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What is a Half-Halt, and How is it Used?

By: Galadriel Billington

3:17PM Apr 11, 2004

A half-halt is used to get a horse's attention, and to ask him to balance. You use a half-halt when you are about to ask the horse to do something: to go from a trot to a canter, to make a turn, speed up or slow down without changing gaits, or most anything.

The half-halt itself is not a request for a change of pace or direction. When you half-halt, you should not slow down, speed up, or make a transition; you keep going at the same gait and same pace you were going before. You just want the horse to be listening for you to ask him to speed up, slow down, transition, etc. Similarly, you don't want the horse to start to bend or weave around or wiggle in place. You want him to keep moving steadily forward just as he was doing, with his weight shifted a bit to his haunches to prepare for your signal.

half halt How do you give a signal that asks the horse to just keep going, but to listen up? What you do is this: you ask him to slow, and to go, at the same time. Keeping contact on the reins, you squeeze your seat to ask him to slow down, and you squeeze your calves to ask him to move forward. In a "half-halt," you use all the signals you would use if you were asking the horse to whoa, but you stop asking before he slows down--"halfway" to the halt.

The amount of rein, seat, and leg you use will vary from horse to horse. Some horses will need more leg than seat, for example, and some horses may need you to squeeze the rein a little instead of just keeping the same contact. It shouldn't be hard to "feel" how a horse is responding, and adjust your signals.
square arena Using the Half-Halt: An Example

In this example, you will enter the arena at a trot (blue), go straight, halt (green), trot forward again (blue), turn left at the far end of the arena, turn left at the corner, and make a circle (red) when you reach the middle of the arena. you will be giving many signals to the horse, asking for changes; before each transition or turn you should half-halt to ask for balance and attentiveness.
square arena enter half halt After you enter the arena, you will half-halt (purple) about two strides before the center of the arena. Then you ask for the halt.
square arena trot From the halt, you will trot on. About two strides before you reach the far end of the arena, you will half-halt (purple) to let the horse know that you are about to ask for something. This will also balance him and get him physically ready for the turn. After the half-halt, you will begin to signal for the turn.

Along the arena rail, you will do the same thing: half-halt (purple) about two strides from the corner, in order to balance him and get him ready. Then you will begin to signal for the turn.
square arena circle After the corner, you will proceed along the rail at a steady trot until about two strides from the center. Again, you half-halt (purple) to prepare the horse for a new signal. After the half-halt, you begin to ask for the bend for the circle.

In the circle, in order to keep the horse moving steadily and nicely bent, you may need to half-halt occasionally. This will keep him attentive to you, and well-balanced in his turn.

Use the half-halt, a gentle stop-and-go aid, when you are about to ask your horse to change what he is doing. He'll be alert for the change, he'll be ready, and you will find that your ride is more smooth and steady.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.