Do you think you need to half-halt every time you ask your horse to turn, change pace or even breathe? Think again! A half-halt is little more than a tap on your horse’s shoulder- a wake-up call to rebalance and listen. It’s too easy to do too much when actually sitting still would be far more helpful.
The last post explained how to half-halt. This one tells you when. (Or when not to)
Used carefully – and sparingly – the half-halt is a really effective way to rebalance your horse. But use it too often and he just won’t hear you. It’s far more likely you’ll unbalance him even more.
Imagine walking down the yard pushing a wheelbarrow – if you start to go downhill the wheelbarrow starts to pull away from you – you either walk faster and faster until you fall over your own feet – or you tighten up your body and the barrow slows down so you can continue at your own pace. That’s all you need to do when you ride – and actually for the same reason. Most riders make the mistake of using the half-halt before their horse has actually started ‘pulling away’ and so the horse tightens against the contact and hollows losing energy rather than rebalancing.
Your body has the greatest affect on your horse’s balance. Sit up with equal weight on both seat bones. Turn your hips and shoulders in the direction you want him to turn – keeping the distance between your lowest rib and the top of each hip the same on each side. Your contact should be even in both reins. Keep it short and you’ll push his body up behind it so his back rounds making it easier for him to stay balanced.
With all those things in place your horse should stay balanced without too many unnecessary aids. Put it to the test by riding this straight forward exercise:
- At A turn down the centre line from the right rein.
- Turn right at C
- Circle 20m at B.
- Go large and turn up the centre line at A
- Change the rein
- Circle 20m at E.
- Repeat and repeat and repeat!
Your rhythm affects your horse’s balance. Ride through the exercise and count strides so you hear it. Count one-two-three-four – if it becomes onetwo—three-four you know you need to do something. If all is well sit still and enjoy doing nothing. (Something many riders find hard to do …)
Classic moments in this exercise where your horse may start to get long, lose rhythm or lean are the turns onto or off the centre line and halfway round the circles. These are points that may warrant a quick half-halt to shorten him up and rebalance him BUT before you do make sure it’s not because you’re dropping your hands and allowing your reins to slip longer (common on circles) or lifting your inside hand up (on turns). Think back to the wheelbarrow – drop your hand or lift one up and it will tip up or stop moving completely – so will your horse.
If all is going and feeling well then sit still. When you start to relax so will your horse. This allows you to feel when things start to go wrong far quicker. That is the time to use a half-halt. When he’s relaxed – and you’re not bombarding him with aids – all you’ll need to do is tighten your body for a stride. (Think back to the wheelbarrow) By using both legs at this point you’ll encourage him to step further under his body with his hind legs and he’ll be lighter on your reins because he has less weight on his shoulders.
Half-halts are often thought of as a rein aid but use your body and your legs and you’ll keep your horse soft in his back. Close your fingers around both reins – not one – and you’ll keep the pressure in his mouth even without tension. This means his body will push up behind his shoulders and stay straight. Use one rein and he’ll swing his quarters to one side and be crooked. Crooked horses lose rhythm and balance.
This is a great exercise for horses of any level. It’s ideal for young horses and novice riders. If you need something a bit more taxing try adding a 10m circle at both ends of the centre line – or even at X. For advanced horses – ride shoulder-in to E/B, circle and then shoulder-in from E/B to the corner. (It’s surprisingly difficult to ride a 20m circle on an advanced horse! Don’t take the easy option of riding a 6m.) Whatever you do make sure you focus on riding forward – not checking back – and you’ll find your horse stays far more relaxed.
Half-halts can be useful but there are a lot of other things to consider as well. As with all schooling your horse’s job is to do what you ask but it’s your job to make it easy to understand. Doing less is the hardest aid of all.
Good luck and enjoy your schooling.