‘Halting’ is a term used to describe bringing a horse to a stop. Learning to stop a horse is the first step in becoming a great rider! This technique will help you to develop a bond with your horse and is reasonably easy for beginners to learn. This does rely, however, on your relationship with your horse having a strong basis of confidence and understanding.
Stopping occurs in three phases which involve interacting with the horse through the use of your body, riding equipment, and even voice commands.
In a dressage test, a halt must be carried out at least once. Asking a horse to stand still will disturb its innate instinct of flight. When you command the horse to stop, the horse must think ahead and must come to feel comfortable and balanced. It is essential to gain the horse’s complete confidence by showing it that nothing bad will happen if it halts.
What is a good halt?
In an ideal halt, the horse should be straight and square. Each leg should bear the same weight equally so that the horse can stand up straight.
If the stop is unbalanced, the horse can tip on its forehand and drop its poll when it stops, or it may throw its head back against the touch and fail to stop square. The horse should remain calm and comfortable while waiting for the next orders from its trainer. When asked to move away, it should then step forward.
Halting is usually the very first technique taught when learning to ride.
How to practice halts
Gaining trust is an important part of halting. There are many goals to fulfil when perfecting halts, such as making them square, straight, and still. It is important not to confuse horses with multiple, conflicting exercises. Concentrate on one goal at a time and wait for a lesson to be understood by your horse before introducing anything new.
Patience is also very important. Perfecting a halt is a slow process that can take years of preparation. Balance, straightness, squareness, and self-carriage develop over time as a result of proper dressage training.
The whip should never be used as a punishment. Instead, it should be used to improve the sensitivity of forward driving aids. Using the whip during a halt will cause stress to your horse and result in a loss of trust.
It is also important not to halt a horse when it is feeling afraid, as doing so can result in the horse developing a fear of stopping.
Good timing is the key to achieving a successful stop, and practice is the only way to perfect this. If you overdo this, however, your horse may grow to hate halting! Practice a few times a week, including 10 or fewer interruptions in each session.
Avoid stopping at high speeds as this is rough on the horse’s legs, and can also trigger a change in the horse’s attitude towards the technique. Instead of this, “downshift” in phases. If you are in an extended canter, for instance, transition to a medium canter, then collect the canter before stopping.
Stages of halt
When your horse feels balanced, comfortable, and attentive, this is a great time to start practising halts! If, however, your horse does not seem prepared, try an easier transition. For example, instead of halting from a canter, try a transition from canter-trot or canter-walk. This will strengthen the horse’s equilibrium and reactivity to your instructions and will prepare it for halting in the future.
Regardless of speed, it is important to integrate a transition so that the horse is ready to stop. If you close the reins and fail to control your legs, the horse will lose engagement when it stops. The stop will then become unbalanced, and the horse will not be square.
Support your horse by performing two or three shorter, more collected trots or walking steps before you halt. This will force the horse’s hind legs underneath it, helping it keep its balance. Give your horse a simple half-halt and halt. Be careful not to ride to a halt too abruptly, as this will unbalance your horse.
Maximise the quality of your horse’s gait by riding it from back to front, using your legs and the reins. Teaching the horse to be more responsive to rein aids is essential; in order to do so, practice trot work transitions and half halts. It will take several exercise sessions before the horse learns to move forward in response to pressure from your leg. It is also important throughout your work to think about increasing the “RPMS” of your horse rather than “MPH”. After working on all of these things, you can then teach the horse to halt.
As a second step, practice half halts. These help to rebalance the horse by teaching it to carry its weight on its hindquarters. These also improve the horse’s self-carriage power. To begin, you must sit straight on the horse. Use your rein aid to signal to the horse. Lengthen your legs slightly then tighten your back muscles to create resistance. When the horse shows signs of stopping, signal to it to keep moving forward. In order to do this, you can use verbal commands until the horse becomes more used to this technique.
Next, try to carry out a full halt. In a good halt, your horse should stop immediately from a trot without taking any further steps. In the early stages of training, your horse may not be able to do this but as training progresses, you will be able to direct the horse to take fewer steps before eventually completing the transition from trot to stop without walking.
If the horse executes a stop correctly, sit still and let the horse relax and rest. Loosen the reins and relax your shoulders. After a few moments, you can resume putting a little pressure on the horse via your legs and the reins.
When the horse has made a fine, square, straight stop and is obediently waiting for your next order, it is very important to reward it with a treat or with verbal praise. This will help the horse to remember this moment in a positive light and to strive to repeat it. When you are satisfied that you have rewarded your horse sufficiently, ask the horse to walk on.
If all this has been carried out properly, you should now be able to make a smooth transition from halt to walk. Not every halt you make will be perfect, but if you focus on making your aids consistent, your horse will continue trying to do the best it can.
What is collection?
Collection is a technique where the horse’s centre of gravity is moved backwards. Energy is guided in a more horizontal direction with less forward movement. This is a way to reinforce the top line of the horse, to add brilliance to its gait, and to boost its physical resilience.
Collection itself is a mixture of engaged hindquarters, a light forehand, raised withers, a shortened, rounded back, an arched jaw, and a gentle bridle.
Since horses naturally bear about 60 percent of their weight on the front of their legs, when we ask a horse to collect, this often means moving its centre of gravity backwards, raising its shoulders and lightening its front end.
A lifted, engaged back creates a lightened forehand, making it easier for the horse to spring into action and for its joints to withstand shock.
Achieving a successful collection takes a lot of work and it is important to practice in the correct manner. This can initially be physically exhausting for a horse as the technique differs from its usual way of moving. The horse must therefore build muscles which help support the required posture and action.
Why is collection important?
Collection is an important element of riding. If a rider wants to make more advanced movements or to jump, collection is essential. This helps the horse to walk athletically and comfortably. Not only this, but it helps avoid wear and tear to the horse’s legs. Through training, the horse learns to collect himself when asked to do so by the rider. If performed well, an observer will get the impression of a horse with great strength under perfect control.
In dressage assessments, collected gaits consist of walks, halts and trots. Collection is also an important aspect of jumping. Most horses will find it difficult to leap exceptionally high fences. Without the aid of collection, the horse cannot gather enough strength to jump over a high fence. Increased speed is not a replacement for a good collection. The horse must lift his forehand upwards on takeoff and gain adequate height to jump over the fence. Without performing a collection, the horse is likely to jump flat, without a tilt, and will be much more likely to pull a rail.
Collection provides many benefits, enhancing the balance of the horse, as well as improving its athleticism, responsiveness, and grace, making it a pleasure to watch and ride.
Loss of collection
Collection is an important gait, helping with riding and activities such as jumping. A horse who cannot collect may find it very difficult to smoothly shorten its stride and may be forced to reach too close or too far away from a hurdle.
To perform this correctly, strong engagement of the hindquarters and upward rounding of the back is required. Muscular-skeletal problems resulting in pain can often interfere with this functionality. In such cases, soreness to the back and lameness are major contributing factors to this problem.
The synchronisation of activities can be difficult for horses with neurological disorders and horses suffering from such problems may find collection difficult. A horse with low-grade abdominal pain (most often caused by gastric ulcers), or a horse whose general fitness is poor may also have difficulty with this technique.
Effective practice is essential. Without practice, it is impossible to achieve a perfect halt or good collection, but as with so many aspects of horse riding, you will usually find that your hard work pays off!