Podcast Episode 2: Dressage Secrets - The Elusive Half Halt

What is one of the most commonly asked questions Natasha is asked about dressage and riding horse? What is a half halt would have to be right up there! What exactly is a half halt, how do you do a half halt when you are riding your horse? Why do you need a half halt when riding your dressage horse and when... how often should you do a half halt and is there such thing as too many? Natasha demystifies the half halt in dressage (and it can certainly be used in other equestrian disciplines too!), so you can experience your horse riding in a dramatically different way, to take your horse riding and understanding of dressage to the next level.

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Full Transcript Expand to full transcript

Today we're going to talk about the ever elusive, the ever complicated (or not so complicated), half halt. What is it? Why do we use it? Why is it so complicated? How do I do it? When do I do it? How often do I do it? Everything you need to know about half halt.
So let's get into today's episode. Morning, evening. How are we doing? Let me know one thing you're grateful for or one thing you are excited about. One thing that you're happy about. One good thing that has happened to you in the last 24 hours. For me, the best thing that has happened to me in the last 24 hours. I had really good strawberries and cream last night. Really yummy. I love strawberries and cream.
How are we doing? I know life is going on and I know things are different and I know we are getting maybe a little bit used to this new normal, but I know our stress levels are higher than normal. I know uncertainty is high right now. I know we've got a bit more to cope with than what we normally do. So I just wanted to say I'm still sending out lots of love, lots of, lots of hugs, lots of good vibes out there.
And if there's anything that you ever need, please reach out. I'm here, I'm here to help here to help. It can be horse related, it can be not horse related, but I'm here for you. I've got you and I really want you to know I am... I really want to look after you in this time.
So today I thought maybe we could have a chat about the ever omnipresent, the ever elusive the ever, what-the-hell-does-it-really-mean half halt. Do we understand half halts, why are they even called half halts? Do you half 'halt'? Like do you do stop? Like what is a halt? A halt is a stop. So do you half stop? What is a half stop? How would you go and do that if you were to literally go and do a half stop? So I just wanted to share with you my map around the half halt and to try and give you guys a bit of an idea about how it should go.
When I was first learning to ride, well I still... I've got a contact story for when I was first learning to ride because that did my head in for at least two years. But let's progress past my understanding or not understanding more so about contact and progress to when I was starting to train elementary, medium advanced, and these half halt came up a lot more. Pfffffff.... that's all I have to say. I just didn't understand. I, so what I would love to know what you guys do with half halts. What I did was I just wiggled my fingers. I just wiggled my hands. I just, anytime the coach would say half halt, I would just do that. And I would make that face too. I dunno. And I, you know, I know and I always knew I had to do more of them. I was always told do more of them so I didn't know what I was doing and how whatever I was doing, either that wasn't effective or I, I still needed to do more of them.
So I really, really struggled with firstly I got caught up as a rider going, what should I be doing? What should I be doing? So I want to give you your first little bit of advice as a rider. Stop thinking about what you should be doing and think about what is the result that you want to have. So this will play with your brain and change everything about how you ride. Most people are like, how do I do you know, what are the correct aids or how do I do something? How do I do it? Well, how do I make sure it's good? And I go, well, it's irrelevant how you ask for something. And it's a irrelevant how you get something done. So if you take a trot canter transition, there's a million ways you can get your horse to do a trot canter transition.
And especially in, when you look at riding with the disabled, these riders train their horses to do certain things with completely different aids because they might not have a leg at all or they might not have a very strong leg or they might not have the connection with their seat that they might have. They might have a different rein connection. So they have to think outside the box and find another way to get the job done. And I want you to realize that, that that's your goal, to find a way to get the job done. Don't worry about how to do it well so much as opposed to what is the outcome I want. So in a trot to canter to transition, that's, I'm using that as an example because that's a lot easier. We, I hope every one of you knows and is crystal clear in your head, what does that look like?
What does it feel like and what, what happens when you do a 10 trot to canter transition? So a 10 out of 10 to get a 10 out of 10 trot to transition, what has to happen, it has to go from the balanced most like a beautiful forward but not running round, soft balanced calm trot. And then it just has to lift into a beautiful, calm, forward, round, expressive canter. And if you've got all of those things and that transition happens immediately and it happens beautifully and it floats and it's, and it's just the most beautiful, heavenly thing that you've ever seen. That's that's, that's what you want. That's a trot canter transition. Now. So when people, riders, when riders say to me, so do I use my inside leg? Do I use my outside leg? Do I use my inside seat bone? Do I use my reins? Do I use, what do I do with my this and what do I do with my that? And sure, I tell them the aids to, to, to get that transition to happen. But what's more important than any of what you should be doing is does it get the outcome?
I remember always saying, if I can get my horse to piaffe by tapping my head, I'm going to tap my head! If that gives me a 10 out of 10 piaffe and it's not. And sometimes you know, the rules in the dressage test is you've got to have both hands on the reins. But in the freestyle you're allowed to not. But if as long as I'm within the rules and obviously you can't use your voice, so you can't say, Oh my horse had perfect truck can to transition when I say, "and canter" because the, the, the dressage society has decided that you can't use your voice to apply aids. But anything that's within the rules, if it gets you the result of a beautiful trot to canter transition. Does it matter if it was your inside or outside leg? Does it matter if it was your inside seat bone or if it was a wiggle of the inside rein or if it was I blink three times with my inside eye? It doesn't matter. What matters is that you get the outcome. Now sure - depending on the aids that you apply, we found through trial and error that certain aids tend to get a better outcome than others. But, anything can be trained. You can train a horse to do a trot to canter transition off of a noise off,uoff like patting them on their shoulder, off tickling their tail.
You could train them because all it is training a horse is a pair of a stimulus and a response. So you apply the stimulus and you want the horse to respond a certain way. Apply the stimulus, you want the horse to respond a certain way. So the outcome that you're looking to achieve in a trot to canter transition is a perfect canter transition. So now let's go back to halt halt. Okay, so forget about what is the half halt and what should I do and why should I do so many of them. Think about what is the outcome, why, what do you want to feel and what does your horse need to look like and what, what is the point? What, what, what is better after you've done an effective half halt? Because I know when I was learning, I had no idea. I had no idea what the horse should feel like if I had done a correct half halt correctly.
I had no idea what the outcome was that I was looking to achieve. I had no idea of anything. I just, you know, I wanted one of the coaches to stop yelling at me and I wanted to apply a correct half halt, whatever that was, but I wasn't even conscious or aware that whatever I'm doing in my behavior should actually produce an outcome. And again, that's something you always need to think about. Everything you do on the horse is to provide an outcome. It's either to prevent an outcome or to provide an outcome. You know, it's influencing the outcome. And when you become outcome focused as a rider, everything begins to change. How would you know that the horse is rebalanced and reconnected? What would you see and what would you feel? So that's great. The horse should feel rebalanced - well tell me, how does that feel if I was an alien from outer space, what does a rebalancing on a horse feel like?
I know I'm getting tricky and I know I'm asking questions that you've never asked yourself and no one has ever asked you that is good for when you explore things that you, when you answer questions you've never answered before, your brain opens up to a whole other level of thinking and operating and acting. How do you know when the horse's attention is on you? It's an interesting question. How do you know it? Is it a feeling? Is it that their ears are flicking back so you can tell they're paying attention? How do you know that the horse is paying attention to you? That the ears are back, that we can pay attention, that the horse is paying attention to us, but again, what if they're flat back? Does that mean their paying attention to us? Arghhhh that's my brain pretty much all the time and that is how I'm always focusing when I'm riding, when I'm doing something, when I'm learning something, when I'm reading something, I'm always asking deeper questions going, well, if I take that on to be true, what does that then mean and how would I know that I have that? Or how would I know that I don't have that and if I don't have that, what would it mean? I did have and if I did have that, what would it mean? I didn't have a lot of people say that I wouldn't want to live in my brain. But it does take you to that next level of going, Hm, if I can get the answers to these questions, if I can be crystal clear on the outcome that I'm looking to achieve and here comes the next thing, the evidence procedure to know that I've achieved it. Okay? So if we're saying what we want from a half halt, and my definition is the outcome we want from a half halt is that the horse is back on its hind leg. So the process of a half halt is a rebalancing.
We are rebalancing the horse from the front to the back. And the outcome that we want is that the horse is sitting on the hind leg more. Okay, now what's my evidence procedure? How do I know if my horse is now sitting on his hind leg more? How do I know that that's happened? What do I feel? What does a hind leg swinging underneath feel like? Do I feel it in my bum? Do I feel it in my legs? Do I feel it in my shoulders? Where do I feel that? And I know I'm asking hard questions. I know you're going, what do you mean what do I feel? You feel you feel it? But what? And this is where I struggled so much as a rider because I don't feel very well, meaning that didn't come out right. I feel fine. I'm not sick, but I don't feel things.
There are three, there are four ways that you can experience your world, but I for to experience, you're riding, you're meant to experience it physically in a kinesthetic way. You meant to feel and react. You meant to feel that the shoulders over here and you're meant to put the shoulder over here. You're meant to feel that the horse's hind leg is under. You meant to feel that you've got to put it under, you're meant to feel that the horse is, you know, resisting here and you've got a unblock the feeling and feel it there. But I didn't have any of that. I operated in a visual world, so I was all about, well, what am I meant to see? Will I see the shoulder do this, will I see the hind leg do this, will I see the neck do this?
And I didn't know how to get into my kinesthetic frame of operating in a world. I just kept going, well, what do I want to see? And a lot os riders are like that. Because then if all we can see is all that we fix, what, what can we see when we're riding a horse, the neck, that's all that we see. So with fiddling with the neck and we want the neck to be right. And that was me when I was first learning to ride. I was like, Oh, you know, just put the horse on the bit. And I was worried so much about the neck and I had no idea that the neck was connected to the back and the back was connected to the hind leg. And to get the neck to do something, I had to get the hind leg to do something to get in the back, to do something which would then make the neck do something.
Yeah. So I'm getting away from half halts, but I'm just trying to show you that because all I was worried about was what I was seeing, it was severely limiting me and severely lacking in my progress as a rider. So I didn't progress if I continued to only base my riding based on what I could see or based on what I could see in front of me, because I didn't have an arena, I didn't have mirrors, I didn't have anything. So all I could say was what I could say when I'm on a horse. So I had to start getting into my kinesthetic modality and I had to start first retraining my beliefs because my beliefs were, I can't feel, I can't feel, I can't feel when the coach says, you know, who's had coaches, you know, can you feel you're on the wrong diagonal?
No. If I felt I was on the, the wrong diagonal, do you think I would have changed it? I can't feel it. You know, or I'd look, you know, and the judge would be like, the judge the coach had been, now you're on the correct diagonal. Can you feel that? And I would say, no, I can't feel that. I can't feel that. I can't feel that. I used to have this huge belief. I couldn't feel it, couldn't feel it, can feel it and get it was all too hard. No, I can't feel, I can't feel that if a horse is on the correct lead or not. I can't feel if it's on the wrong, if it's correct or not. I can't, I can't. Woo. No wonder I struggled so much. So I had to really work on my mindset and really trust and believe that I had the capabilities and the, and the, the, the understanding to get this, to feel my way around riding.
So yeah, it was really, really important that I focused on developing my feeling muscle. And so this is when we go back to half halts. How do you know if the half halt is firstly had a, had an impact? Secondly, if it had the impact that you wanted, if it actually happened correctly or not. And then thirdly was it successful? Do you need to do it again? Do you need to do it more? Do you need to do it stronger? Do you need to do it less? What needs to change based on what you just did? All in a feeling modality.
What do I feel? What do I feel when I apply a half halt and do I sometimes feel different things? Cause you probably should. You probably will. You'll be like, you sometimes I do my thing and I feel, I feel, and you'll do this, you'll go, I feel, I feel, what do I feel? You know, when your brain, you'll, you'll be really clumsy. You'll be really hesitant. You'll say a word and you'll be like, Oh, that's not the word I meant. And that's okay because you're, you, you're not used to saying what it is that you're feeling and verbalizing and understanding at a deep level what you're feeling. I was, I was so clumsy when I started this, you know, but it was so important to my progress as a writer because I had to then talk to my coach. I could talk to my coach in a whole different level and be like, Hey, when you're saying half halt, I'm doing this thing.
And sometimes I feel that the horse like nothing changes. I feel like I'm trotting and then you say half halt. And so I will do my thing, which was my wiggle the reins at that time. And the horse, like nothing changes. Now the minute I got to verbalize that and the minute I understood I do A and B happens or A equals B, which was A I wiggle my hands equals B horse does nothing different and keeps trotting in exactly the same way I could go. I guess my half halt isn't effective. I guess it's not. And then when I knew I didn't want B, so first I had to be clear on what did I want and I wanted the horse, yes, to be balanced and to be more on the hind leg or what does that feel like? What does a horse from the four on, on behind like feel like?
And I'd love to hear what you think, but my feeling, my, my verbalization of what that feeling feels like is the horse is light in front. Oh my God, who's heard that light in front? But it is, it is a good explanation of the feeling. So you can either be heavy in front, which to me means heavy on the rein. So I'm feeling five to 10 kilos on the reins and I'm having to hold the horse's head up. That's heavy. On the, on the front end or you can be light and light means I don't feel like there's, there's weight in my hands. I feel that it's light, but I still feel the connection. And then, so that's my first feeling. So I feel that in my reins on my feet, I feel that the horse is breathing with my seat. So if I breathe out and try and, you know, push my seat a bit more, the horse is going forward and when I close my seat and when I breathe you know, like breathe in and you know, bring it all in, the horse is coming more on the spot. Okay. If I feel that he stays light in front when I do that, he's gotta be on the hind leg because then it's not my rein. I haven't had to touch him in the reins for him to do to come back. He's coming back off my seat and the only way he can come off my seat is if the hind legs are active and under. So, okay. That's what I want. That I want all of that. I want to feel that all the time. So how am I going to do that? So if every time I wiggle my reins and if that's everything I want and that equals C. And every time I wiggle my reins I get B, which is no reaction. Horse is still running around. And it feels not, it doesn't, it might not feel heavy on the front end, but it doesn't feel light.
Then I have to try something else because A equals B, but I want it to equal C, and I'm with you. I'm not into math, I don't do algebra. So it's okay, I'm not going to go too much with this algebra stuff. But then you have to go, okay, well if A always equals B, there's no point just going, I want it to equal C, I want A to equal C - you've got to turn that mathematical equation around and go, we'll see equals question mark. And that's the fun. And that is where I love riding because I'm, I get very crystal clear on what's the outcome and then I go what aid and what sequence of what I can do and what strategy of me as a rider can I execute to get C. And that's just called hunting. So you go on a hunt, you go on a treasure hunt and you go, well, if I do this, does it get C?
No, it doesn't. When I roll my shoulders back and sit deep, does that do C when I wiggle my pinky, does that do C when I wiggle my pinky and look to the left, does that give C and I just go through, I was doing it again today. I was having so much fun. I was, you know what, just playing with the horse and I wasn't asking for too much and I was just like, Hmm, I wonder if I can get more expression and more shoulder up and more fluid and more just more, without asking for more, but just by changing how I am. So I was rolling my shoulders even further back. I was then, you know, putting more weight on a certain seat bone and just, just seeing what the horse did. It was really, really fun. As a coach, I stuff up all the time.
I say things that I then go, Ooh, do, does that, does the rider understand that? And I, it took training, it took a huge understanding for me to go, Oh, every time I ask something and the rider doesn't do it, that's my fault. That's on me. That's my bad. And that, that's a time for me to, for me to learn that they don't teach that to you in day one of horse riding instructor school. And they have to, they have to help you understand that if you've explained something 50 times and the rider doesn't get it, it's your fault. It's on you, you fix it. But it, you know, back then I thought if I didn't get it, it was my fault and I stuffed up and I wasn't feeling it. And you know, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's all just, it is what it is.
And I'm sure you've done that in your riding. You've ridden around and you've asked the horse to do something the same way 10 times and haven't got the outcome that you wanted, but yet you're still doing the thing that doesn't work. Einstein's definition of insanity, doing the same thing, but expecting a different result. And all humans do it. We do it based on what I taught you in a previous live about generalizations. We generalize, all things are the same. So we go to the door and we push down the handle and we pull it towards us because that's how doors work. And when it doesn't happen, we tend to just push the handle down and pull it toward us harder we do exactly the same thing. Because our brains take a while to realize, Hey, that's not working. You're going to have to do something different - this is not the same door that you're used to or that you've come across in your past.
So generalizations are awesome for us to handle doors and to handle getting through our life very quickly. But with riding and with, with some things you've got to bring that next level of brain power into it going, hang on, I need to think about this. I can't just operate, I can't just go from what I know. I have to bring that next level in. And that's constantly what I'm forcing myself to do. Going, okay, this is what I think I know and this is what I, this is what I think are the rules around riding or around creating something or the, this is what I think I know about X, but what, what, what, what in here am I missing and what if, what if and what by thinking this, am I not having access to? I remember thinking, I knew everything there was to know about riding horses. Oh, I was probably yeah, 1415 at the time and I thought I knew it all. And then when I learned a little bit more, I went, Oh yeah, I'll know it all in 12 months. And all I can tell you is now riding 20 years, I don't know any of it.
The more, you know, the more you know you don't know, and you get excited and you get curious and you get playful about what you don't know and you go on that treasure hunt or that discovery hunt for the rest of your life.
Okay guys. Well, that was amazingly fun. I'm so glad I could give you something to think about and hopefully a different frame to look at your riding and to look at your training and let's see how that goes. So as I said at the start of this video, I'm here to help you. I'm here to serve you. I'm here for you. If there's anything ever you need, I love you guys more than anything in the world. I want you to know I've got you. Please reach out if there's anything you need.
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