Training the horse to halt is obviously important. Once you decide that you are preparing the halt for athletic or competitive purposes, it needs to be square. This looks simple when someone else can achieve it, but how can you become successful at this with your own horse? First things first; a square halt is related to balance. A true test of a balanced horse is that they will automatically want to stop squarely balanced over all four legs. I always start on the ground, holding the reins and walking next to the horse, I count four slow steps at walk. “one, two, three, four..and halt”. I continue this slow coordinated walk until the horse anticipates the halt. They will prepare their body for the proper balance. If the horse pushes on the bit, I ask for a few steps of back, then forward again. I do not use the whip to “set up” the legs. Resorting to the whip does not always work, and it can create tension and nervousness associated with the halt.
Once you and your horse have mastered a calm, relaxed, square halt from walk on the ground, you can then walk next to the horse as they slowly jog and use the same very slow step and counting technique. This takes time, patience and repetition, but do not overdo the lesson, causing boredom and resentment. Sometimes the horse is not strong enough behind to stop square. Here are some exercises you can do to slowly strengthen the horse for halt.
- Ride two steps shoulder in to a halt. This strengthens the inside hind leg. Remember when training halt, it is about balance so the steps need to be slow and concentrated at the beginning.
- Spiral in and out on a circle to halt.
- Use the counting exercise under saddle and as you begin to reach “four” change your body position upward and clench your stomach muscles slightly. The dialogue will allow your horse to prepare and coordinate their body for the halt. Gently close your hands on the reins and slowly release your fingers as the horse halts. Use your legs and thighs as a corridor for straightness.
The square halt helps horses that are strong on the bit, are inattentive to the rider’s communication, and is a prerequisite for correct collection. As the horse gains balance, control, and straightness, the halt becomes easily square.
Avoid these mistakes:
- Do not drive and then slam the brakes on. This is a false halt which is created by the horse leaning on the bit and using the front legs to brake instead of balancing over all four.
- Keep an even contact on both reins to avoid crooked halts.
- Please do not use a harsher bit to teach the halt. Again, this does not attain the correctness of balance control.
- Placing the legs with a whip will not result in athletic coordination.
Have fun, be patient, and give lots of praise, as this is a demanding exercise physically and intellectually for your horse.