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Saying it right – The Half-Halt. December 26, 2008

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage.
Tags: , , , ,

I can’t imagine how dressage could be done without a half-halt.  It’s that important.  Yet, the current version of Dressage Rule 108, The Half-halt, is written terribly! For years the rule has been allowed to stand as though it was of no importance at all.   It’s as if the half-halt was just some esoteric after thought, a mere detail that is hauled out on rare occasion, or not, depending on some whim of style that faded in only rarely.  Let’s take a look at it:

DR108 The Half-Halt.

The half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the seat, the legs and the hand of the rider, with the object of increasing the attention and balance of the horse before the execution of several movements or transitions between gaits or paces. In shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches are facilitated for the benefit of the lightness of the forehand and the horse’s balance as a whole.

Admittedly, this version of the rule is very slightly better than the F.E.I. version, so I can’t say it couldn’t be said any worse — but it’s still just awful!  To begin, the very first sentence (of both versions), describes the aid for the half-halt as the half-halt.  That’s crazy!

The half-halt is an exercise the horse performs not something the rider does. This is why it’s in the section of rules that describe the movements of the horse.  It’s preceded by Dressage Rules 106 – The Reinback, 107 – Transitions, and followed by, rules 109 – Changes of Direction, and 110 – The Figures and the Exercises.  There’s no identity crisis in these rules — it’s the horse reining back that is the rein back, not the rider’s aid for the reinback.  It’s the horse performing the transition that is the transition, not the rider’s aid for the transition.   So, to say the half-halt is the aid for the half-halt is as crazy as saying the flying change is the rider sliding his new outside leg behind the girth!  (or whatever aid you prefer for a flying change).

Yes, it is preposterous to think that anyone would confuse the aid for a movement with the movement itself.   Except that most people have confused the aid for a half-halt as the half-halt.  Well, OK, I haven’t done an official survey, so let’s just say lots and lots of people, including many dressage  professionals, think a half-halt is just a squeeze of the rein.

Here is the problem with saying it this way.  If a half-halt is the aid for the half-halt, when a rider half-halts correctly, but the  horse doesn’t half-halt at all, whose half-halt is not fully half?   Wow – that’s a convoluted sentence! It’s a good match for the rule itself!  So, why not say things clearly?  The fact is, all the information to explain the half-halt is within the existing rule, it’s just not in the right order.  It can easily be restated without ambiguity:

The “half-halt” is a collecting exercise in which the  hind legs become more engaged,  shifting slightly more weight onto the horse’s quarters, lightening the forehand, and increasing attention.  The half-halt is used in preparation for changes of movement, transitions, and whenever improved balance is required.  The aid for the half-halt is a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated action of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

Well there you have it — simple, neat, clean.  All done.

Well, not quite.

The aids for all the other movements and exercises consist of “hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.”  It’s true! The aids for the flying change, half-pass, and even a simple turn to the left, to name just a few,  all consist of hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated actions of the rider’s seat, legs, and hands.

So why leave the aid for the half-halt in the rule at all?  In this case, the description of the aid should be left in to show a conscious decision to correct the previous misconception of the half-halt being the aid.  Yet another reason is  there should be as much emphasis as possible on the aids being hands, legs, and seat working in “a hardly visible, almost simultaneous, coordinated” manner.  It’s an important concept.



1. Lyndsey - December 29, 2008

I have to admit that I am one of those people that believed a half-halt was merely a tug on the rein, well, to be more accurate, a squeeze on the rein, however, I do believe that I was using it correctly for the most part, but my horse doesn’t always know how to respond to what i’m asking. He’s an off-track TB, i’ve had him for 5 years now and it seems our training has stagnated. he’s a great horse, very well mannered and quiet, with virtually no “temper-tantrums” now, but i want to develop more consistency with his self-carriage. the only way i can get him to carry himself nice and round and on the bit is to use a training fork, which i call “cheating.” without it, he becomes flat and sticks his nose up in the air. i try to ride without it often, and he will do pretty good for awhile, but then the nose goes up. What can I do to help encourage him to bring his nose down and his back up and get him into a more round frame. he seems so much more comfortable and confident when he is round. I also want to say, I love your website and all of your videos of Indeed’s training. It makes me want to go out and ride my horse whenever I see them.

mikeschaffer - December 30, 2008

Hi Lyndsey,

Welcome to the blog! The short answer is get my book, available on Amazon and do the ground work. Write back, let us know how it’s going. You might also think about getting me out to your area for a clinic.


2. Stephanie D - January 5, 2009

Hi Lindsey,
I understand your situation. Been there. It’s very frustrating. Mike’s ground work techniques helped my mare understand submission. Can’t get much else accomplished until they will submit to the bit. “Class–what should pressure on the bit tell the horse? Give” But that is only a part of the problem. When there is a problem with the head, you have to fix the rear end. If you teach your horse to respond to your leg aid by “stepping under” , the head will fix itself. That is the problem with the training fork…he can only keep his frame with a crutch because he hasn’t learned to use his back. They can look all round and pretty but still be hollow. I suggest Mike’s book and definetly if you can get some hands on with Mike-you’ll learn a lot and be on your way to continuing your training. Good Luck!

3. Pam - April 23, 2009

Hi Mike, The half halt is something I have been curious and confused about for quite a while now.

Finally someone has said it in a way that makes sense to me. Jane Savoie has recently mentioned on one of video reviews from her Dressage Mentor site this:
“The main difference between a professional rider and an amateur is that a professional rider rides from half halt to half halt while an amateur rides from movement to movement.”

Hearing it said this way made me realize that the layering of half halts is what upper level riders are doing that distingushes them from lower level riders.

I’m thinking if it helped me to hear it said that way it might also help someone else.


4. Hyperflexion/Rollkur/Blue tongue, Insanity! « The Dressage Process - December 5, 2009

[…] PS – it would also help a great deal if the FEI finally got around to correcting the “Half-halt” rule. […]

Bruce Peek - December 6, 2009

Don’t you think all of this confusion comes about because the dressage community forgets what Franz Maringer(sp) said yeras ago. Namely, that the load( the rider) cannot physically balance the support( the horse). Its the other way round- the Support, which is the horse must balance the laod- the rider. Thinking otherwise leads us to the strange proposition that the snow holds up the mountaintop, or that the weoght of the locomotive fixes the railroad tracks in place.

mikeschaffer - December 7, 2009

Hi Bruce, good to hear from you.

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