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!
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.
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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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also like:
First, Plan Your Ride. Then, Scrap It: Even though you are inspired to get that horse to do the next cool thing, your horse might simply not be ready.
The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.
When Do You Start Riding Your Horse? This question was being posed to me by a very respected and horse-wise mentor one day long ago, early in my riding development.
Why You Don’t Need to Panic When Your Horse ‘Falls Apart’: Even if you are not thinking “panic”, your body might be communicating it by either being completely passive or too reactive after the horse is off balance.
‘Go and No’: The Connection Between Forward and Half-Halt in Horse Riding: How to develop the two seemingly opposite aids.