How to Ride a Half-Halt

brett parbery dressage performance dressage training rider effectiveness Apr 26, 2022
How to ride a Half-Halt


SPOILER ALERT! The half halt is the true secret to dressage. You will use them millions and millions of times in training and dressage tests. So how do you even ride a half-halt?

If I say ‘half-halt’ to a rider, I’m often faced with a blank look somewhere between confusion and sheer terror. And it’s no wonder, it is confusing! Every coach has a different meaning associated with the term half-halt. Here’s how I teach it, ride it and use it.

Picture this… the horse and rider canter boldly up the centreline, everything is looking wonderful until they reach X and… SCREEECCHHHH!!! They slam into the halt. Way too often I see downward transitions like this, with no preparation, and the horse essentially falls down and forward into the transition. It’s such a shame as it’s so easy to train for fantastic, balanced downward transitions. It’s a matter of discipline and consistency.

Let me put it this way. If I was riding at home and I looked up to see my house was on fire, I would collect, collect, collect, then halt. Then I would call the fire brigade. OK I’m kidding but you get my point, this is how much value I place on training every single downward transition properly!

There are two parts to a downward transition; preparation, and the transition itself. The real key is in the preparation, you want to collect the original pace to the speed of the pace you want. For example, from trot to walk, you use a series of half halts to say ‘wait, collect the trot, wait’. You want to be able to trot at the speed of walk. Make the trot as small as you can, while keeping it active, balanced and in a rhythm.

Then the transition itself and the important thing here is that your transition aid is different to your half halt aid. Yep, read that bit again! Separating the preparation for the transition and the transition itself creates clarity in your training. Think about it from the horse’s perspective, how do they stay active and in front of your leg if they think a half halt is a downward transition?


How I teach half-halts


A half-halt is a waiting aid; it is used to put your horse’s feet back underneath you and enable the horse to re-gain or establish balance. Because of this, half-halts are the first point of call when you feel like your horse is running away, pulling or diving downwards on the reins.

It’s important to note that a half-halt should only be used on a horse that is going by itself, meaning that they are in front of the leg and travelling forward. After all, you can only ask a horse to wait if they are going forward, and you can only ask a horse that is waiting to go forward.


How I ride half-halts 


My half-halt aid sequence is:

  • A tightening of the shoulder blades 
  • A tightening of the core
  • Followed through by a squeeze of the reins. This step is only required if steps 1 and 2 gained no response
  • Relax the half-halt and enable the horse to move forward freely


How I use halt-halts


If you were to drive to the supermarket, by the time you arrived would you remember how many times you touched the brakes, how firmly and for how long each time? Chances are you can’t remember; you simply touched your brakes as many times as was necessary for the road and driving conditions.

Similarly, when you are riding, you should not try and measure the ‘appropriate’ number of half-halts, it is totally immeasurable!  The idea that there is a correct or incorrect number of half halts for any particular movement is a total myth! Half-halts are entirely dependent upon how the horse feels, and it is, therefore, impossible to predict the exact number of half-halts needed for a particular horse.





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