Good use of back for this particular horse. Note the deep-stepping inside hind leg, the weight slightly shifted back, the light front end, the calm, confident expression.

It has probably happened to you too many times to mention:

Coming to a turn, you asked for a half-halt.

Preparing for a transition, you wanted a soft rebalancing before the new gait.

Half-way around the circle, you half-halted in order to prevent your horse from leaning in or out.

You felt your horse stiffen and you used a half-halt to ask him to loosen once again.

Maybe all you wanted to do was get your horse's attention before the next transition.

...and NOTHING HAPPENED!

Your horse did not understand.

He tensed his head and neck and went against your half-halt.

He hollowed his back and ran faster and faster (or conversely, shuffled along slower and slower).

Maybe he flat out ignored you!

In the end, it doesn't really matter why the half-halt did not "go through". There could be a thousand and one reasons why! The fact is, it did not work.

What Not To Do

Push the horse so he gets tighter/faster/stronger and works against your aids.

Do more of the same and expect different results.

Get offended by his personal vendetta against you!

Give up.

Looking Closer

Balance does not happen magically on its own. When you watch a gorgeous horse and rider combination apparently floating along weightlessly, reading each other's minds, recognize that they are continually balancing and rebalancing gait to gait, stride to stride and moment to moment.

The idea is to help the horse keep his weight on the hind end (rather than fall to the forehand) before, during and after transitions. Because a half-halt is not a slowing down aid, the horse should ideally keep up his energy and impulsion while simultaneously shifting his balance off his forehand.

When a horse has difficulty rebalancing in movement (for whatever reason), he simply can't help you in that moment. So you have to find another way to explain that he should take his weight to the hind end.

What To Do

I like to think of it as a "full" half-halt. Not as in a full halt. Far from it.

Instead of trying the half-halt over and over, just follow through until the horse does a full transition down from the gait you were at. If you were in canter, go to trot. If you were in trot, go to walk. If you were already in walk, go to an under-power walk (not halt, obviously).

Wait at the slower gait until you get what you want. Perhaps you needed a shoulder out of the way. Maybe you wanted a rounder body outline. Maybe you were asking for the hind legs to reach deeper underneath the body.

In all those cases, do a full downward transition, work at the more controlled (= balanced) gait, get what you wanted, and then go right back to what you were doing.



Don't Forget!

The one downfall to this technique is that many riders fall into the "slower is better" rut. Keep in mind that you are not exactly trying to slow the horse down. You do not want to lose the energy or impulsion you already have.

Rather, you are helping him to balance better before you increase the difficulty at a higher gait. One thing you want to avoid is to do a downward transition and stay there. As soon as you feel the horse has balanced and responded to your aid, go back to your original task.

Immediately switch back to canter, if that was the gait you were working at. Then do the same lesson you were doing, ask with a half-halt, and see what happens.

Your horse might respond quite nicely. You will say "yes" and go to the next thing.

Your horse might not respond at all. In this case, you should do another "full half-halt". You might need to do it a few times in a row until your horse is better able to work from his haunches.

One time, after several repetitions of "full half-halt", try the half-halt again. It just might happen that your horse has an easier time sitting down and balancing to the hind end.

If you have a softer, more responsive horse, you know you are on the right track.

If your horse feels more supple and loose over the topline, you know you are getting closer.

If your horse catapults you out of your tack with heartfelt snorts, you know you've got the ticket! 🙂

If you do try this technique, or have tried it before, please let us know your experiences with it. How did it work for you and your horse?

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14 Comments

  1. Haven’t used this exact technique, but something a bit similar. I ride a lot of “broken” horses which are being rehabbed, and I usually know way ahead of time where they are going to have issues. On turns, for instance, I will give a long slow outside-rein half-halt several strides before the turn and by the time we get there there horse is balanced and ready to go.

  2. Something that I have realized lately, is that, as a beginner, on my very green horse, I am not yet “quite” enough for her to differentiate between my half halt and my “noise.” So, she doesn’t really know what to do about them. I don’t have this problem on more experienced horses. Just something to think about.

  3. what do you mean by “youve got the ticket”…I did experience exactly what you described and when I used the “full halt” with the hope of falling from a pulling unbalanced canter into a trot, I got launched and ended up horizontal across his neck…mutter mutter?

  4. Would you please explain the difference of a half halt and a full half halt. I’m trying to learn and that could help me! Thank you for your blog! I love it!

    1. Hi Mimi, I’m just using the term “full half-halt” as a way to explain the downward transition. So if you are in canter, the half-halt would help the horse balance in canter. The horse would still be cantering. But if you did “full” half-halt, you would basically go from canter to trot. Do the actual down transition so that the horse is trotting at the end.

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