HEY RAY! I’ve ridden over 20 years under several trainers, and they all have used a term that I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know—a “half-halt”. What is this, and how do we apply it? —Anonymous rider, San Diego, Calif
DEAR A.R.: Your situation is a lot more common than you think. You would be surprised how many riders have conﬁded in me that exact same question over the years. This is a topic that I actually like to explain and talk about. Once you have the right visual, it’s a very helpful and eﬀective tool in helping with balance and self carriage.
When we think of the word halt, the picture we usually see is immobility or “freeze.” The purpose of halting is to bring all movement to a complete stop. A half-halt is exactly the opposite of a halt, but it is not a half-hearted halt or kind of halt. The halfhalt has a very speciﬁc purpose—to possibly stop, if necessary as an adjustment, with the intention of continuing to move forward.
Now, why would anybody feel the need to stop if they want to go forward? The best way I can explain it is like this: Imagine yourself climbing up a ladder 30 feet into the air, looking to walk across a tight rope in a safe manner. The concept seems pretty simple and straightforward. Simply stay balanced over the rope and walk until you get to the other end. A lot easier said than done.
Being able to ride a horse straight while collected and in balance is very much like walking a tight rope. The basic rule is you either progress on the tight rope or you stop on the tight rope, but you never come oﬀ the tight rope. If you were walking the tight rope and began to lose your balance, anything and everything you did in order to get back in balance in order to continue down that path you could label a half-halt if you were on a horse.
In fact, a great way of riding your horse correctly in balance is to imagine that you are actually riding your horse high up in the air on a tight rope without a net. The moment you feel your horse losing his balance because he wants to step oﬀ that line, you would aid or support your horse with your hands through the reins or your legs in order to help him back into self carriage.
This would be no different than helping your child walk a tight rope 12 inches oﬀ the ground while lightly holding one of their hands as they negotiated the challenge. If your child began to lose her balance, you would feel weight on your hand as a crutch for support. That would be the time to make whatever adjustment was necessary to get her back in balance and oﬀ your hand. That help or adjustment would be your halfhalt. When riding, you will experience that same need for support from your horse the moment he gets out of balance. That is the moment that you need to support, rebalance and guide forward before coming oﬀ that line we are trying to follow.
Sometimes all that may be needed is a small degree of collection, or maybe a left or right leg for support until your horse is back in balance. Other times, you might have to completely back up your horse because he might be running through your hands altogether. So, it’s very important that your horse be on the aids correctly so that you’re most subtle halt-halt may be helpful and eﬀective. A timely adjustment can make the diﬀerence between a graceful movement and a clumsy disaster.
Think about the adjustments you would make when readjusting your own balance while on the tight rope and apply it to your horse. That visual will help you with your timing and feel when half-halting.
Remember to trust your instincts and think safe,
Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com.