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Dear Nancy,

I have a question about half halts. When I am going to the left I feel that my horse is fairly light on the inside rein, and when I half halt on the outside rein I can keep my horses impulsion and the half halt works, but to the right I feel as though he stops when I half halt on the outside rein and becomes stiff and slower instead of better balanced. This becomes a big problem when I try to make my lateral movements to the right, I feel like I am not strong enough to push him through and we just get slower and slower. What can I do to get him to accept the half halts better?

Thank you for your time,

Jeanne in Maryland

Don Atello


Dear Jeanne,

This is not an unusual problem. All horses have a stiff side and a hollow side and we need to work to make the horses more correct in the straightness to minimize this tendency. Most likely when you are going to the left your horse is not really going forward enough into the left rein and although you get away with it, you do need to address that he is taking a good, healthy, supple contact on the left rein even to the left. When the left rein is empty it is just as much of a problem as when the right rein is too stiff. You need to encourage your horse to take his positive forward energy into the inside rein. Your hands have to find the connection with the bit from the forwardness, not by taking backward, however if he collapses backward with his neck when you ask for connection you need to keep your arm supple and follow his mouth, then press him with your legs back out in front of you. If your arms and hands are supple and not pulling back you will feel this energy from your leg in the rein in a positive way. Because you feel more comfortable this direction take time to teach him proper reactions going his easy way, and then it will be easier to implement them when going in the difficult way. Be sure to bend him left so that you feel in him the desire to go left, then feel the need for your inside leg which will help get him up and into your outside rein. In this case it will be your right rein. Be absolutely sure that the right rein also feels ridable, since this is the rein that becomes so stiff when you change direction, be sure you give after your half halts and that his jaw and neck feel soft and accepting of the bit, never braced. Give does not have to mean loose contact, but you have to feel that you can push your hand toward his mouth without him having the need to make his neck longer. If you cannot do this make transitions walk trot walk until it feels possible.
Don Atello and Nancy

When you have a good feeling to the left then lets make it work to the right. First does your horse bend and follow the right rein? Or is he so braced against the right rein that half halting will just stop the forwardness altogether? Then we need to work this out. You need to create the feeling in the right rein that he is willing to soften and follow the right rein in a supple way. Can you turn right because of the right rein or does he want to pull you left? Start by being able to bend right and turn right, soften and praise him. Then add right leg and absolutely keep the soft right rein and ride him to the left rein from the right leg. Create the softness with your wrist and do not block him in. Get the forward energy and direct it toward your positive right rein. Be able to give and then find the supple contact again on the right without him looking for balance in your right rein. Do this in the walk if necessary to start, use leg yields to help get your point across, take time and be patient. Over time create the feeling that the inside rein is a positive forward feeling rein and does not block your horse. Then create your small half halts on the left to work on your balance and collection. When you move on to shoulder in and half pass your horse should feel comfortable and confident to follow your soft inside rein and collect because of your outside rein without loosing impulsion. Of course you must use clear forward leg aids and seat as necessary. Do not get into constant pushing or squeezing. Use your aids for forwardness, get a reaction and then sit loose and let him do the work. Creating pressure between your hands and legs is never the answer.

In addition think about changing directions often. Do not get stuck going round and round in the same direction building tension. Take what you like about the easy way and try to create it in the more difficult way. Try to fix the stiff rein when you go in the easy direction so that the horse is more relaxed to accept the aids. Always remember not to block him in but to find the softness through bending and leg yielding. Riding too straight between two stiff reins only makes the horses back tight and then he feels that it is impossible to give you what you want. By finding flexion and bending you give him a chance to give through his body and find his back and hind leg joints that will help him carry the weight on his hind legs and not in the bit.

Good luck and please let me know how it is going,

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