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

Posted by mikeschaffer in dressage.
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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.


When I orginally posted this I stated  “none of the other rules which define movements and exercises have the aid defined in the rule.”  I was wrong.  The rule on the Halt does include a description of the aid for performing a proper halt, and there are other references to riders allowing the horse to extend his neck in other movements.

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