The term "half-halt" is used in the English riding disciplines, and the Western folks call it a "check". In both cases and regardless of bit type and rein length, the feeling that goes through your body is the same. Because under most circumstances, the half-halt shouldn't start from your hands.
What it's not:
- a jerk
- a strong and steady pullback
- a taking up of rein followed by a full drop of rein
- a sideways movement of the reins either left or right or both
- a turning of the wrists downward
Technically, it's not something done by the hand. Although the hand certainly plays a role in the end of the sequence of aids, it shouldn't be where the aids begin. And it can't be active through the beginning, middle and end of the half-halt.
Because just messing around in the horse's mouth isn't where the riding's at! (Click here to tweet if you agree)
The Whole Body Half-Halt
Good riders ride from the body.
They use their seat, their torso, their abs, their legs. They stay tall and supple in their position, and rather than allowing the horse to carry their weight in the mouth (through an unreleasing rein aid), they influence their horse through every other aid possible. The hands become the icing on the cake after the body has done the talking.
In all the cases below, the hands strive to do nothing but stay lightly closed and steady. They should take up the rein contact so that the horse can feel some pressure, but they don't use pressure to cause pain in the mouth. Instead, they work with the torso to send one collaborative message to the horse. The elbows should be on the body, softly bent and allowing or resisting as needed. The rein and the bit in the horse's mouth should be the last part of the aid sequence.
Since we've already talked incessantly about the half-halt, go here to find out what it is and here to figure out how to say "go" and "no" at almost the same moment. This time, I want to take a closer look at where the half-halt actually originates.
Most half-halts will originate at the seat. This is the area that is in direct contact with the saddle, and the root of our balance and position. By resisting the horse's movement through your seat, you will bring the horse's energy and weight more to his hind end and therefore off his forehand.
So as he goes along, you can either flow along (release) or resist (brace) to stop his forward (and maybe downward) energy. You can tighten through your legs, your thighs and "grip" more with your rear end (!!).
In any case, the horse will feel this through the saddle. His response will come from his back rather than his mouth. Beware of using too strong a seat and stifling the horse's flow of energy. You want to resist for a few strides, in rhythm with the horse's movement, and then release.
The Lower Back
You can focus your attention a little higher in your back, to the lumbar area. Rather than gripping with your seat, your back does most of the resisting. In making a slight backward motion in rhythm with your horse's strides, the lower back can send a softer, less demanding half-halt.
Use this starting point for a "ballerina" horse - the one that doesn't need much input and responds quickly and honestly.
The Upper Back
This half-halt helps the horse lift the front end more than the others. If you begin your aid from just behind your shoulder blades, you can influence the horse's head height and the amount of weight he is putting on his front legs.
Use this starting point for the "rooters" - the horses that grab the bit and plow down to the ground. It gives you a nice alternative to just slamming the horse in the mouth with the bit. This way, he learns to actually rebalance himself rather than having to deal with pain in his mouth.
Did I just say that the half-halt shouldn't start at the hands? Well, there might be one time when you can use just finger strength (although your arms are still part of your torso as you move along with your horse).
If your horse is already on your aids, and he feels soft and supple and is confidently moving along, you might want to just not stop your communication with him. You might want to keep the flexion of his head, or softly touch his tongue to prepare for a transition. You might want to just continue "talking" to him so that he doesn't end up tuning you out.
Use your fingers. Keep the same lightly-closed fist, but soften and tighten your fingers within that fist. Some people call it "squeezing a sponge" because that's what it should feel like. Pay close attention and see if you can literally feel the horse's tongue in your fingers.
Just remember that you can't do even this lightest of half-halts without the seat and the body. The hands must be a part of the body's communicating aids and not acting on its own.
So there you have it. I use these half-halt locations interchangeably, depending on the horse and how he feels. I find it helps to zero in on the specific body parts so that you can intentionally send the message you want to send.
Do you begin your half-halt in a different location? Comment below.
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Read more about the half-halt and more.
What To Do When A Half-Halt Just Won't Do: How to make a half-halt "go through".
Why A Halt is Not A Vacation - in Horse Riding: Why you shouldn't turn off when you halt.
How to Halt Without Pulling on the Reins: Finding the harmonious halt.
Top 10 Ways to Reward Your Horse: ... while you are riding!
The Art of Slowing Your Horse's Legs Down Without Losing Energy: How to establish a calmer, more reasonable rhythm that will allow your horse to swing more through the back.