A Bit about Bits & The Basics of the Half Halt

 This is the second week my blog subjects have been decided by questions from readers. Thankyou for the inspiration and also for reminding me that as with all things Dressage , the subjects are always far more complex than they seem. They also are far more extensive than I can deal with here but will try to give you a good start.

      First we will deal with the bit question. What is the French Link snaffle and why is it different from other snaffles?Here are two photos of snaffles (credit to State Line Tack for photos) the top one is a standard or regular gWACbcsugeBrDNIZjSowMxQX5RSXF8Yl5KfH5pSUp-flFxQwZJSUFVvr6mbmJ6al6xRn5BVWZOTmJesn5ufpFqcWZVan2xYW2hqYGaqWZKbYmhiamBuZAHgMDAA__  (eggbutt) WAD7Ubt43TSGaQxefowMxQX5RSXF8Yl5KfH5pSUp-flFxQwZJSUFVvr6mbmJ6al6xRn5BVWZOTmJesn5ufpFqcWZVan2xYW2hqYGaqWZKbbmBsYWpkbGpuYMDAA_snaffle and the bottom one is a french link snaffle.



 Generally speaking the snaffle is considered to be a very kind bit. As you can see  in the top photo a regular snaffle consists of two straight pieces  with a single joint joining them in the middle.It can be a little misleading because if an uneducated hand pulls too hard on the snaffle the two straight parts form a triangle and the joint in the middle becomes a sharp point on the roof of the horse's mouth . Also the two straight parts can pinch the horses tongue. If the horse is responsive, not a strong puller and has a kind mouth and the rider has a soft hand the snaffle is an excellent bit. Horses without a lot of mouth issues usually respond to it well. The snaffle in the photo is called an eggbutt because the rings that attach it to the bridle are egg shaped , the piece next to the horse's mouth gives the egg shape a butted side, thus the name eggbutt snaffle.

     I had tweeted last week suggesting people try a loose ring french link snaffle. The french link in the photo has completely round rings which attach it to the bridle and also the mouthpieces are threaded through the ring making the bit slide freely and making it harder for the horse to grab the bit in their teeth because it moves through the ring unlike a fixed side piece such as the eggbutt or D ring. As you can see the middle of the french link has a  peanut shaped piece with the side pieces of the bit attached separately to each side of that part. The advantage of this is that if the rider tends to pull the top of the bit still lies flat across the horse's tongue . This cuts down on the nutcracker effect a plain snaffle can have if used harshly. The bridge in the middle also allows for more precise aids since for instance a tug on the left side has it's pull lessened on the right by the centre piece allowing the rider to be more clear about the aid they are giving.

   This is a little insight into snaffles and their uses. It is a huge subject and there are many good books available regarding tack , it's purposes and fitting. I would suggest typing bits and bitting into your search browser and seeing some of the resources you can find. The more you know about different bits and their uses the more you will be able to convey your aids clearly and kindly to your specific horse with their own specific issues. Remember , every horse is a unique individual and nothing should be treated generically when dealing with them or your equipment.


 Now on the  question of the half halt.thumbnailCA737D3T

  Honestly I can say that had someone asked me this question 10 or 15 or 20 years ago and I'm sure they did, I would have had a confident , complete and completely different answer each time. Dressage is much like peeling an onion. Layer upon tissue thin layer reveals itself and another whole world of understanding appears.Now in order to do this question justice i will first say my answer will not here, cannot and may never be complete.

   I believe it was Jane Savoie, well known FEI rider who said "the amatuer rides from movement to movement , while the professional rides from half halt to half halt ". I suppose the best way to start is to tell you what I feel  are some of the things a half halt says to the horse. It says (like a yellow traffic light) pay attention , a change is coming up. It can say shift your weight back and be ready for a transition , shift your weight back a little you are starting to be headed downhill not uphill in your frame, it says carry yourself better, it says a halt is coming or a canter depart is coming etc., etc. as you can see it says countless things to your horse. Basically it is a tug within your contact , normally given on the outside rein to refresh a gait or prepare the horse for another gait. In essence it asks the horse to refresh their self carriage in a momentary pause where they send the weight back , down the neck , along the back and into the haunches, re-engaging the hindquaters and reestablishing push from behind. The strength of the half halt from a mere whisper of your little finger to a strong , supportive , two or three stride elastic holding dictates the size of the change you are looking for in the horse's way of going. if you take a deep breath , lift your shoulders way up and back...then shrug , exhale and let your shoulders drop again you will get a sense of what the horse feels in the half halt.Just as it says half halt means half a halt. You ask for the halt , before it occurs you release and carry on with the pace refreshed and the horse newly on your aids and coming through more from behind. As i said this subject is enormous and deals with the very foundations of the art of dressage, making the horse lighter and lighter and more responsive to the rider in front and more and more powerful , carrying more of their weight and developing impulsion behind.Again I would suggest  research, a trip to the tack store should net you all kinds of books and resources or...more easy on the pocketbook , a library or online library ie: @ridingcoach. None of this material or the concepts in dressage are learned easily. They must be pondered , ridden , pondered again and over time develop an understanding of their depth and what it can mean to the closeness of your communication with your horse. I can't think of a learning  journey more worth taking  🙂   Happy Learning.  Libby Keenan

5 Responses

  1. Oh Lizzy, You are wonderful. I never understood use of diff bits. OK- Now I know that I shouldn’t use a reg snaffle bit ’cause I have a heavy HAND! Now I know you use cert bits for so a horse can’t bit on it ’cause it slides across his tongue. Then use a diff bit to pinch his tongue. OM-Glory.
    What a training lesson. Thank you Libby-

  2. Libby-
    Don’t laugh– But when I started riding my horse, I had her doing all kinds of halts, full halts, circle halts and coming to a full quick surprise halt on me when I was running her. Oh, boy, that horse didn’t know what to do with me. I think I was balancing myself in the stirrups to keep from flying off her back!!!

  3. Libby-
    But I’m finding that there is no better experience that to just get out there and do it. Take the lessons and training I’ve learned and incorporate them into my riding in the evening. I’m getting better cause of people like You and Larissa.

    Thanks, Wanda

  4. Wanda , you will improve because you are “Riding toward the light ” those are not my words but can’t think of his name at the moment. You know it’s out there and little by little you will feel it. Get all the help and read all you can. If possible go to Equine Canada site or AHSA and read their descriptions of what the Dressage movements mean and the purpose for them. Cheers. Libby

  5. Hi Anya, I’m glad you found the explanation helpful. I have found that no matter what discipline a rider is involved in some basic understanding of dressage can help improve the relationship. Cheers. Libby

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