Question of the Week: Halting on Course

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Q: My horse will not halt for more than a few seconds. This is especially irritating when we jump a course that calls for a halt. Even when I keep my body and aids steady, after a few second he starts to move. What can I do to stop this?

A: Since I spent several decades competing on many different types of horses in the hunter and jumper divisions, I sympathize with your problem. Halting on course—and remaining calm and steady—can be challenging for many horses. Because they’re locked in competition mode, abruptly halting mid-course makes them fidget because they’re anticipating the next jump. Yet that’s why halting on course is an appropriate test in handy hunter and upper level hunt seat equitation (medal) classes. You’re asked to demonstrate that your horse has good manners and that he responds to your aids. Fortunately, I have several suggestions you can practice at home with the help of your instructor.

First make sure you’re truly in control of your horse. The inability to hold a halt is often related to an overall lack of adjustability on course. Though you want your horse to approach every jump with confidence, he shouldn’t drag you around the course like a runaway train. To maintain a connection with your horse, occasionally collect his canter and purposely add a stride inside a line. You can also select a simple, single vertical and ride to some deep, yet safe, take-off spots. Improving his adjustability will ensure that he’s more likely to listen to your requests to halt and stand still.

Second, make halts an everyday schooling activity. Break up entire courses into segments or individual elements. As you complete each portion, ask for a halt, hold it for a few seconds, and then walk in a relaxed circle before resuming your course. Next, address your horse’s habit of shuffling around once he does halt. You can do that by keeping his attention focused on you rather than on any jumps that loom ahead. For example, halt and then pick up your contact with one rein, either the left or right. This will distract your horse as he creates a slight bend through his head and neck. Or halt and then reach down and offer him a peppermint (a trick that worked wonders with a couple of my hotter sport horses). Needless to say, you can’t use either of these tactics in the show ring, where a straight, square halt is expected, but initially they help get the point across to stand still.

Finally, remember that under United States Equestrian Federation rules you only have to hold your halt for 4 to 6 seconds. That’s really not very long. With some consistent practice that’s tailored to your horse’s individual temperament, I’m confident your halts will improve.

— Cindy Hale

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much! The trick about picking up one rein at a time when halted will really help me with whatever horse i am riding!!(:

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