Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 01:23 PM
Many riders struggle with the concept of a half-halt because it is very elusive and hard to grasp. Many explanations try to break the idea into pieces explaining that rider must use leg, seat, rein sequence which still sounds vague. Many riders end up simply pulling on a rein by bending their wrists or leaning backwards and then releasing too much which creates an unpleasant jerky contact for a horse. I would like to elaborate on a few principles that are at work during riding which may help you better understand the idea of a half-halt.
The first thing I want you to understand that rider does not really sit on a horse in a sense of sitting like in a chair with legs relaxed and the balance of body given up to it. Sitting on a horse resembles much more the sitting on a Physio ball. If you ever sat on one you know very well how you cannot simply relax on a Physio ball. The ball will start rolling and you most likely fall. You have to stay toned, feet must stay flat on a ground and muscles in your legs, core and back are slightly engaged to keep you in control. This is exactly what rider must do while sitting on a horse. The faster horse moves the more rider must be toned to keep his/her balance and match the movements of the horse.
Now while you are sitting on a ball check that:
  • your back is neutral,
  • you are vertical and square in your upper body
  • both of your feet are flat and symmetrically positioned to the left and right sides of the ball
  • your seatbones and hips feel level
Position your arms like you are holding the reins - upper arm hangs down vertically, elbow bent and hands are in front of you. Ask someone to kneel in front of you, take your hands and try to pull you forward off the ball. The pull should be steady and strong enough that you need to resist it. While resisting the pull you must not change your position or the ball's. You do not let your elbows advance, your wrist bend, your upper body lean forward or backwards, your feet move. Sit like that and feel where your body is working to keep you in place. The places you will be familiar with are your arms and shoulders, may be your back. The other places to check are your core, your leg muscles, especially, thighs muscles, ALL of them and your lats muscles
The most likely scenario you will react to the pull in a similar way you are reacting on a horse when you want him to slow down. Pay particular attention to tendencies like:
  • pushing your feet too much into the floor so the ball rolls backwards
  • stiffening and straightening your knees which will make the ball to roll backwards
  • leaning backwards
  • tightening up your wrists and shoulders, trying to resist the weight of the pull just with your arms
  • changing your back alignment by rounding or arching it
  • holding your breath
You may want to practice the exercise regularly and if your helper is willing to work with you ask him/her to pull and release without any particular rhythm so you can develop a sense of quiet readiness without becoming stiff. While your partner pulls and releases without telling you when you sit on the ball appear motionless at all either during pull or during release.
When you get a hang of it on a ball try it on a horse: practice walk - halt transitions applying this principle and becoming completely still to ask for the halt and prepare to resist the pull on the reins until your horse halts completely. If you feel that your reins are longer than necessary and your horse does not feel you stop giving with the hand instead of pulling backwards lift your hands slightly up by bending the elbows. Do not let elbows to advance forward.
Half-halt is as name implies just an unfinished halt. This principle works for all downward transitions and other situations when a half-halt is required. Because you do not let your horse fall out of position or pace and you catch them when they try half-halts happen automatically on many occasions. It is an ongoing balancing act and a constant game of opposing forces that try to pull apart you and your horse. When you start to understand this game riding will become much more interesting and will make much more sense :)
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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