your horse slows at all( providing your reins r as loose as possible) go straight along fence – u r only using the small circles to reduce the speed of your horse without pulling on the reins. Soon your horse will start to actually wonder what on earth u want but u just continue trotting along as above. U need to keep this up long enough for your horse to be getting abit tired.Finally after about 15 mins of this stop rising to the trot, sit down in saddle, pick up reins and say wooo in low voice. Pull reins as well if u must to get a stop. Sit there and count to 100. Then repeat this- making sure u keep reins as loose as possible. When your horse is not pushing against your hands anymore he will go- why am I going so fast? She seems to be trotting me for ages, il try and slow down. That’s the other time u r waiting for and u act like u were about to ask same thing. Your horse’s idea is reversed so that he starts to listen out for woah cause you aren’t physically holding him back anymore. horse Once your horse discovers he can travel freely with no pulling he will discover how to correctly carry himself, you will acquire a way better seat since u r no longer balancing on his reins. U will also be able to ask him to collect

    1. yes, yes absolutley that makes perfect sense!! Thank you for those tips..My daughter has a cute little Appy she is struggling with. She is only 11 so she gets really frustrated and the more forward her horse goes the more my daughter balances on the reins which in turn causes the horse to pull and speed up. Mostly it doesn’t end well. So I ended up working with her horse doing small circles on a loose rein to slow her down and riding with my seat to stop… it works… so we will just keep repeating this exersize and rinse and repeat. baby steps…. thank you…

  3. My horse is trained to respond to a quiet “Whoa” command so I’m thinking that it won’t be that hard to transition away from voice to seat and legs.

  4. Beyond everything that has been mentioned, the biggest problem with pulling is that it precludes release, which is the key to communication. The result is forced movement, instead of harmony. To bridge your horse’s understanding that the seat means “Whoa,” and reins are used to change the horse’s bend or flexion, agree with your horse that you will stop using the reins to slow down. Now teach your horse to focus into your breath. The breath is multisensory; horse can feel the change in your balance & weight, and he hears the breath. Follow the steps outlined above in the post, using the half halt to signal and prepare your horse. Take your time and tune in to what is happening under you, repeat until both of you understand the half halt. As you feel your horse’s balance change, (he will shift to his hind end), take a deep breath in, (which lightens your seat and signals your horse that something more is coming), then as you let out your breath and your seat deepens, becoming heavy, close your hand on the rein. DO NOT PULL IN ANY DIRECTION. The increased contact will give your horse support, as he learns this new way to stop from the rear, instead of on the forehand. As soon as you feel your horse shifting weight, slowing down, and/or becoming light, immediately RELEASE, so your horse makes the positive association between your light aids for halt and his light response. Just as your horse needs to become better balanced, (a big reason horses can’t halt), you need to improve your balance as well. Check your alignment: ears, hip, heels, & bit, reins, elbows. Be sure to stretch tall as you exhale, instead of collapsing as all the breath rushes out. In bridging your horse’s understanding of a light balanced halt without pulling, take a really big breath in, so you can exhale loudly and forcefully, as you grow tall. Your horse will absolutely notice this aid. Over time, he will become so attuned to your breathing, that it can become very subtle, and your horse will know when you are asking for a halt and half-halt. You will use very little leg or rein. Your breath will communicate through the seat.

    Good subject this time. Raising rider awareness of the generosity and sensitivity of horses will benefit the riding community. Thanks.

  5. Very good point, ride with your seat. I am trying to teach my daughter this, it is a lot harder to teach it to someone than it is to “feel” it yourself. It makes ALL the difference when you get it though. cheers!

  6. This is what the French call “arrêt a l’éperon” or halting on the spur. The trick is to have the horse in contact with the hand and the leg. If the horse is accepting the hand contact even on a loose rein), just closing the hand (effectively halting the motion forward) AND closing the leg, the horse will go into the bit and stop at the pressure. Believe it or not, it works. Sounds funny but it’s the truth. Close the hand and close the leg and the horse just stops. It sure beats yanking on the mouth.

  7. Lately, all I have to do is look down. For, example, if I want to halt at X, I just start looking at the spot on the ground, and she stops right on it! She is very sensitive!

    1. That’s cool. I have had to stop riding for three months, broke my leg falling off my pony (?). Anyway, I have fun with my mare doing this: We stop at the end of the arena and without touching the reins, just slight half halts, and keeping legs on her, I gather a little sprig of her mane and silently count 1 2 3 and pull and WHOOSH! Off we go for 15 or 16 strides, not fast just a nice gallop. Then we stop and walk back and do it again. She’s so funny! She gets all antsy dansy but doesn’t move until I give my little yank. We’re playing at being racehorses!!! Great fun to invent these little games.

  8. I think this is quite a simplified version of how to halt without pulling and using your seat. What about thighs closer against saddle and stepping into the stirrup combined with the seat.

  9. chin up, grow tall, open, and use your core, by lifting your rib cage and shoving your boobs into the air at that moment squeeze your shoulder blades tightly together hold for 3 to 5 seconds this movement stops your hips from following the movement so they will slow down and halt especially young horses who have not been pulled around. Older “more trained horses” may take several hold and releases to hear you but in the end it works on every horse do not hold for more then 5 seconds for you as a rider tense up and all is lost in the communications soon you will find that this movement will become a very easy half halt because as soon as horse feels the rib cage lift they will rebalance to their hind end simple and easy and they understand body language very very well

    1. Bonnie – the body position you’ve suggested, is what I’ve been taught to impulse movement . Display energy to create energy .
      Or am I reading your steps incorrectly ? Do you exhale with this body language ?

  10. This article doesn’t explain the reason why horses stop from your seat. If you use your seat to ask for stop/slow every time before using your reins, you will “classically condition” your horse to stop from your seat. ie he will recognise that the seat cue is always used before the rein cue, and start to stop on the seat cue. That’s all there is to it. It’s the science of learning. Forget “generous”, “flow”, “totally with you”. It’s really not hard when explained and put into action scientifically. Read Andrews McLeans books. It’s such a shame that so many people do not understand learning theory.

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