JUNE 1998 BACK ISSUE
Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 6/5/98; 2:00:00PM.
Training Strategies: Half Halts - Part Two
By Leslie Vilhauer
Last month, half halts were described in their basic form. To review, a half halt is an aid the rider uses with her body to prepare her horse for a change in movement. The rider pushes down and forward with her seat as if she is sitting on a swing while maintaining contact with her legs and hands. The leg contact is maintained even when making a downward transition from the walk to the halt or the trot to a walk.
When the horse is responding to half halts from the rider, he will require less pressure from the bit to slow down or stop. But half halts aren't just used to change from one gait to another. They are used to gain the horses attention, get his weight onto his hindquarters and lighten his forehand.
For example, assuming you've already mastered half halts at the walk and trot in your transitions, try this exercise. Trot , half halt, and walk 3 or 4 steps. Then trot again for about 50 feet, half halt, and walk again. Do this 3 to 5 times and then the next time, only come close to walking but don't actually walk. Squeeze with your legs just before he wants to walk and then trot on. It will feel like a pause in the trot. It's okay if he snuck a walk stride in there; this is new to him but he'll learn soon. If you have an arena, this exercise is easy to do on a serpentine the width of the arena with large loops. The half halts would be ridden as the horse crosses the centerline of the arena, just before he changes his bend toward the new direction. If your horse responds a few times, pat him and go do something else. If you repeatedly ask for 20 or 30 minutes, your horse will think he's not getting it right and will get frustrated and stop trying.
The goal of the half halt is to compress the horse's body, making him ready for the next movement. To illustrate, imagine a toy slinky. If it's just lying there all stretched out it has no potential energy. But if you push the springs together, it has the ability to leap forward. This is how you want the horse's body to compress. Two ultimate examples would be a rope horse in the box, waiting for the chute to open, and a jumper coiling to jump a fence. Other uses for the half halt and resulting collection would be when a reiner is about to changes leads, when a barrel horse is approaching a barrel and is preparing to turn, when an equitation horse is preparing for that perfect canter depart, or when a trail horse is picking his way down a hill.
To test your half halts, ask your horse for a transition that he already knows how to do, such as a trot to canter, but this time half halt first. You may not feel your horse obviously respond to the half halt, but you might feel that the actual transition into the canter was smoother than ever before. Even better, you may feel the response to the half halt, but someone watching may not be able to see it. This is the point where you become a rider, where teamwork is established, and a partnership develops that makes it all worthwhile. This is where the horse whispering begins.