By Andrew Stennett
I know from our pupils and students that the term ‘half halt’ conjures up all kinds of confusion! So what exactly is this mysterious riding term? Essentially, it is the ability to shorten one stride of the horse’s gait, be it in walk, trot or canter, and is a very useful skill to acquire for riders in all disciplines. It can slow you down, re-balance you, prepare you for your next move in dressage, and set you up for the right stride when jumping. Here are some tips you may find useful:
Starting from scratch:
With either a new combination or a young or inexperienced horse, begin with halting in an arena at a certain letter, and ensure that your body is in line with that letter. You need to be able to do this to perfection each and every time it is asked for, wherever and whenever you please. As you ask for halt, you should slightly ‘grow taller’ with your upper body, using body language to explain your instructions to the horse. Once this move is well established, you can use the same technique, but as the horse responds to your commands by coming back and listening, keep your lower leg on to support, so that you actually maintain the walk. Continue the education until you can do this at will, on either rein and at whichever place in the arena you choose, whether it be on or off the track.
Repeat the same exercise in trot, asking for walk for a half stride, then pushing back up into trot. Eventually you will be able to merely slow the trot and not drop back into walk. Once this is established, you are ready to repeat the task in canter. If well trained enough, your horse should respond just from your upper body aids.
When training in an arena use your half halt before a turn, circle or change of rein, to help re-balance and set up your horse for a new movement. This will improve your chances of smoother, well controlled actions. Practise your half halt between two poles on the ground with at least five or six trot or canter strides between them. Use it also before a series of trotting poles, again to set him up and make him use himself to the best of his ability. Some horses will benefit most from half halts on the turn before the exercise, and others on the straight line approach – there is no right or wrong way; use trial and error as to what works the best for your combination.
The half halt is invaluable in a showjumping or cross country event, as it is vital to get the right take off point before a jump. Should your horse be a little too enthusiastic, this skill can be applied either on the turn before a fence, or if you have a long run up, on the straight setting him up properly for his jumping effort. Should he land on his forehand, use your half halt to re-balance him.
Horses tend to get a little quicker towards the end of a dressage test or a jumping event, and this is where the half halt becomes invaluable, to help maintain a level head, for both horse and rider.
Andrew Stennett is a registered instructor, NVQ/UKCC Assessor & Verifier. He is a Qualified Teacher of further Education specialising in Equestrian Learning and Development, and is a British Equestrian Federation Elite Recreational Coach. Andrew is a fan of Derriere Equestrian products, telling us they make a big difference to his riding. “Derrieres enabled me to get back riding in comfort after a break, and they are helping me compete at the same level as in my youth,” he says.
When you’re training and perfecting your half halts, the Derriere Equestrian Treviso Training breeches are great breeches to consider. They’re designed to promote optimal comfort and performance and work in harmony with the Derriere undergarments, ensuring all fabric surfaces come together in a symbiosis that completely eliminates chaffing, abrasions and discomfort!
Andrew offers group and private lessons from his base at Grove House Stables in Misterton, Nottinghamshire, as well as Covid-safe clinics and competitive events. Visit www.grovehousestables.co.uk. The team hosts BHS Pony Stars Junior Challenge Awards throughout the year, helping under 12s to discover, develop and nurture their love for ponies and the outdoors. “It ignites a passion for ponies, builds knowledge and cements friendships that will last a lifetime,” Andrew says. Visit Facebook for info.
The Derriere Equestrian range can viewed online at www.derriereequestrian.com