Admit it! You've done it, I've done it, and until we really blueprint the right "feel" into our body, we'll all continue to do it more often than not.
What Happens After You Halt Your Horse?
Do you sit back and relax? Adjust your seat position, step into one and then the other stirrup, adjust your reins? Do you take a look around, think about where you have to go after the barn and say hi to a passing friend?
Does your horse brace against your aids, stop with his hind legs camped out, hollow back and giraffe neck?
Or maybe he closes his eyes, licks his lips, and <gasp> rests a hind leg.
I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean. Essentially, most of us turn off when we stop riding. The seat goes soft, the legs come off the horse, and we drop the reins. It's not surprising then that the horse reflects our inactivity.
The first thing we need to understand is that when we halt, we should not be going on a mental or physical vacation. Halting is not about stopping everything. It should not be a relaxation - although it could be a "regrouping" or a "collection" of the thoughts and aids.
Neither you nor your horse should feel like you can go on a mini-vacation when you halt. If you do, you will have a difficult time reestablishing everything from your aids, to your horse's energy level, your frame of mind and your two-way communication.
Three Components of A Halt
Similar to other transitions, the halt can be broken down into at least three phases:
1. The Preparation
The preparation phase might take longer or shorter depending on your horse. Horses who have a stronger affinity for halting (!) won't need as long of a heads-up. Regardless, you should be preparing for the halt several strides before the actual halt, even if only mentally. Where will the halt happen? How engaged is the horse going into the halt?
You will often need to put an extra bit of "oomph" coming into the halt so that the horse will halt from the hind end. This means that you should use leg and seat to increase impulsion through the last few strides before asking for the halt. Initially, your halt aids might require a stronger rein contact but that should not be your goal.
As I describe in Horse Listening - The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding, you want a nice, balanced halt coming out of a sequence of half-halts. The only thing your reins should be doing is keeping the horse straight and helping in the half-halts.
As time goes on, you want to teach your horse to respond to your seat aids so that once your seat stops, the horse stops. It's amazing when it finally happens.
2. The Action
If you're like me, you'll be surprised to think of the halt as an "action". But we must think of it as an active movement if we want to have a round, well-balanced halt. The horse should be standing evenly on all four legs, with the legs "square" underneath him like the legs of a table. You want to work toward having all four legs engaged in the halt, and the horse standing quietly but ready to go at a moment's notice.
This is why you can't go on vacation yourself. You have to stay engaged through your legs and seat as well.
3. The Follow-Through
Wait! Don't pack it in yet!
You can't be done when you halt. During the transition to the halt, you have to already be thinking about what is going to come after the halt. AFTER you've halted, prepare for the next topic. Don't think about it after the legs have stopped. Have it all planned ahead of time so once you've achieved the halt, you can start getting ready for the next movement. Whether it's a walk, trot or canter, you will need to prepare your legs and seat for what is to come.
What comes after the halt is almost as important as the halt itself. If the horse is well-balanced in the halt, the next transition will be smooth, fluid and easy to achieve. The horse will be able to keep his balance, engagement and roundness through the transition to the next movement.
If you practice the three-step halt, soon enough, your body will become used to the prep, the stop and the next steps. In time, you won't even have to think of it as a three-step process, and your body will just do the "oomph"/prep/half-halt/halt/go - on its own.
You'll know you're on the right track if your halts become smoother, quicker, square more often and more accurate, and with next to no fuss. Your transitions down to the halt and up to the next gait will be precise, energetic and enthusiastic.
Next ride, try a few halt transitions through your ride. Don't go on vacation and let us know what you think of the three-phase halt.
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