Half-Halts Everyone Can Understand (No, Really)

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No one can give us the skinny on how to do an honest-to-goodness half-halt like motivational speaker and dressage rider Jane Savoie. She gets that this integral part of, well, basically EVERY riding activity, can be difficult to understand and tough to put into practice in a way that it actually (really and truly) works.

Here’s Savoie’s no-fuss guide to understanding half-halts, from her bestselling book DRESSAGE 101:

Let’s break down the half-halt—or if you prefer, the “half-go”—into its parts. The half-halt itself is the combination of the driving aids (both legs and seat), the outside rein, and the bending aids (both legs and the inside rein), maintained for about three seconds.

During those three seconds, close both legs and push with your seat as if asking for that 100-percent, wholeheartedly forward response that you practiced when you put the horse in front of the leg. This is the “go” part of your half-go. But, instead of allowing the horse to go more forward as you did then, receive and contain this energy almost immediately by closing your outside hand in a fist. This becomes the rein of opposition. Make sure you feel the energy surge forward into the rein just before you actually close this outside hand.

By using your driving aids a fraction of a second before you use your rein aids, you ride your horse from back to front. This is your goal no matter what type of riding you do, because it’s the only way you can honestly connect your horse and make him more athletic and obedient. If you’re preoccupied with creating an artificial “headset” by fiddling with your hands, you’ll be riding your horse from front to back, and you’ll never truly be in charge. Remember, she who controls the hind legs—the “engine”—controls the horse. Always ride from back to front by directing the power from the hind legs forward into your hands.

To the naked eye, it will appear that you use all of these aids simultaneously. However, freeze-frame photography should show you using your driving aids first, then closing your outside hand, and finally, if necessary, vibrating your inside rein to keep the horse straight. (Remember, “straight” means straight on a line and bent along the arc on a curve.)

It is absolutely necessary for you to send your horse forward with your driving aids a fraction of a second before you close your outside hand. If you close your outside hand before you use your driving aids (or even exactly at the same time, for that matter), it’s like picking up the telephone before it rings—no one is there!

To help you imagine this concept, think about a balloon. Your driving aids blow up the balloon, and closing your outside hand in a fist puts the knot at the end of it to keep it full of air. So, to give a good half-halt, use your seat and legs first, and then close your outside hand, just as you’d inflate a balloon first and then tie the knot.

Quick Reference: The Aids for a Half-Halt (on a Circle to the Left)

Seat: Stretch up and use your seat in a driving way, as if pushing the back of the saddle toward the front of the saddle. Be sure to stay sitting in a vertical position when you push with your seat. Leaning behind the vertical can cause the horse to stiffen or hollow his back, and his head and neck will probably go up in the air as well.

Legs: Close your legs steadily, as if squeezing toothpaste out of a tube.

Outside rein (right rein): Close your hand in a fist.

Inside rein (left rein): Vibrate, if necessary, to keep the horse’s neck straight.

The aids are applied almost simultaneously, but basically they should be thought of in this order:

1  Driving aids first to create energy.

2  Outside rein second to contain energy.

3  Inside rein third, if necessary, to keep the neck straight.

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Apply these aids for about three seconds by increasing the pressure of your legs and reins so it is slightly more than the maintenance pressure you have when your legs are softly draped around your horse’s sides and your hands have a firm but gentle feel of his mouth. After you give the half-halt, relax. This relaxing—the finish of the aid—is as important as the aid itself, because it is the horse’s reward. When you relax, let your legs rest lightly on your horse’s sides again, keep correct contact with his mouth, and continue riding your circle.

For more of Jane Savoie’s terrific teaching, check out DRESSAGE 101 from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com), where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE to order now

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and DVDs, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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