Joyce Swanson’s Training Map – Introduction to Halt and Half Halt

Review: The outside rein is the only rein a rider can effect a half-halt with to manipulate the hindquarters of the horse. This very powerful aid sinks the hindquarters into the ground which is indispensable for collection and lateral work. It is an elastic band that can create torque as the rider’s outside hand softly curls around it to secure it. The rider’s upper body should rock back slightly and grow tall in the saddle to drive the horse forward from behind and mimic his horse’s improved posture.

The outside rein harvests impulsion by monitoring forwardness and cadence created by the driving aids. Please don’t think of it as simply a push-pull equation. There is much more feel and finesse required. That is why understanding this powerful tool and using it correctly is a journey. We have covered the first prerequisites for correctness: accuracy, straightness, shaping your horse’s body correctly with legs and seat and understanding the very different roles of the inside and outside reins.

A functional half halt originates in a well executed halt. At this juncture we graduate from guiding aids to mildly collecting aids. We have discovered how to maintain a connection with the outside rein by virtue of our ability to maintain straightness and suppleness while coaxing the horse forward and slightly laterally with the inside leg to the outside rein. As always, we recognize at once our horse’s stunning aptitudes and fears.   How a rider invites a horse into a halt speaks volumes about their understanding of horse sense. UNDERSTANDING is the foundation of my training pyramid.

Developing horse sense is the most significant undertaking for a horse trainer. You must consider yourself a trainer even if you are not a designated professional, because you are influencing your horse during every interaction with him…positively or negatively.   The obvious place to start is respecting that your horse is a prey animal that resists the advance of anything remotely predatory. His survival depends his ability to flee from a predator. Your approach should constantly be filled with empathy to sense whether he literally feels safe in your hands.   Relaxation is the best barometer and you are obligated to cultivate it every stride. Never create more impulsion than your horse’s acceptance of the bridle.


To halt a horse properly requires all the physical prerequisites mentioned in the previous articles: balance and straightness with attention to creating the correct shape of your horse’s body one hundred percent of the time to afford a connection with the outside rein. Sounds like a tall order, but with practice, coordination of your aids will improve.

When initiating a proper halt, your first consideration should be what comes naturally to your horse

  • Horses are innately claustrophobic because they must have freedom to flee from a predator or to roam to the next source of food and water.
  • A prey animal knows a passing predator with a full belly poses no threat and will continue to graze. He can certainly detect any predatory intent from the person on his back. Humans are omnivores who embody both prey and predatory characteristics. You must be particularly attentive to the ambiance between you and your horse. Forceful training tactics will never go unnoticed or forgotten. The fight you avoid is worth more than the one you win. Never be confrontational. Is your horse confident that you are leading him to a safe place as you invite him to the confinement of a halt?
  • In order to travel to nourishment horses must conserve energy and generally seek peace. A common challenge is to keep your horse forward approaching a halt. A halt is a forward movement. At no time is the horse traveling backward. Don’t rein back. The hands are only to receive or give.
  • Prey animals must get it right the first time unlike a predator that will live to hunt another day. They are very tuned in to their environment.   They learn by repetition and come to anticipate and rely on predictable outcomes. This propels them to the top of the intelligence scale where we are sometimes left behind. Because humans are hopeful, they sometimes expect a different or better outcome as a consequence of the same application of aids. Our stream of consciousness is considerably more cluttered than a horse. To a horse that relies on profoundly instinctual survival tools, a handler that is only 98% consistent is 100% inconsistent to him.

With this understanding of what your horse brings to the table, you are ready to suggest that the confinement of your horse on the aids in a halt is a soft, safe peaceful place. Start by encouraging a very relaxed walk with a regular tempo with a relaxed seat and calm breathing. Lead your horse onto a medium sized circle to better connect with the inside leg and outside rein. Gently slow the walk by closing your fingers of your outside hand gently into your palm while carrying your relaxed arm back toward your outside hip two to three times. This is similar to squeezing water out of a sponge or milking the rein. Release this pressure every time you succeed in shortening the length of stride of the front legs. The release will send a message that you are not trying to inhibit the forwardness of the hindquarters. Repeat this sequence until you feel the horse attached to your seat with a more collected, slower, purposeful walk underneath you for a few strides. As your horse accepts this confinement for longer periods of time, he will come to rest underneath himself and in hand with your legs close to his sides. Only ask him to remain still for a couple of seconds before you initiate the walk again.

This exercise typically takes a few circles on a green horse. As you gain his trust and understanding it will only take a few strides to direct him to a halt. Any time he resists, most likely from anxiety caused by the confinement, return to the relaxed walk and try again. If your horse engages the reins too strongly and/or comes above the bit, wait with the same neutral contact until he figures out he will be more comfortable when he softens and drops his head. I call this self correction as opposed to forcing submission. Even if he continues to resist, just maintain the forwardness of the walk and wait with a neutral contact. A neutral contact is best achieved with hands that are held level and widely apart. Embrace the indications he is thinking like ears that swing in different directions. This is a tremendous opportunity for valuable thinking time that promotes understanding. You are literally teaching him how to learn and problem solve. He will never forget his own solutions. Once you have succeeded, change direction and start from the beginning. Eventually ask for the halt on a straight line approaching a corner. Then ask for a halt after completing the corner. The Introductory Level tests focus on the skill sets presented in this article.

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The test of your success will be that your horse will stretch nicely at the free walk because the halt has raised his back when he stepped deeper underneath himself and you diffused anxiety with soft patient hands. The sequence of aids approaching the halt is the half halt!

Next we will use half halts to improve your horse’s balance to prepare for soft resistance free transitions.


Authored by Joyce Swanson | Copyright © 2014 – Reproduction is strictly prohibited without written permission


One Response to “Joyce Swanson’s Training Map – Introduction to Halt and Half Halt

  • Karen Johns
    4 years ago

    Very well written article so that all can understand the process.