Tack n' Talk

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Archive for March 30, 2011

Building a Better Equine Athlete (4)

The  Half-Halt

In our previous lessons, we started making our horses a little more supple and responsive by bending, steering and turning.  Believe it or not,  by doing these exercises, we have been preparing ourselves for half-halts.  But before we go any further, let’s look into what  the half-halt actually is.

A Half-Halt is an attention grabber, the small adjustment that says “h e l l o” to your horse. Not only is it a powerful tool that  improves whatever your horse is currently doing, but more importantly alerts him to a change that will be coming up.  It is also an energizing action that gets your horse to use his hind end and step under his body with more power and sharpness.  It is NEVER an isolated, out-of-the-blue yank of your horse’s mouth.   Simply put, a half-halt is an outside rein aid, made by squeezing your outside shoulder back to create a slightly stronger pressure or feel on the bit.  Not only does this pressure raise your horse’s outside shoulder, but it also makes his outside fore   p a u s e a moment in his forward movement.  It is this pause, in combination with a squeeze and push of your seat and leg, that encourages your horse’s inside hind to step farther, more powerfully underneath him to engage. A half-halt will help your horse move the best he possibly can with much more suspension.

We constantly hear our instructors say that we need to drive our horse’s hind end up to his front end and never, ever  ride your horse front to back.  While this is  true, but if your horse is on the forehand and if you don’t do anything to elevate his shoulders enough to make room for his hind legs to step underneath himself, you can kick him until the cows come home, you’ll just make him more on his forehand and strung out!

Your horse must always answer your aids.  The time has come to get that directive across to him once and for all…when you push or put your leg on, something has to happen and it has to happen NOW…not one, two or three strides from now, but now! You want to be able to close your leg and have your horse immediately respond forward all the time.

So, the half-halt is a wake up call to the horse that something different is coming up.  But, what exactly does the half-halt need…it needs inside flexion!  In the previous exercise, it was described how the inside flexion balances your horse a little more onto his outside shoulder.  This balance also lets you half-halt against that flexion allowing for this aid to move up over his poll and neck to his shoulder. This is important…if the horse isn’t flexed, the half-halt is just another jerk on your horse’s mouth, not going anywhere dying a quick, ineffective death.   Timing the half-halt simply means giving this aid when it is going to have the most positive  impact.  The most impact of the half-halt comes when your horse’s feet are coming up off the ground and beginning their forward movement and the least effective time is when the feet are heading towards the ground.  So, it is important to practice the timing:  the when, where and how you give the half-halt.

To learn the how of the half-halt, take up an energetic walk, tracking right.   Sit tall in the saddle, making sure your weight is evenly distributed over both your seat bones, allowing your elbows to drop down relaxed by your sides.  First flex your horse’s jaw to the inside by rotating your right knuckles towards your left hip, then squeeze your outside left shoulder back and a little down.  Do not stiffen or arch your lower back, but simply squeeze your outside shoulder back and down.  That’s all the required motion of the half-halt…but feel how it pulls your elbow and had back to increase more pressure on your horse’s mouth.  Feel how that shoulder movement makes you sink into the saddle deeper pushing your inside seat bone forward and down for a definite inside leg to outside rein feel.  Within the half-halt, your seat and legs say go and your hands say stop.  An important thing to remember is that you can never push or pull at the same time with equal pressure, so for an upward transition, the force in your seat and leg (push) is stronger than the half-halt in your shoulder (pull).  A downward transition, the half-halt is stronger in your shoulder (pull)  than your seat and leg (push).

Also remember that there is no single strength for the half-halt. So as you perform the “how” of the half-halt at the correctly timed execution, the when and your horse does not respond, you will have to turn up the volume higher on the next execution.  Remember in our previous exercise, we explained volume.  If increasing this volume doesn’t work, you’ll need to be very loud in your next half-halt execution to a three quarter’s halt by bringing him down to almost a complete halt, but not quite, until he understands exactly what you want.   When he does respond, remember to turn down the volume of your next half-halt only raising the volume when it is needed.

Try to incorporate the half-halt into absolutely everything you do with your horse in every gait.  Every time you ask your horse to move forward, give him a downward half-halt transition.  Do the half-halt often.  Be patient.  Learning to half-halt correctly and teaching your horse to respond to the half-halt does not happen quickly, it takes time.  As your horse becomes more tuned-in to your aids, you will be able to make these aids by being very subtle and if there will be anyone watching you go through your movements, no one will see you execute the half-halt.  Remember that half-halts are a very powerful effective aid that produces amazing results.

Good luck, Larissa.