Square halts are when your pony stands still with his front and back legs in line with each other, as if they were each making up the corner of a rectangle. He should stand straight with his weight evenly spread across all four legs.
A dressage judge is looking for all of these factors when marking the halt at the end of your test, so it’s a good idea to work on improving it as it’s an easy way to gain better marks.
Before you start work on perfecting a square halt, your pony needs to be warmed up and working with plenty of impulsion and balance. While you’re warming up, think about his…
- straightness Your pony won’t be able to halt square if his body isn’t straight. Check you’re sitting straight in the saddle with an even contact on both reins to prevent him from becoming wonky.
- balance A good transition requires balance to make sure your pony keeps his weight evenly across all legs. Improve his balance by riding plenty of transitions between and within paces.
- impulsion Your pony will find it much easier to halt square if he has plenty of impulsion beforehand, as otherwise he’s likely to leave a leg out of place. Ride lots of transitions while you’re warming up to encourage him to stay in front of your leg.
Aids for the job
When you’re working on improving your square halt, it’s best to start in walk. Making sure your pony’s active and forward, use the following aids to ask him to halt…
1. Half-halt a few strides before you plan to halt. This makes sure he’s listening and prepares him for your aids.
2. Sit up tall and roll your shoulders back, pushing your seatbones into the saddle and keeping your legs wrapped around his sides.
3. Close your fingers around the reins, maintaining an even pressure on both reins to keep him straight, while closing your thighs around the saddle at the same time.
4. As your pony halts, soften your hands and keep a gentle contact. This encourages him to stay relaxed through his body without walking off.
Did you know? A half-halt contains your pony’s energy and checks he’s responsive. To ride one, press your legs against your pony’s sides to keep him forward while closing your fingers around the reins. Hold for a few seconds, then release.
Top tip – Think about pushing your pony into a square halt, rather than pulling him into it.
It’s a skill to learn how to feel whether your pony’s square without having to look. If you look down to check his legs, it’ll shift your weight in the saddle and can affect how your pony’s standing.
Ask a friend to watch as you ride – they can call out which leg isn’t square. Then, try to practise calling out to her which leg you think isn’t square, without looking, and she can let you know if you’re right. The more you practise, the better you’ll become, and soon you won’t need a friend to tell you.
“My pony doesn’t stand square”
If your pony halts, but always seems to have at least one leg trailing, the most common cause is a lack of balance. It’s normally one of the back legs that this happens on, so it can be harder to feel.
Fix it by… making sure your pony’s in an active walk and responsive to your aids before you ask for halt. If he’s being lazy or rushing, he’s much less likely to be square when he halts, so establish a good walk first. Remember to half-halt before you make the transition to help keep him balanced.
“My pony doesn’t halt straight”
Although his legs might be square, you’ll still be marked down in a dressage test if your pony isn’t straight or has drifted sideways when you halt.
Fix it by… keeping your legs and hands even. Although it might seem strange, it’s really important to keep your legs against your pony’s sides when you ask for a halt as this is what keeps him straight and stops his quarters drifting.
“My pony resists my aids”
If your pony lifts his head and pulls on the bit as you ask him to stop, he’s resisting your aids. You’ll probably miss the marker where you were planning to halt and he might fidget or step back when he finally does halt.
Fix it by… softening your rein contact. Ponies normally resist when they’re unhappy with the contact, so it might be that the pressure on the reins is too strong. Remember to half-halt before you ask your pony to halt, and soften your hands as soon as he stands still.
Top tip – You can use your voice to encourage your pony to halt when you’re schooling. Say ‘whoa’, ‘halt’ or ‘stand’ in a low, soft tone.