Often we forget just how much information the simple halt transition gives us. It tells us whether or not the horse is engaged, it tells us if he is on the contact, if he is on the aids, if he is listening, if he is through the back with his weight on his hind quarters.
Furthermore, a halt followed by a reinback gives us even more information about the impulsion of the horse and the technique of the rider. So why then do we still see so many not square halts even in top level competition? Or, if by chance the halt is square why are the back legs not underneath the horses body?
A good halt is the fruit of correct training and for a halt to be well executed it requires both collection and a forward transition.
"The preliminary condition for a good halt is that the horse must be well collected,” said Nuno Oliveira. “We must halt the horse from back to front."
If the horse is on the forehand in the work he will halt on the forehand, i.e. with his hing legs out behind him. If the horse does not have enough impulsion into the halt the same will occur.
I wrote an article called “forward to the halt” that stated “Kyra Kyrkland says a "half-halt is a transition, a feeling, that she could have halted, but didn't"! The halt is the reverse and is a transition where you could have easily continued, but didn’t.” But beyond this it is actually that if the horse enters the halt with the correct impulsion and in correct balance, the horse will be ready to move in either direction off a light aid.
“The rule is that the horse keeps his impulsion in the halt. In this condition he is as ready to go backwards as to go forward. He is halted on the haunches, he holds his posture," Nuno Oliveira declared.
So how do we ride a good halt?
Firstly, it’s pointless trying to ride a good halt if your training is not correct. If your horse is hanging on the reins and you are hauling him around the arena. If the weight of the horse is to the front, if he is not engaged, if he is behind the vertical, or not in front of your leg. If, on the other hand, you do have all of these background elements in place, the halt will be as easy as the half halt, and as beautiful to watch, with no jerks or disconnection from either rider or horse. The horse will glide into the halt, hind legs underneath him, neck reaching for the contact, and be ready to move off in any direction at the lightest touch.
So how to begin testing the halt?
“Before halting verify that the horse is quiet and in good impulsion,” Oliveira gave as first tip. Do not attempt a halt transition if the horse is not soft and light on the contact, or if he is behind your leg. Riders who have this ready, then often still make the mistake of asking for the halt by holding or pulling back, either with hand, and/or body. The halt is a forward movement.
"The principle is to send the croup toward the head (by engaging the hind legs), and not to halt by the forehand," Nuno remarked. “We must do our best to halt the horse with the action of the torso. He must halt straight, in peace, without resistance, from back to front, being “in hand” and not open. At the halt we must not let the head raise. The horse must start again without becoming crooked and without the head lifting with regular walk steps.”
What is your aid for the halt? Do you add impulsion and ask with the torso for the horse to engage and stop from back to front or do you simply stop your seat and pull on the reins?
“To halt we push and don’t pull on the reins, but we oppose the waist which means that we prepare the halt by increasing impulsion,” said Oliveira. That way the horse halts ready, up on front, and with his weight to the back so that he may transition seamlessly into the next movement.
“If you halt the horse in lightness he is ready to move either forward or backwards," he added. If the halt tests the quality of the work proceeding it, the reinback tests the quality of the halt. “When the impulsion is sufficient for the halt the reinback will happen by itself. If you halt the horse in lightness, he is ready to reinback, don’t pull on the reins, no need for it.”
This means that simply by adding impulsion and using the torso and the position of the legs to ask the horse for the backward direction we can ask the horse to reinback without the use of the reins, showing that the horse is in lightness. To then prove that the horse kept his weight to the back throughout the reinback he will then be able to step forward into any gait, easily.
“The forward push after the reinback must be quicker than the pace of the reinback (which must be slow and deliberate). He must “leap” forward," said Oliveira.
The halt is one of our greatest tools of information. When you next watch a horse halt, ask yourself where the weight is and what happened to the contact. For a good halt the horse must be straight, so if you see a horse halt crooked, was he straight in the gait that proceeded it? Are his quarters always to one side, and that is exaggerated in the halt? If he comes off the bit and pulls his head into his chest is he really reaching for the contact in the rest of the work? If his nose drops down is he in self-carriage?
Ask these questions, and take information.
If you can come into the halt with a forward impulsion, without pulling on the reins, and with the horse maintaining the same posture, and using his hind legs to push into the halt. If he halts square, and straight, with his hind legs underneath him. If you can then reinback for the desired amount of steps (your desire not his), with straight even steps, slow and deliberate, and then leap forward into the gait that you required, well, then all I can say is, you are on your way.
by Sarah Warne