Think about the last time you were with your horse. How many times did you ask him to halt while working with him on the ground? Before you mounted up? Was it 4? Maybe 10? And what about after you dismounted?
When interacting and working with our horses, so much of it happens on the ground. Beside your horse. Here is how you can begin using this in a way that will help you when you do mount up in the saddle.
All conversations with your horse start and end on the ground. Before you mount up and when you dismount after each ride. So it makes sense to use this daily interaction to intentionally help your riding.
What is a Good Quality Halt?
It is a halt that holds or contains the energy inside of it. I know, that seems a little abstract, however, imagine this… There are 2 horses halted side by side. One is carrying himself, looking as regal and exquisite as he possibly can and all in a focused, alert, and yet calm manner. He is literally ready to move forward to the next thing, while still happy to remain in the halt.
The other horse is ‘chillin’ like a villain’… It looks like someone dragged him into a halt! Long. Strung out. Half asleep or even asleep! Legs everywhere. His back looks like one of those rope bridges, except this bridge extends from ears to tail. Long and loopy… Can you see the difference in your mind?
The halt that contains energy and is forward-thinking, even when stationary in the halt is the better quality halt. This horse is ready to move out of the halt.
Okay, now I want you to begin thinking about your horse and how he halts when you are leading him. Does he resemble Horse A or Horse B? This is where you can begin working on the ground, and in doing so, actually working on improving what’s happening during the actual ride as well.
Getting Clear on What you Want to Make Happen
The first part of beginning to improve your halt on the ground is to get clear on what you want to happen. Both of the above examples are technically halting. The horse is stopped and standing stationary. However, they are also completely different. Clarity about what is acceptable and what’s not is the beginning.
A good place to begin is requiring that your horse be ‘square in front’ in each halt.
Basically, this means that his two front feet will be in line with each other when he is standing still. An easier way to describe this is to first understand what completely ‘square’ is. To do this I want you to imagine a rectangle marked out on the ground. When your horse is halted square, each of his hooves will be in a corner of this rectangle.
Square in front is when his front two hooves are correctly placed in the front corners of your imaginary rectangle for your horse.
I think is a really ‘do-able’ goal for a single session when working on the ground with your horse. It is simple to make happen and easily understood by your horse. It also translates really well across to your riding.
Understand What Aids You Are Using
So many riders never think of their aids for this movement. I think this is due to this being a movement we do with our horses every single day when we are with them. And when we do something all the time, we tend to put those things on ‘autopilot’. Which is great. Except, you need to revisit and update autopilot regularly! This is something I help you to do regularly inside of Connection.
The less thought that goes into a movement, the fewer aids we tend to use to make that happen!
This is why, when asking a horse to halt while leading him, most riders overly rely on their hand aids. They pull or lean on the horse’s head, mouth, or nose (depending on what they are leading with) in order to get the horse to stop.
Your hands are an important aid when leading and asking for the halt, but they should be part of a whole group of aids, which will include your thoughts, your voice, your body language, your position, and your seat (core) to name a few.
A lot… I know. And this is where you get to really begin refining your aids and your conversation with your horse. By beginning to use more subtle aids, you can literally create a better quality halt, with minimum effort.
Once You In the Halt…
Okay, so assuming you have now halted your horse, I want you to rate the halt out of 5. 5, in this case, is an absolutely perfect example of what a halt should look like and 0 representing ‘he fell into it’! By being honest with yourself about where you and your horse are right now, you have created a place to begin working from. So be honest 😉
Are your horse’s front feet ‘square’? If so, you can then begin working on squaring the back hooves. Or perhaps working on straightness through the halt itself. Many horses have a tendency to ‘crunch’ into the halt, which results in a hoof stepping out to the side.
Falling out or falling in is also a thing to watch for when moving in and out of the halt.
Your Work Begins; Refining…
If your horse’s front feet are not square, note where they are. When you ask your horse to walk forward again and then repeat the halt, I want you to think about your aids and how you can begin to be clearer about where you want him to put his feet. For example, if his right front foot has stepped more forward, perhaps you can use the right rein a little more to emphasize a boundary there. Or if his right front foot has not ‘closed’ the halt, you could use your voice to encourage him to do so with a click.
Refining, in this case, is noticing and then tweaking your aids. The aids themselves, the timing, pressure, sequence, release.
When you are looking to improve your horse’s way of going, the first step is to improve the communication coming from you. Have more clarity about what you want. Be clear about how you ask. And then assess each response and give feedback to your horse.
Then simply rinse and repeat. As I said, this can be worked on every single day. And once you have mastered this on the ground, use the same technique to begin working on this from the saddle as well.
Additional Resources on this Topic:-
- Your Half Halt on the Ground with Your Horse
- An Engaged Halt
- Online coaching and audio horse riding lessons for equestrians
- Groundwork for Riding
- FREE Weeks Riding Plan
- Online community for equestrians working on their mindset & fitness
- Online Community for equestrians focusing on re-schooling horses (and ex-racehorses)
- The Daily Strides Podcast on iTunes
- The Daily Strides Podcast on Stitcher Radio