My friend who is riding Third Level tells me she makes a half halt every stride in the canter. Should I be doing that with my horse?
BILL—Two questions arise before I answer. What does she mean by a half halt? And for what purpose is she making them? I don’t mean to be glib with my first question, but the term really does mean very different things to different people. I think you would find some French School adherents who think of every half halt as a titanic (and often painful) disruption to the horse usually including a grunt from one or both of the parties involved. [Ed. note: It doesn’t!] Half halts (which never mean simply a hand action) may be made along a spectrum of strengths. The watchword “As little as possible, as much as is necessary” applies. At its most sublime the horse is so attuned to the rider’s body language that he exactly follows his rider’s rhythms. Those orchestrated rhythms could be thought of as half halts, and if so, it’s fine to be making them all the time.
Most likely the person whose words spawned this topic was referring to something more obvious. Then we have to ask what was she feeling and what was she trying to accomplish? Half halts generally have two functions—to regain either the horse’s attention or his balance. If either of those elements is lacking, then half halts are prescribed. The only thing I would quibble with is that the goal of making half halts is to get reactions which make it unnecessary to keep making them.
If you make a successful half halt, there should be some carryover. In the beginning it may not last long—a stride or two—and then you have to make another one. But if you are continually making one over and over, chances are they are unsuccessful ones—they are not going “through.” This leads to a variety of sub questions: Is your horse in front of the leg? Does he have to become more supple first? Is there a problem with your timing?
If your horse expects you to rebalance him every stride, you may be inadvertently inviting him to develop a dependency. If you don’t yet have the feel to determine when he needs one, try a preplanned, rote solution: Make one two strides out of three, then every other stride, then two out of five, two out of seven… whatever. The point is to see what happens during those strides when you are not micromanaging. Are you teaching him to carry on, i.e.: carry himself? How will you know if you don’t give him a chance to show you? Remember, if he truly is in self-carriage, by definition you should not need to make a half halt every stride. Your mutual reward to one another is that you proceed in harmony with no need to interfere.