The Half Halt - by Dr. Thomas Ritter

From a general, theoretical point of view the half halt aims at improving the flexion of the hip and hock joints of the addressed hind leg. This increased flexion of the haunches can be used to achieve specific purposes:

  • Down transition from a higher gait into a lower gait
  • Down transition from a more extended gait to a more collected gait
  • Slowing down the tempo
  • Increasing the degree of collection
  • Improving or restoring the balance
  • Alerting the horse to a new demand.

The answer to the question of the general goal of a half halt also entails the answer to the question of the when and how of its application, because the rider’s aids can only accompany and support the horse’s natural footfall sequence by enhancing individual aspects of the gait. The half halt is a good example to illustrate this thought.

As long as a hind leg is on the ground in front of the vertical, it carries the weight of the horse and rider and flexes, depending on the elasticity of the gait and the training level, more or less in its hip and hock joints. The stifle opens at the same moment.

As soon as the hind leg passes the vertical, it ceases to carry and starts thrusting. The stifle joint flexes, while the hip and hock joints open.

The logical conclusion from these explanations is that an aid that is intended to flex the hip and hock joint more deeply can only be successful and go through when it is applied at a moment in which the hind leg is biomechanically able to fulfill the request, that is when the hind leg is on the ground in front of the vertical.

The hind leg that is behind the vertical is extending and will therefore always resist against a half halt. If the half halts are applied at the wrong moment, they can cause windpuffs and spavin in the long run.

One can see that the proper moment for a half halt is quite brief. As far as the technical details of its application are concerned, the half halt can be composed of several different elements that can be combined in many different shades.

  1. a pressure of the lateral or diagonal rein
  2. an increase of the muscle tone of the abdominal and back musculature
  3. an increased hug from the knees and thighs in order to anchor the half halt
  4. a slight pressure of the toes against the stirrup iron on the same side

It is especially important that the upper arm and elbow on the side where the rein aid is applied are well attached to the torso in order to establish a close connection between forehand and haunches, as well as among the aids. This way the rider’s body weight supports the rein pressure. The old masters would say that the rider borrows the weight of the horse’s head and neck and pushes it towards the haunches. The rein aid is translated into a weight aid with the help of the rider’s midsection.

It is equally important that the gluteal muscles remain relaxed. Otherwise, the horse will drop his back. After the application of the half halt the rider’s hand, wrist, and forearm must relax completely, so that the horse does not start bracing with his throat latch and lower jaw. After the half halt it is often helpful to animate the horse with a driving aid so that there is no loss of energy.

International clinician and author, Dr. Thomas Ritter, and his wife, Shana Ritter run a small, secluded classical dressage riding school. For more information, please visit:

Photo of Dr. Thomas Ritter riding the Lipizzan stallion Maestoso II Ambrosia.

Photocredit: Sara Stafford

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