If you’ve ever competed in a dressage test, you should know the judge would ideally like to see your horse halt square at the letter “X.” Not doing so, even if it’s a lower level test, can result in penalties (and you may not be in the ribbons!). This also rings true for other equine disciplines and sports, such as Western showmanship. When your horse is halted square, all four hooves are positioned directly across from each other, perfectly parallel and aligned. Training your horse to halt in a square manner is not only necessary while showing; it is also useful for maneuvering in tight spaces, such as on trailer or in and out of a wash stall.
Asking your horse to halt square may seem like a simple task at first glance, but it’s actually much harder than what first meets the eye. If you ask your horse to halt, whether it’s under saddle or on the ground, and his hooves are all over the place, the obvious solution would be to attempt to move your horse in a way so that hooves are aligned. It seems easy, right? Not entirely, as the horse will usually attempt to shift his weight and pivot on his other hooves rather than square up. If this is the case, a little ground training and practice is usually the solution.
Your horse will be a bit clueless about what you’re asking him to do initially, as he just learning. It’s his responsibility to figure it out, and your’s to present it to him in an understandable, clear manner. Training a horse to stand square will require persistency and practice on your part, as well as ample cooperation from your horse. Getting frustrated or ending a trining session on a poor note can be the deciding factor in whether or not your horse learns to halt square successfully.
First off, position your self by the left side of his head, with the lead rope in your left hand right beneath your horse’s halter. Face his hindend, as if you were about to pick up his hoof to pick it out. Point with your left hand at the hoof you would like to move. Doing so will put a specific amount of pressure on your horse’s halter and face, allowing him to better understand what you are asking him to do. He should attempt to shift his weight in response to the pressure he feels. If not, simply increase the pressure gradually. With each hoof that you point at, the pressure applied in your horse’s halter feel will feel slightly different to him, as your hand will be in a different position, and it will allow him to discern which foot he should position. If neccessary, you can back up this exercise with a long lunge whip, gently tapping the leg you would like to move foward, and ceasing when he responds as asked.
Eventually, your horse will understand that each feeling of pressure he receives from your hand via his halter will signal a hoof to reposition. After he moves the correct hoof, be sure to release the pressure you’re applying to his halter and give him a big pat and some praise. Without this “reward”, he will never understand what is acceptable is what is not. This is how your horse will learn – pressure, then release when he displays, or even offers, the correct behavior. Be sure to maintain your consistency and patience, and never hesitate to give your horse a treat for a job well done!
Local Riding Ltd. “A Good Square Halt.” Local Riding.