March 2015 - Chris Irwin
Written by Chris Irwin
Monday, 02 March 2015 00:26

Half Halt & Bump the Horse Industry

“Thou Shall Not Pull Thy Horse” should be first of 10 industry commandments.

Southern California native, and Chris Irwin Gold Certified Trainer, Teresa Kackert, gently holding and allowing this beautiful paint gelding to 'bump' into her firm back, introducing a little collection. Note how soft the contact is. This horse is clearly not being pulled into a 'frame' but is instead held by a great rider sitting 'tall in the saddle.'

by Chris Irwin

The english riding concept of the half halt, what western riders call the “bump,” is so widely misunderstood that I consider it the first and worst of all inadvertent injustices that too many well-meaning riders unwittingly inflict upon their horse.

There’s an old saying, “hold your horse.” It sounds simple and it is. But unfortunately too few truly hold their horses and far too many pull on the reins in the name of the half halt or bump.

Here we see Teresa after her change from western into english. Once again using boundaries with her body to intro the first stages of collection on a young gelding. There is not backwards tension or pulling on the reins to create a frame. This horse is moving forward into the hand that holds but does not pull.

Imagine the leader of a marching band. Visualize the marching tempo you desire and watch the leader march forward with the tempo. Imagine the band leader adjusting the length of his or her steps while always keeping the same beat or rhythm. Sometimes the strides are longer and sometimes they are shorter. The beat is not slowing down or speeding up, just the length of stride shifting from longer and shorter. Sometimes the band leader is even standing in one place while marching on the spot. Marching on the spot with full animation and yet nobody is pulling on his or her mouth. This is piaffe – the holy grail of half halting.

Canadian Walt Mantler, Gold Certified Irwin Trainer, demonstrating self-carriage with his young Arabian mare 'Flip.' Frame and focus does not get any softer then this! This young mare was winning regional championships in reining competition by the age of 4 without ever once being pulled on the reins.

Imagine you are walking towards a flight of stairs and you adjust the length of your last few steps to assure you are balanced and aligned to take your first vertical step comfortably. You’re not speeding up or slowing down but you are adjusting your length of stride in order to take your first elevated step with comfort and balance. Nobody is pulling on your mouth but you are the horse half halting to a jump.

At a clinic in Belgium, Benedicte, who had been frustrated with how difficult and unmanageable her 'red headed mare' was, is now smiling with the results as her mare responds beautifully to her in-hand lesson with Chris.

Imagine you are holding a garden hose with water streaming out of it. You do not have a spray nozzle on the end of the hose to create a more powerful stream for farther reach. So you use your thumb to partially cover the opening of the hose and hold back part of the stream of water. You are holding water like we need to half halt and hold our horses in order to create more compression for greater athletic potential. You are holding the water not pulling it. But if you inserted your thumb into the hose, pushing in directly against the flow of water instead of merely blocking and holding back the H20, this would be akin to riders pulling back on the reins of a forward moving horse. Imagine what a mess of water would be sprayed all over the place if we stuck our thumbs inward against the flow of water from a hose.

Now if only riders could see that every time we pull even slightly on the reins we are tripping up the band leader, stumbling and falling up the stairs, and leaving ourselves and our horses soaking wet.  Literally.

A mix of Dutch and Irish students at a Train the Trainer clinic in The Netherlands taking a break from the horses to learn from the unique experience of 'being the horse.' Here they are feeling the difference between being held or pulled by the reins.

We need to un-learn the pull. There are too many trainers pulling on horses as if they are trying to pull-start a stubborn lawn mower. Coaches need to stop teaching students to pull on their horses as if they are hooking a fish. Riding has not evolved further into the classical concept of “the horse forward into the hand.” If we know we can move our horses around comfortably in stock chutes – clear channels of simple but solid boundaries – why do we have so many riders using the reins and bridle to go fishing with their horses mouth?  Our horses need us to learn how to hold them with firm but kind and elastic boundaries instead of starting them like lawnmowers or hooking them like fish.

We can do it. Like collecting ourselves to walk up a flight of stairs, or the garden hose water pressure we collect with our thumb, we have our ways, our analogies of relating how we use our body to do everyday things without pulling with our hands. We just need to collectively, as an industry, once and for all set some bottom line standards that become the bible basics of horse training.

We do not all need to agree on whether or not to wear a helmet. I do believe that should be personal choice. And we do not need to regulate whether or not horses should be shod or barefoot.  But like we have evolved into the political correctness of Thou Shall Not Drink & Drive or Thou Shall Not Smoke Indoors in Public Spaces, in my opinion, Law # 1 of the Ten Commandments of a horse industry rule of law would be Thou Shall Not Pull Thy Horse.

Author Chris Irwin is an internationally renowned horseman, best-selling author and a leading pioneer in the equine assisted movement. It was discovering how to transform BLM wild Mustangs into18 calm and collected U.S. National Champions in english, western and driving competitions, that first showed Chris his greatest insights into learning how to learn. To connect with Chris Irwin visit his website at