When does a halt become more than just stopping? When a rider begins to get intentional about it… I would love to help you begin to see the halt in a completely different light when working with your horse. You see, I believe that if you become a little more intentional and focused on this movement that you complete every single day you are with your horse, it truly can begin to change everything for you in your riding…
So many riders have fallen into the trap of seeing the halt as being just that; a stop. It is so much more; it is a movement that, when worked on with your horse, has the power to really move the conversation forward.
This is true whether you are on the ground, perhaps leading to and from the field, or leading your horse to the mounting block. It is also true if you are doing the real actual, and intentional, groundwork. And, I am also a little in love with the halt and how it can help your lunging… Both of which set the course for a good quality halt when riding.
Halt as a Movement
Begin to see each halt you do with you your horse as a potential schooling exercise or school movement, allows you to see it in a new light. What if halt wasn’t just ‘the end’ or ‘a stop’? What if halt was given as much, or to begin with, even more attention to detail than other school movements. Things like transitions into the canter. Or the quality of bends and turns.
Each time you work with your horse there is only one ‘final stop’. The one at the very end of the session. All of the halts that come before that one are actually part of the session. Each one is a movement in and of itself.
Directing the same attention and focus on each halt becomes easier when you see it this way. It will allow you to really begin to assess each halt movement and then work towards improving the next.
A ‘Good Quality’ Halt
All halts are not created equal! Not by a long shot! A horse who has either fallen into or been dragged into a halt looks very different than a horse who has ‘stepped into’ a halt. The difference is so apparent that even non-horsey people can see it. I have a past episode & blog post HERE where I go into all the details about what an Engaged Halt is.
Imagine you’re watching a horse and rider in the walk. You notice how the horse is carrying himself. He seems both engaged and connected. All of these concepts are often thought of as being physical, and they are. However, they are also mental and emotional. He looks graceful, elegant, and present in the moment as he moves his body.
As his rider subtly asks for the halt, you notice how the horse responds. He then steps into the halt, his front feet coming to a standstill beside each other, and his back feet doing the same, underneath his body.
What is important to notice here is that the energy that was present in the walk, just before the halt, is still inside of the container that makes up horse and rider. Both the self-carriage and the ‘forwardness’ of thought are still there, in both of them. There is an engagement.
And when the rider then, subtly, asks the horse to step out of the halt, that same energy is then used to make that transition a great one. The horse simply goes from ‘thinking forward’ to actually moving forward.
And a Not So Great One…
Now, in your head, imagine a second horse and rider working together in the same arena. You can see that they are going to halt beside the first pair. Immediately you can see that the walk itself is not ‘great’! It’s more of a shuffle than a walk. There is a lack of contact, a lack of engagement, and a lack of effort!
You notice the rider, slouched in the saddle, reins swinging like washing lines. Their legs ‘dangling’… And as the rider asks for the halt, they literally drag the horse to a stop.
The rider leans back, burrows their seat into the saddle, hauls on the reins, slumps to one side, and has their feet somewhere by their horse’s shoulders… You immediately see how the horse responds by hollowing his back, sticks his head into the air a little as he hauls back on the bit. It looks more like a tug of war (or wills) than a halt!
When the horse has finally stopped, standing beside the first horse and rider that you imagined, the differences are so obvious. The second horse has his legs and feet everywhere. His nose sticking out, his back is hollow, and he seems completely uninterested in what is going on. The rider is pretty much the same. You can just tell that to get them going again, back into the walk, is going to take quite a bit of effort!
Which One Is ‘Better’?!
Obviously, I am using to complete opposite ends of a spectrum in this example, however, I hope that by seeing them side by side in your mind’s eye, you can grasp the differences between them.
A good quality halt is worth working on and can only help both you and your horse’s training and development going forward.
So, all that being said, there are 3 opportunities where you can begin working on your halt with your horse. While you might not get to do all each day, you will definitely get to focus on at least one of these the next time you visit your horse…
Halt on the Ground
The next time you are with your horse, count how many halts you ask for BEFORE you ever mount up. If your horse is in a paddock or field, there are probably quite a few before you get him to the area you groom and tack up in. And then there will be a few more on your way to the arena or mounting block. I have a blog post and Daily Strides Podcast Episode HERE you can use to begin working on this.
If you focused on assessing each halt you ask for. And then worked on improving each subsequent halt movement, you will probably find 10 or more opportunities to develop your horse. And all this before you even mount up.
Can you imagine the positive impact this would have on your ride. How ‘tuned in’ you and horse will be before you ever put a foot in the stirrup? Imagine the difference it will make to your aids and how you use them? And to the overall rhythm of the conversation in general?
Halt on the Lunge
Okay, I am a little holy about halting correctly while on the lunge. Correctly being that your horse remains on the track and does not turn in to you. Many people cannot see the benefits of this, however, they are there – and they are plentiful!
When your horse halts on the track, without turning in to face you, the halt becomes a movement. Something that you can work at stepping into and stepping out of.
It allows you to continue the flow of energy; and this is important because a good halt ‘contains’ the energy, rather than letting it fall out or dissipate. If your horse is in the habit of turning into face you when you ask for a halt on the lunge, I strongly suggest working towards retraining him to rather halt on the track. It will help your training so much going forward.
Halt when Riding
I truly believe that if you get intentional with each halt on the ground, it can only positively impact your halt when riding. Halt when riding has the added influence of you, the rider, in how things play out… Your weight, posture, position, aids, thoughts, straightness, suppleness, self carriage, and so much more, all play a big part in what happens when you then ask for a halt.
I recommend starting with yourself. All the things that you want for your horse inside of the halt must first be modeled by you. Straightness, self-carriage, engagement, symmetry, focus, responsiveness, patience, to name a few.
When you can honestly say that you are doing the best you can do with regards to your role in the halt, you can then begin to look at how you can positively influence your horse. And that is where the training and the work begins.
Keep the vision in mind of the horse who has ‘stepped into the halt’, standing side by side with the horse who fell into or was dragged into the halt. Use this to help guide you in making this movement something that can have a positive impact on your whole ride.
More to Help You With This Topic…
- A Square Halt on the Ground
- An Engaged Halt
- Your Half Halt on the Ground with Your Horse
- Online coaching and audio horse riding lessons for equestrians
- Groundwork for Riding
- 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