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Tired of reading the dreaded words “not square” on every score sheet? Perfecting the square halt in a Dressage test really is an art form, but we’ve put together some top tips that will take your square halt from zero to hero.
Let’s start by defining what the square halt is; a square halt is when your horse transitions from their gait to halt, with their hooves forming a perfect rectangle and a hoof in each corner. The front and back legs should be as parallel as possible, so that if you were to look from the front, they would appear to have two legs. A square halt is performed in every Dressage test – and may feature more than once as you move higher up the grades, so you could say it’s kind of a big deal.
Unlike other Dressage movements, practising the square halt is not physically demanding on you or your horse, so there is absolutely no excuse for leaving it to one side when training. You can practise your square halt anywhere, in the school, field or out on a hack. Start incorporating our top tips into your daily rides and you will be nailing your square halts in no time!
In order to perform a square halt, your horse must be working straight and be engaging and working from the hind. Without these two factors in line, it is almost impossible to perform a square halt. If your horse is not straight and engaged, you can’t expect them to halt with legs squared! Putting the brakes on suddenly, grounding to a screeching halt and hoping for the best is not the way to go. Start by working on the straight line before asking for the halt, make sure that your horse is working correctly and engaging their hind, whilst collecting.
As with most things, it’s good to start with the basics and work up. Asking for halt is of course a transition, so it’s important to practise your transitions in walk first before moving into the trot and canter work. There are many exercises that you can incorporate to work on your transitions; check out our last article on transition tips in Dressage for some inspiration. It’s important to make sure that your horse understands transitions in walk trot and canter correctly before trying to perfect the square halt in each gait.
Begin in walk and collect the walk with soft half halts to keep your horse engaged and thinking. Make sure that your horse remains straight by keeping both legs wrapped evenly around them. Once you are satisfied with the quality of walk on the straight, close your fingers around the reins and sink your weight into the saddle, asking the horse to perform the halt.
Troubleshooting: If your horse swings their haunches out slightly, try to correct them by moving the shoulders in the same direction and urging them back onto the straight line. Try not to correct the haunches by kicking - wiggling back and forth is not a good look.
Square the front legs
You’re probably thinking – how do I know if my horse is square?! It goes without saying that having someone on the ground always helps with training, but you need to be able to feel a square halt to perform it properly in a Dressage test. Horse riding is all about feel, and any professional or coach will tell you that ‘feel’ is the most difficult thing to teach.
Look down at the shoulders and be really picky about making sure that the front legs are equally square. A horse will rarely halt square with the hind legs and not the front, so the front legs are a good indication of the quality of the square halt. If one shoulder is in front of the other, the foot certainly is too. Ensure that you correct your horse, by asking them to step forward with your leg to achieve a square halt. After some time, you will start to develop a feel for what is square and what is skew-whiff!
Practise what you preach
Since you are always either schooling or un-schooling your horse, it’s vital that you make sure that you practise what you preach all of the time, not just some of the time. Your horse doesn’t understand the difference between what dressage training is and what ‘faffing around in the arena’ time is, they also don’t understand the significant difference between halting on the centreline and halting at the end of a hack. If you truly want your horse to start to square halt consistently, you need to be consistent too – which means no sloppy yanking the reins and jumping off at the end of a hack and no letting go of the reins and instantly bailing out the side door at the end of a tiring cross-country session!
We hope that these tips help you to take a step in the right direction when it comes to perfecting the square halt – keep training and following our tips and your will be scoring 10 for your square halt sooner than you think!