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What do you do when a horse ignores your half-halts?

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  • What do you do when a horse ignores your half-halts?

    Granted, I'm a relative newbie at dressage. But I thought I'd see if anyone has advice. Books and training advice tend to be written as if the horse has perfect behavior and will respond correctly if the rider uses the right aids. But what do you--personally--do if you're riding a hot, strong horse who wants to trottrottrot super fast (my trainer calls it his powerhouse trot) and totally blows off your half-halts?

    I'm having trouble here because when trainer gets on, he's good for her. When it's me, he blows me off. So she can't really "fix" the problem, since she doesn't have it when she rides. It's very frustrating to ride him when he's like this--I can't do anything with him.

  • #2
    Don't let the horse pick the speed----Halt the horse, then begin again. Supple the horse using figures, post slower, and get the horse listening by using leg yields. HH don't just magically appear, they take practice and timing. Use full transitions to assist you in learning the proper leg to hand ratio, then that becomes your HH when you give a lighter version of the "halt" aid....Think of it as rebalancing the horse rather then slowing.

    Transitions/HH are I think the hardest thing to learn (if you do them PROPERLY). Finesse the transition so the horse stays up in the shoulder---leg leg leg, don't halt if the horse is pulling/leaning or throwing a tantrum. If it takes 10 steps that is OK. Just push the horse back to the walk or trot and ask for the halt again. Use what you learned about your horse to make this the eventual HH.

    YOU need to have a plan, work the plan. Don't get mad, just keep asking. Make sure you are receiving the energy in your hands and seat, don't block the horse.

    Hope this helps!


    • #3
      I don't mean to sound flip, but fix YOUR half-halts.

      It's kind of unfair that this very basic required skill is so difficult to learn, but that's how it is.

      What's helped me with every horse I ride is to think of it as a "rebalancing" ... so, if I don't feel that rebalance, I do it again, a little stronger. And then a LOT stronger. Sometimes to a full halt.

      Then repeat as necessary, as light/minimally as possible, to help the horse understand that when you do *this* you expect *that* from him.

      If you're at all like me, one of the things that might be making half-halts more difficult for you is that you're waiting too long and losing the moment when it would be effective as a little "hello, with me, please" and you have to over-do the request to get attention.

      Don't wait until he's barreling on, instead of thinking of it as a correction, think of the half-halt as part of checking your connection with your horse, a "hello, with me?"

      That approach has helped me immensely. Hope it might help you.
      Last edited by AllWeatherGal; Aug. 1, 2011, 11:48 AM. Reason: posted before reading CU's advice, but I'm not her alter!


      • #4
        Do a lot of walk-trot-walk-trot transitions, a transition every few strides. Get the horse really listening to you all the time, instead of zoning out and barrelling around at the trot ignoring you.

        Try backing it down and practicing your half-halts at the walk until they become very effective. Walk and trot a square, keeping the horse straight. Focus on his listening skills in small bits instead of trotting around the ring and doing a half-halt, which invites the horse to ignore you.

        Keep your emotions out of it. If you start to get frustrated, put him on a loose rein and go for a walk. Take deep breaths and relax until you are ready to calmly start again. There is no place for frustration on top of a horse.


        • Original Poster

          Thank you for the helpful advice so far. I'm going out to ride right now. Hopefully it will go well! I'll try to remain calm and think about rebalancing...


          • #6
            I'm a smurf and a relative newbie, too, but... my mare used to do exactly what your horse does, and I learned that when she got quick it was usually because I was tense. So... first thing is when he gets tense, start talking to him. Have a word associated with "slow down" and your half-halt. My mare knows "easy" means "pay attention" which is what a good half-halt is all about anyway. The good thing about talking is that you have to breathe and that helps with tension. (I know that you can't talk in the competition ring, but worry about it later!) Also, if you're posting the trot, slow your post (my old trainer used to yell "half that post!" at us wayyyy down. It will feel very awkward but most horses will respond appropriately.

            As for the issue of "my trainer can do it but I can't" ... I struggle with that, too. OTOH, part of the reason I *have* a trainer is that she is a better rider than I am. Ask your trainer to show you a half-halt at the halt (sounds weird I know) and walk -- an exaggerated HH so you know exactly what is meant by a HH. (And keep in mind there are a lot of different HHs out there!)
            You have to have experiences to gain experience.

            1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


            • #7
              Good advice from all -- quietann's especially so under the circumstances.

              Do pay attention to your own state of tension. Are you one who tightens the buttocks when you ride, especially when asking for a HH or down transition? This often translates to tightness down the thighs and a sensitive horse will read it as a "go" signal, not a "whoa" signal.

              Keep your butt and thigh muscles relaxed and think instead about raising or lowering your pubic bone. This uses abdominal muscles, and once you and your
              horse get the hang of it, you can use that tiny shift as a very subtle HH. That's a ways down the road, though.

              Till then, you might have to reinforce your HH's by riding them into a high perimeter fence or wall till you and the horse get on the same page.

              The best advice by far is to ask your instructor to demonstrate the HH and really explain it in depth.


              • #8
                Instead of doing a HH do a full halt, and use legs to push horse forward into halt to make it square. Then make horse stand STILL - at first horse won't want to stand still longer than 1 second - but stretch it out. Horse will HATE this - cause that kind of horse uses speed as an evasion...making horse halt is pure torture for her/him. So use it to correct and keep asking for longer periods of immobility. Soon when you ask for halt horse will start to hit brakes, then you can soften elbows and continue on - VIOLA - Half Halt worked.

                But first you need to get a nice square immobile halt.
                Now in Kentucky


                • #9
                  Set him down a few times to let him know you MEAN it.
                  ... _. ._ .._. .._


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks all. Today was better. It helped that it's 88 degrees out, so he wasn't so into racing around anyway, LOL. I think one of my main issues is that I don't "enforce" the HHs... I do one, and if I get no response I do one more... or six more... and he ignores them all. Today I did a couple repetitions of HH... no response... HALT. Thank you. Trot off. HH. Response. Give with reins and "GOOD BOOOOY."

                    Do pay attention to your own state of tension. Are you one who tightens the buttocks when you ride, especially when asking for a HH or down transition? This often translates to tightness down the thighs and a sensitive horse will read it as a "go" signal, not a "whoa" signal.
                    Yes, I definitely do this. I absolutely squeeze my seat and thigh when I HH. I had a trainer who taught me to do it. Apparently I should not. I've tried to be more aware of my abs in general when riding, especially when half-halting or doing a downward transition, so maybe I should try replacing the seat-squeeze with an ab squeeze and see what I get.

                    Thanks for the discussion, guys, and thanks SO MUCH for keeping it positive and helpful! I was afraid I might get ripped apart.


                    • #11
                      Yes, long ago I either had a trainer who taught me to tighten my butt or I grossly misinterpreted her directions! I had to learn to relax my buttocks -- and it took constant self-reminding to do so. Having a relaxed bum made my gelding's sitting trot easier to sit and made cues from seat & weight more clear to both of us. It's the basketball example that I use often for students. If you're bouncing too much in the saddle, "deflate" your butt-basketball! A "flat basketball" won't bounce!

                      I now suggest that students learn to separate their muscle groups so they can employ the groups they want, when they want. It's part of the independent seat thing that we're all supposed (!) to master.

                      Ab-tightening & relaxing and bun-tightening & relaxing is something one can do while driving or sitting in front of the computer. Kegels are one more set of exercises that help the core & help feel separate muscle groups.


                      • #12
                        I'd suggest the two DVD set by Jane Savoie: The Half Halt Demystified

                        Really wonderful, clear explanations, and I think you'll find the way she explains things will help your riding overall.


                        • #13
                          I agree with those who say halt to reinforce your half halts, but do make sure you are not pulling when you are half halting. That will make your horse want to run through your aids every time.

                          I will temporarily open up an article I wrote on half halts for you. Hope it helps!


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                          • #14
                            It sounds like you have gotten a lot of really great advice. I just wanted to add that you should try not to get discouraged if it takes a bit for things to "click." I often see people on this forum talking about how "beauty stops when force begins" and while that it is true to some degree, you need obedience before you can start working your way up the "pyramid." My mare has that same power-house "if I move my legs fast enough I can get out of work" type of trot and she had more than her share of trot-halt transitions initially. The way I think about it is that you cannot "dance" with your horse if he is barreling along and "stepping on your toes." So either you can keep getting your toes smashed in the name of maintaining beauty or you can tell your horse to knock it off and redefine some boundaries. Once you have those boundaries you can go back and focus on harmony but not until your horse understands the basic parameters.


                            • #15
                              I think you're on to something ...don't get tense in worrying about them- that's a great way to tighten everyone's back then he can't hear your HH....I school HH with a purposeful exhale through my nostrils to engage my core- do it now, sitting at your desk, you'll feel your bellybutton press into your middle- there...from there and in that same moment I can slightly still my upper body to say hey HH buddy, and if I'm ignored 2 times in a row, here's comes H


                              • #16
                                I was having this EXACT SAME PROBLEM today on one of my trainer's horses. My problem was, I would try to transition downward and he would just lean on my hands and ignore me. It took me almost the whole entire lesson to fix, but I found that by closing my legs and riding much more from my seat and less from my hands, he listened a lot better. This was more of a problem with the transitions than with half halts but... they're kind of related.


                                • #17
                                  Hi I have this sometimes w/ my young horse. The first thing is to not pull - if you pull he will pull back and likely pick up speed. So if HE started pulling I would almost drop the support and give the reins and their goes his crutch (long as he isn't running away). When I first tried this horse my trainer said you will get on and he will pull and your instinct will be to pull back... just let go and he will slow down - he did (no i am finessing this more). OR I would be sure to give take give take the more he doesn't listen the more the give take or rather more weight in my hands but the give is very impt. I have started my rides w/ 4 steps of trot to walk. And sometimes trot halt. And btw - i found working on his teeth has helped too so make sure that isn't an issue. I use a thin bit now he has a small mouth 14mm. In any case he is really teaching me to be better w/ my hands.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    So I had a lesson this morning and at the halt I showed my trainer what I had been doing with my seat, and she was like "Ohhhhhh....Yeah, don't do that." LOL. She agreed that it should be more abdominal than seat, although the seat is involved as well. She said she makes her seat heavier when half-halting.

                                    I think I was actually driving him forward into my hand, causing him to lean and pull, and then I would pull back, and it was a vicious cycle. The thing is he's actually super sensitive--so when he feels like listening and when I ask correctly, he will respond to a very subtle aid. It's just a matter of getting those two factors to line up.


                                    • #19
                                      One thing to bear in mind: often when the horse is barreling off like that, the rider is either behind or in front of the motion. It takes a lot of work and strength to stay with the motion when the motion is that of a freight train. If you can find your balance point over his motion, and keep it, the HHs will have meaning and be far more effective. (and you probably won't need them as often) This is why the thought of rebalancing works so well. It makes the rider find the balance, the horse just follows suit.
                                      "Rock n' roll's not through, yeah, I'm sewing wings on this thing." --Destroyer


                                      • #20
                                        It sounds like you've learned something important for you to remember for the future. Something which most definitely applies to me on my sensitive horse: If you're getting a response and it's not the one you want, you're most likely asking wrong.

                                        Great news that you figured it out! I think a LOT of us have been taught to tighten our seats by someone. It's pretty common, and I'm glad you learned what works better. Just remember this next time you can't get something to work which works for your trainer.

                                        Sensitive horses can be GREAT teachers, if we just remember not to blame them for everything. The response to go forward was because you were asking for it, though you didn't realize it. Now, since you know how to half halt him effectively, remember it - and don't let him get away with ignoring it in the future. Now's when halting becomes a correction rather than confusion. (And remember not to tighten your seat to halt, either!)

                                        Good luck - it's a learning process, and even the best riders in the world still have things to learn, so don't feel bad that you're a peon like so many of us, who have so much to learn.
                                        If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.