half halts - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 10-20-2009, 11:52 PM Thread Starter
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half halts

I have been riding for about 2 months now and I am taking lessons and ride 5-6 times per week. I understand what the half halt is for and for the most part when to use it (at least in my mind I do!) but I am not totally sure how to *do* the half halt. My horse is very well trained so I only need to aid him lightly and I try to use soft hands so I am a little afraid to bang his mouth and make him sour by trying to learn it on my own- next lesson isn't for a week since my trainer is out of town.

Any help is much appreciated. I have been getting a collected canter from him by spiralling in and out on a circle but would like to be able to canter the whole arena and would like to help him rebalance as he gets a little lazy and strung out when we do this.

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post #2 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 04:55 PM
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Half halts and collection are to riding horses as triple integrations and differential equations are to mathematics.
First we must learn addition, multiplication, graphical methods, common formulae and become familiar with calculus before we begin learning advanced concepts.
Addition is like proper equitation, multiplication is like knowing the three gaits and learning to ride quietly in them, graphical methods and common formulae are like learning different exercises and knowing when to apply them and becoming familiar with calculus is like having the feel of riding the horse.
Also like in mathematics, we cannot learn this all in two months! It takes years of development mentally (and in riding, physically) to learn these things.

As far as for "what is a half halt"?
A correct half halt will re balance the horse. In the beginning a half halt can be as exaggerated as a transition down gaits. As our horse progresses, and our feel becomes better a half halt is reduced to re adjusting your position very slightly. Many high level clinicians and coaches are constantly emphasizing that the best half halt is a correct and perfectly balanced position.

Good luck!

And btw - I would recommend a new coach who is more correct in his/her teachings. This will prevent you from having to re-learn everything years down the road!
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post #3 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 06:12 PM Thread Starter
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thanks for your reply anebel. I guess I wasn't really that clear, I meant I have been riding again, I rode for about a year 5 years ago, but just having fun on a 4th level dressage horse who let me play around and do what I wanted. My new horse is a hunter jumper and very well trained but I, obviously am not.

I guess my question really is how to rebalance him at the canter. I have been reading a lot about this (particularly Sally Swift's Centered Riding) and have come across quite a bit on half halts. After reading your post it sounds like maybe I should work on transitions for now? I don't know, I aced calculus but I'm not sure how to apply your advice... But I think you're saying don't get ahead of myself.

Also, I live in the middle of nowhere, I know my coach isn't world class but she's about all I've got and I have no aspirations to ever show horses, just to perform surgery on them and ride them for fun!
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post #4 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 07:34 PM
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Ok, yes I did misunderstand! When I had been riding for only two months I was more worried about posting diagonals than anything else so it seemed very odd that you would be working on such advanced concepts.

Centered riding is a very good book to be reading. A lot of the visualizations really help to develop an effective and correct seat, which is the first thing you need in a half halt.
I was just at a Symposium with Christoph Hess and he kept nailing home the fact that the most effective aid is a correct position! This is not a new concept. When you are balanced and your seat is centered and correct - this will help to rebalance your horse. It is a passive aid, like contact, like the breathing leg, etc..
As far as explaining an active half halt, it is basically like the passive half halt which is applied by a correct position every stride, but stronger. You are basically slowing down the front end, while scootching the hind end under, while doing this the horse must maintain the contact. This means that the most your hands are going to do is feel extremely slightly in the fingers to keep the mouth soft, as they would anyways. From there it is about your body position adjusting to give a more active driving leg aid and a more active stalling seat aid. Basically you want to close your body around the horse while silling up straight. The best way that I've found to think about this is to put your elbows to your hips, swing more through the hips in the saddle while sitting in hard and closing the leg. In order to really apply an effective half halt, you need to be coordinated and have enough feel to apply these aids in the right order in the span of about a stride. It is a very advanced concept and the best way to learn it is to feel it without overthinking about the application, which is why you very very rarely will hear an explanation of the half halt. It usually interferes with the learning process.
The best thing you can do is go out and guinea pig it if you don't have a coach that can explain it. My coach lives 4 hours away from me and I live by videotaping myself and critiquing it inbetween lessons, and then videotaping those lessons to compare.

Good luck!
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post #5 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 07:57 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, that helps a lot! I definitely overthink everything so I will try to do a little more riding and feeling tomorrow than thinking. Luckily my horse loves to spook in the indoor arena which has been the greatest thing to help me ride defensively and develop a MUCH more balanced seat. I may try video taping too, I like that idea a lot. Thanks Anebel!
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post #6 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 08:39 PM
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Ha ha. I first felt motivated to learn more about riding on contact as a result of a very spooky horse too! I'm starting to think everyone should ride nut jobs from time to time to raise the bar a bit.

As for half halts, I find that timing is as important as how to apply them. I wish I could think where I read it, maybe the artofriding.com, but anyway, one example is the trot. The ultimate goal of getting the horse more underneath himself is to halt the outside front leg. After the sitting tall, tucked pelvis and driving seat comes the pausing of the outside rein. If you do that last part, (the outside rein) while the horse's outside front leg is on the ground, he can't do a thing about it as far as responding. The half halt must be applied while it's in the air. I think they call the optimum point of the horse's stride the moment of engagement. Basically it's the only time that the horse can answer the question being asked. It's like asking a human to jump up in the air at the exact time he's coming back down from a previous jump. He simply can't do it. I'll try to find the article. It really provided some light bulb moments for me.
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post #7 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 10:26 PM
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Originally Posted by tealamutt View Post
Thanks, that helps a lot! I definitely overthink everything so I will try to do a little more riding and feeling tomorrow than thinking.
The biggest mistake most people do is overthink this concept.

Certainly it is very important to understand the concept but put the topic out on any dressage board and 20 pages later no one has agreed.

Just as an interesting side post to this topic I found the most detailed description (unfortunately way too descriptive) so debate what do you think of this description?

I feel sorry for any beginner trying to follow all of this........and the person that posted this said it is the basic description.

All half halts should start with the baby finger being the gentler "suggestion" half halt for inside flexion or as the maintenance half halt on either rein.
Keeping the fingers soft with a very supple wrist, one should "wiggle" or "gently and rapidly flutter" the baby finger only allowing the others to move with it but not forcing them into motion or holding them into the palm which will stiffen the wrists. The thumb should rest softly on the index finger with the tip over the large knuckle. The movement of this half halt is feather light and rapid. The legs and back coincide with the horses reaction or lack of with the back gently keeping a feel with the seat.

The active half halt for balance or transition preparation will be the little finger as well as the finger that is beside it. This is the "asking" half halt that will also employ a soft and very tiny motion with the wrist while the elbow stays very supple and soft leading into the shoulder.
The gentle wiggle or squeeze of these two fingers should be very light and not forced nor tense through the knuckle area. This outside rein will direct or balance the outside shoulder so it does not "fall out" during the execution of a movement.
The tips of the fingers should be light into the palm with the thumb the same as the maintaining half halt.
This half halt is used primarily by the outside hand while the inside hand does maintaining "fluttering" half halts to keep the inside flexion.
This half halt MUST be reinforced gently by the leg to ensure forwardness/impulsion, rythym or straightness with the inside leg working with the outside rein.
The back will work through the seat when asking for a transition or to encourage straightness or leg yeild as needed.
The outside leg will work to control the hindquaters in most instances.

The leading half halt that is active in your more advance movements which will require the use of the index finger with the other two, with the index finger at the curled naturally into the start of the heel of the hand. Again the outside half halt is the more commonly used when asking for a movement or maintaining the outside shoulder.
The movement being executed will dictate the actual degree of the finger movement from soft rapid flutters to millisecond holding of the half halt.
This half halt will employ the fingers with the wrist, elbows, and shoulders acting as "hinges" allowing the whole arm to softly work together with the back, seat and legs. The individual seatbones will work in unision with the required hand while the back maintains impulsion and the legs direct the horses body while executing a movement.

The "demanding" half halt is the squeezing of the sponge type of finger movement that has all the fingers working together with the wrist, elbows, shoulders, back, seat and legs.
This half halt, while stronger should still be executed with soft and supple hinges so that the rider does not stiffen unneccasarily and tighten the upper thigh which will restrict the effectiveness of the rider while bracing the lower back and stilling the natural movement of the riders' body.
It is used when the horse is unattentive to the the rider or resistant through the jawline, poll, neck or shoulder while being firmly reinforced by the seat and back.
The degree of half halt reinforced by the back/seat/legs will be dictated by the disobedience of the horse.

This is just a short covering of the half halt which does require more theory when advance movements are being done. This is a basic explanation for the Classical Dressage half halt and the degree of its' use and does not neccessarily cover the half halt when a double bridle is being used.
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post #8 of 9 Old 10-21-2009, 10:48 PM
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half halts are more of a sitting deep in your seat bones, and contracting your abdomen. putting pressure into the saddle, in a soft manner. the hand just give a little quick squeeze to enforce it. sometimes all that is necessary is the seat.
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post #9 of 9 Old 10-22-2009, 09:08 PM Thread Starter
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thanks for the help, we had a much better ride today. He was really balanced and rounding up and we even did a flying change (my first time, definitely not his). I think the not over-thinking helped. I also worked a lot on the Centered Riding visualizations while we warmed up. Funny what a horse can do when you just get out of his way!
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