Half-halt: holding vs locking

Posted on July 9, 2015 by Jerrilee.
Categories: equipment, riding, therapy, training.


La Guerneiere showing “holding seat” and its effect on the horse.

The dressage seat includes a riding position called the ‘half-halt’. It is a posture that briefly corrects the horse’s motion for the purpose of re-balancing. If the horse’s balance isn’t monitored and corrected by the rider with these half-halts then the center of gravity for both horse and rider shifts from the center of the horse toward its forehand, and this gravitational shift cancels the horse’s ability to perform the dressage exercises.

Many horse riders assume that holding their seat in the saddle for the half-halt means they must push their seat against the back of the saddle, rather than sitting up straight. Unfortunately, when the hip joint locks into a fixed position it actually results in resisting any forward motion of the horse.  Whether  the body leans forward over the withers of the horse, or leans backward toward the cantle, if the hip and spine lock into an inflexible holding position, then this rigidness stops any fluid, graceful movement of the horse. The effect is a disruption of even the smoothest strides. The purpose of the half-halt is to enhance the strides. Therefore a seat that doesn’t lock the hip joint but instead simply positions itself, (as we do when walking), this type of hip position will steady and control the balance. This is the same way hikers hold their balance when walking  downhill. Their body positions itself over the hip joint but not to block and lock, only to hold the body upright from falling forward. This is the type of hip connection that follows the motion of the horse and encourages gracefulness. (see photo above) The effect of this type of seat is that it allows the shoulders and withers of the horse to open up and stretch out, bringing greater freedom to the stride, more cadence in the step. Observers notice immediately how the horse stands taller and strides out more majestically.

If you try sitting upwards in the saddle through posture,through straightening at the belt-line, you will find the balance you need.  A belt-line that sags forward or slumps backward against the saddle establishes an incorrect position, shifting the shoulders in front of the hips, creating a heavy drag against the horse’s movement. This only makes the work harder for the horse, robbing them of the sweeping strides they so easily show when running free out in the pasture. It is through the rider’s correct posture that the untrained horse can discover a more elegant and relaxed stride. Correct posture results in a half-halt that skillfully maintains the horse’s center of gravity. This way the rider is in a better position to help regulate each stride for maximum or minimum movement. The horse’s dressage exercises improve steadily, developing strides through relaxation rather than  laziness, amplitude without disunited steps, and a comfortable head position without overflexing.

In this way our seat becomes a guiding tool, either indicating which way to turn, or just sitting quietly without any need for a half-halt but simply allowing the horse a moment of self-carriage and self-expression.  For the rider, these are moments of  pure joy.  The horse lifts and dances with you in the saddle simply because the quality of your seat enticed him to do so.