What Is That Elusive Half Halt, what do I use it for and how do I get my horse to do a Half Halt?

The American Driving Society explains the Half Halt like this:

The half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the aids, (voice, whip, and hands of the driver), with the   object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the   execution of several movements or transitions to lesser and higher paces. In shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s hind quarters the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are facilitated for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.

The half-halt performs many functions: rebalancing, asking for attention, adjusting tempo (use outside rein for this), setting up for a transition between gaits, setting up for a movement, figure, or change of direction, increasing the horse’s core strength, asking for greater self-carriage and engagement, just to name a few.

Mary Twelveponies, in her book “Everyday Training Backyard Dressage”, shows how in the Disney movie “Miracle of the White Stallions”,  that during the exhibition for Patton, when Podhajsky comes down the center line in the canter and starts a canter pirouette, his use of the Half Halt puts his horse back together and he finishes the movement beautifully.

When you are riding a horse you also have your seat and legs with which to help communicate the Half Halt to your horse.

For drivers, we communicate the Half Halt to our horse by slightly squeezing both reins or one rein to get him first to listen to us.  Then again signaling him to  shorten his stride.  Once he shortens the stride, then slightly release the rein so he knows that you want him to stay where you have put him. Now you want to tell him to engage his hind quarters by using his lower legs. 

When driving, this is done by a slight tap on the inside with your whip.  You need to tap him where your leg would normally be squeezing him if you were riding.  If you also ride your horse in ridden dressage, than this will come easier to your horse.  If you over tap, then you run the risk of his back dropping and his head coming up, whereby losing the self-carriage that you are trying for.  It is actually easier for your horse to do a Half Halt and get into self-carriage while being driven, because he does not need to compensate for the weight of the rider when he raises his back.

The Half Halt is the tool that drivers use to help set up their horse for the movement that they want them to do.  This tool helps the horse’s balance, rhythm and harmony while you are driving him.  Yes, it is hardly visible to the non-horse person when done properly.

When teaching your horse the Half Halt you will first start as with all things with your horse at the walk.  If your horse cannot do it at the walk, then he won’t be able to do it at the trot or canter.

To execute the Half Halt while the horse is at a walk and on the bit, the driver will squeeze with their pinky finger just until he feels the horse check, and before the horse wants to slow, the driver then releases and urges the horse forward with his whip.  This results in the horse coming into better self-carriage.

The Half Halt can be asked for with both reins or with just one. One rein is used if the horse becomes overambitious, whereby you would use the outside rein, which is your speed rein.

If you want your horse to move to the left or right slightly, then you would use the rein opposite of the direction that you want to go.  This Half Halt has to be timed just as the inside back foot leaves the ground.  The result is the foot when it is set down will be under the center of the horses body, thereby moving him over a few inches.

When you are driving and ask for a Half Halt, have a word that you always use with the Half Halt, and soon all you will have to do is say the word. 
With my horses, I use the word “and”.

  •           A Half Halt helps rebalance your horse.
  •           Use your pinky finger and your word, then your whip on the horses side.
  •           Remember to release your pinky when your horse responds.
  •           Watch for your horses hind legs to become more engaged.
  •           Horse will develop self-carriage.
  •           Make sure your horse is always on the bit.

Teaching the Half Halt is a process that will take time.  If you have never used a Half Halt, you need to do short training periods, as your horse will get tired and possibly confused.  Once he has it at the walk, then you can progress to the trot and then canter.  You will notice that your horse will become more muscular as he learn to carry himself in a balanced manner.

As my final note, using Half Halts when coming down the center line to stop, will produce a smoother and squarer halt.  We all know that this is the last thing the judge will see at the end of your dressage test.  Leaving a good last impression is always a good thing!