To help guide you to a deeper relationship with your horse.


The Half-Halt – a horse and rider’s best friend
by Chris Forte

Does your horse stumble or buck when you initiate a walk, trot, or canter transition? If so, learning to utilize the half-halt may be the solution. It’s the half-halt that allows all mobile creatures to make smooth transitions. Half-halts are easy to learn as they are as natural as walking itself. Horses and humans perform half-halts through-out their day. Most people simply do not know what half-halts are, and are barely aware that they are making them.

A half-halt is what we do when we head for the front door and ponder, mid-step, whether we left the keys on the dining table. It is that split-second when the body becomes poised to either turn toward the dining table or continue to the car. The half-halt is an unconscious, spontaneous, total-body rebalancing reaction that prepares us to move in a different direction or at a different speed.

Horses also perform half-halts to prepare for changes in movement. For instance, while walking in the pasture they may hear a dog bark. They automatically half-halt to rebalance so they can break into a canter, change direction to find safety, or continue their stroll. When we watch horses at play, it’s those small half-halts that keep them moving fluidly without stumbling and losing their balance.

Horses are usually asked to continue in a particular gait until told other-wise. Unless we communicate a half-halt to ask our horses to collect themselves and prepare for movement changes, they will have difficulty rearranging their balance for new activities. Our task is to explain to our horses what a half-halt is so we can rebalance and prepare for the next movement simultaneously.

I explain the half-halt to my horse while he is on the lead-rope walking beside me. I teach him to be attentive to my voice, my body language, energy level, and breath. First, I synchronize my steps with his front feet. If you observe us from the front we are matching feet like musicians in a marching band.

I initiate the half-halt by counting the last three strides before each transition. If I am walking on the left-side of my horse as our left feet touch the ground I say, loud enough for my horse to hear me, “One.” Each time our right feet touches ground I say “an’.” When our left feet touch the ground again I say “Two,” and so on. It goes like this: “One – an’ – Two – an’– Three – AND.” I pronounce “AND” very clearly and a little louder than the other words. The “AND” is the half-halt!

I adjust the tone and energy of the word “AND” depending upon what movement will follow. If the “And” comes before a transition to a less energetic gait or to a halt, I drop my energy and the tone of my voice when I pronounce the “D.” If I am transitioning to a more energetic movement, I become more energetic and raise the tone of the “D.”

My body language changes, too, when I say “AND.” I draw myself up tall and balanced and inhale, drawing my sternum up as air fills my chest. Then I announce the next movement. At first, it is, “W-H-O-A.” As I ask my horse to halt, I exhale and allow my body to totally relax, become heavy and I come to a complete stand-still.

As my horse slows I say “Good” and when he stops, I say, “Nice” and give him a little slice of carrot or apple. After a few tries, my horse will halt even before I say, “AND.” So, I change the game and adjust my voice and energy level accordingly. After “AND” I might say, “Walk on” or “Trot” and reward him when he moves with me.

We practice exactly the same way when I am mounted. I count the last three strides, “One – an’ – Two – an’– Three – AND.” While saying “AND” I draw my body up straight and balanced as I inhale. I hold but do not pull on the reins. As I exhale, I ask for the next movement with my voice and other aids.

If you teach your horse to half-halt with you, soon all you will have to do is hold your reins, sit up, and inhale and your horse will rebalance and be ready to perform his very best for you.

Chris Forte is the owner of the Equine Behavioral Health Resource Center. This article was first printed in the Equestrian Connection: the Pacific Horse Advertiser, November, 2012.


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