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AskHQ: The mysteries of the half-halt

Photography: Merlynn Trichardt 

Q: My old trainer taught me to half halt with the outside rein. However, my trainer now teaches me to half halt with the inside rein. She says that half halting with the outside rein is completely incorrect and makes me half halt on the inside rein. 

As I understand it, the inside rein is there to ‘play’ if the horse isn’t on the bit, but the outside rein is there to half halt and keep straightness. I’m just now so confused as to whether this is correct or not. 

So my question really is, which rein is the correct rein to half halt with? 


Q: As you describe, it can often be difficult to switch between trainers as each trainer tends to approach the same concepts in slightly different ways. It is very rarely a case of one trainer being right or wrong. In this instance, we agree more with your original trainer, but in no way want to discredit your current trainer who may well be trying to teach you a slightly different, yet effective approach for your horse and your level of training. Please bear this in mind when considering the answer of our dressage expert here.

The half halt is fundamentally a pause and rebalance to shift weight off the forehand of the horse and back onto the hind legs. The reins are important in half halts, but actually all half halts should start in your seat. Your seat should produce the initial check and should this not prove enough to rebalance your horse, you should, only then, consider bringing in the reins. This is important to consider, as it is all too commonly forgotten that all riding should begin with the seat aids with the leg and rein aids serving as back-ups. 

When it then comes to which rein to use, you need to consider the basic principal of riding from the inside leg to the outside hand. This way of riding helps to achieve straightness in the horse and allows both hind legs to push evenly into the hands. As this suggests, it is therefore the outside rein that is traditionally used for the basic half halt, as with your riding from the inside leg to the outside hand, the outside hand serves to contain and channel the energy coming through from the hind legs. The inside rein is, as your correctly say, predominantly used for flexing your horse and softening him in the contact – not for half-halts. 

Just to reiterate, however, instructors teach in different ways and with different tools and styles. Asking your new instructor why they believe in half halting with the inside rein is the first step to understanding her approach. You may, for example, find out that your horse is falling onto his inside shoulder, hence her desire for you to effect a half halt on the inside rein, to ‘pick him up’ from his shoulder . The only way to really understand her reasoning is going to be to ask her about her difference of opinion regarding half halts and see what her response is! Telling you that something is wrong without any justification or explanation is unhelpful, so make sure you ask her to elaborate so that you can feel more confident in doing what she is asking. Essentially we’d advise that don’t give up on your coach on these grounds, as you’ll probably find she has a solidly good reason for asking your to do things a little differently. Find out what that reason is, and we’re sure you’ll feel much better to give her methods a go! 

We hope this helps! Good luck!