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June 2006

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  2006 Cherry Hill

-   Ask Cherry   -

  Half Halt
  Wood for Stalls
  Weight Carrying Capacity
  and Equine Communities

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Half Halt

Ms. Hill,

Please help. I ride western. I am a professional Cowboy trying to become a horseman. I barrel race. I do not show. I purchased your 101 Arena Exercises to help me help my horses to relax, listen, loosen up, help them learn to use themselves and become more responsive I am not familiar with the term half halt and can't seem to find a helpful definition in the book. My best guess was that it was a transition to a slower gait but in looking at the exercises this does not make sense to me. I know you are awfully busy but I'm feeling a bit desperate. For the sake of Reuben, Foxy, Sister, Miss Mess, and Hooch, Please help.

Jodi Campbell

Hi Jodi,

It is great to hear from you and to hear of your goals. Have you read Exercise 14 "Half Halt or Check" in 101 Arena Exercises? It describes in detail what a Half Halt (or Check as it is called in Western riding) is and how to apply it. But it is such a good question and I'm sure there are some readers out there who don't have 101 Arena Exercises, that I'm going to print an excerpt from that book below.

Before I get to the excerpt, though, here are some other ways to think of a Half Halt......a pause, a moment in suspended animation, a compacting of form, flexing in every joint. Although half halts are traditionally associated with dressage, they are used in all kinds of riding. Western riders "pick up" on the reins and "check" their horses to "rate" them or get them to slow down or get more rhythmic in their gaits. When a horse "falls on his forehand" he is traveling with bad balance and rhythm, so we try to energize him from the hindquarters forward and elevate his forehand somewhat so he can move in balance. When a horse is not in balance (heavy on the forehand) he first has to pick up his forehand and then turn.The more in balance a horse is, the quicker he can change directions (especially important for a barrel horse) and at a moment's notice - he doesn't need a lot of advance notice. Half Halts or checks help to balance and energize a horse.

The following is excerpted from 101 Arena Exercises:


A half halt is a preparatory set of aids that simultaneously drives and checks the horse. In essence you are "capturing" your horse momentarily between the aids. A calling to attention and organizer used before all transitions and during all movements as a means of momentarily re-balancing the horse, elevating the forehand, increasing hindquarter engagement, evening an erratic rhythm, slowing a pace, and reminding the horse not to lean on the bit or rush. A momentary holding (a non-allowing in contrast to a pulling or taking), immediately followed by a yielding (within one stride or a few seconds). This results in a moment of energized suspension with a listening and light horse. Once a horse has learned to respect half halts, they serve as a reminder that encourages self-carriage.


The sequence, grossly oversimplified, goes something like this:

        1. think
        2. seat, legs, hands
        3. yield

    1. Mental message: "Hello, is anybody home?" OR "Attention!!" OR "Let's get organized" OR "Let's halt. No I changed my mind."

    2. An almost simultaneous application of the following aids with an emphasis on the seat and legs and a de-emphasis on the hands:

    • Upper body straight or slightly back with elevated sternum.
    • Deep, still contact of seat bones on saddle from flexed abdominals and a flattened lower back which brings seat bones forward.
    • Both lower legs on horse's side at the girth or cinch. Light tap with the whip or spurs if necessary, depending on the horse's level and response.
    • A non-allowing of appropriate intensity with both hands. The following is a list in increasing intensity of that non-allowing. Use only as much as necessary.

      • close fingers
      • squeeze reins
      • roll hands inward
      • move arm backward from shoulder
      • lean upper body back

    3. Yield aids without throwing away what you have gained.


When do you apply the half halt? Long enough (a second or two) ahead of the transition or maneuver to allow the horse to respond but not prolonged (through several strides) or it will result in tension.

How strong a half halt should you use? Tinker Bell or Industrial Strength? Occasionally an industrial strength half halt is necessary to be sure it "goes through". After using a major half-halt, confidently use light ones or half halts will begin to lose their effect for you.


Often you should give more than you take. The timing of the yield is often more important than the driving and non-allowing.

Did you feel a positive response...even a hint of compliance? If you wait so long that you can feel the full effects of the half halt, it would be way past time to yield. The yield is what encourages self-carriage. No yield leads to stiffness and tension.

Should you use more than one half halt at a time? Sometimes it takes a series, one each stride, to accomplish the necessary re-balancing.

BENEFIT Balance, collection, essential pieces of the riding puzzle.Cherry Hill


Pressure Treated Wood for Stalls

Dear Cherry,
I did purchase your book Stablekeeping , and there is only one question I have that was not covered in the book, can or should I use pressure treated wood to build my horse stalls? Thank you in advance if you decide to answer my question.


Hi Lindsey,

Gee, we were glad to hear that this was the only question that was not covered in Stablekeeping !!
Hmmmmmmm.........pressure treated wood is a rather broad category and it depends on what type of chemical treatment the wood received.

I did cover this subject in detail in the 2nd edition of Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage on pages 170-171 as it relates to wood fences and Richard covered it in regards to barn materials in our book Horse Housing on page 88. In our barn we used pressure treated wood anywhere the wood was in the ground or within 8 inches of the ground, like the lower board on stall linings (kick boards). You will have to make your own decision as to what is appropriate in terms of function, esthetics and color for the interior of your barn in conjunction with what is available on the market.

Note that this topic is constantly changing because of laws related to toxicity for humans - that's why I went through the history of pressure treated wood in the book. By the time I finish writing this email, there will probably be a new wood preservative out on the market!

I'm going to paste the excerpt from the book below to get you started on your quest and decision-making process.

Best of luck,Cherry Hill


The following is from Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage, 2nd edition, 2005 by Cherry Hill

Wood Preservatives

Wooden fences must be protected from chewing hoses with special anti-chew products that are painted or sprayed on the wood, by metal strips fastened to the edges of the wood, or by the addition of electric fence wires to keep horses away from the wood.

A preservative is needed for wood that will be in contact with the ground, where conditions are ideal for rotting, termite damage and fungus, and for wood that will be subjected to extreme conditions above ground. Wood deteriorates not just from moisture, but because an organism is eating it. Preservatives work by making the food source poisonous to these organisms.

Most preservatives will NOT prevent horses from chewing the wood. Most preservatives will not protect wood from exposure to sunlight – you still have to use paint, stain, or sealers. Not all preservatives provide protection against termites.

Preservatives can be forced into the wood using pressure (pressure-treated wood) or applied to the wood by dipping, spray, brush, or roller.

The main wood preservatives used in the US include creosote, Penta, and CCA, with a host of new generation preservatives on the horizon that might be more environmentally friendly.

Coal tar creosote (a distillate of coal tar) has been used as a wood preservative since 1889 in the United States and is still used for treating railroad ties. It is a dark brown or black, thick oily substance with a pungent smoky odor so although it is not suitable for application inside a barn, creosote-treated railroad ties are ideal for the base of a round pen or arena. Because creosote contains strong acids and can burn the skin, care must be taken when handling creosote treated wood. Due to the dangerous nature of the product, the US government banned the use of creosote without a license in 1986. Creosote-treated wood is not paintable. It does resist termites and chewing horses.

Carbolineum. This thick brown oily blend is derived from coal tar creosotes and is available for application without a license. It can be used safely on trees that are at least 2-inches in diameter, fences, and other exterior applications. It is marketed as an anti-chew products as well as a preservative.

Penta (pentachlorophenol) is a manufactured crystalline organic compound developed specifically for the wood preservation industry. Penta is normally dissolved in petroleum oil and forced into the wood with pressure or applied topically giving the wood the dark brown color that you see on telephone poles. Penta chemicals can slowly volatize into the surrounding air, so would not be appropriate for indoor application. Purchase and use has been limited to certified applicators since 1986. Penta-treated wood is not paintable. It should not be used where a horse can lick or chew it.

Borates occur naturally in soil, water, plants and animals. Borate wood treatments are used for protection against termites, beetles, carpenter ants, rot, and fungi. Borate pressure treatment penetrates to heartwood so end cuts on treated wood do not need re-treating. Borates are water-soluble, however, and will leach out if used in contact with ground or water, reducing their effectiveness. Borate wood preservatives are odorless, non-irritating to skin and eyes, and considered safe to use around people and horses.

Wood treated with borate or CCA is harmful more because of splinters a horse might get from chewing than from the chemicals.

Chromated copper arsenate or CCA, is a waterborne chemical preservative that contains arsenic, chromium and copper and is the most widely used preservative for pressure-treating posts and fence lumber. It gives the wood a greenish color and the wood is paintable. The chemicals in CCA are bonded tightly to the wood, so leaching from the wood should be minimal when used properly. Therefore, CCA-treated wood is EPA approved for use around people, pets and plants and continues to be widely used in agricultural, marine, highway and industrial applications. CCA-treated wood emits no vapors so is suitable to be used inside the barn as well as for fences.

Although there may not be an EPA requirement to wear gloves when handling a particular treated wood, it is a good idea to protect your hands from splinters when handling treated or untreated wood of any kind. When cutting treated wood, avoid inhaling sawdust or getting dust or wood chips in your eyes. Wash your exposed body parts well after working with treated wood. NEVER burn treated or other manufactured wood. Not only are the vapors and ash harmful to your health, but they will pollute the environment. Keep treated wood away from waterways and out of the groundwater. Whether or not you can haul treated wood to your local landfill will depend on your area regulations and whether the landfill is lined. How to properly dispose of treated wood is a growing concern and there is no simple answer. Here at Long Tail Ranch, we use scraps of treated posts and lumber as gate props, as building blocks for small retaining walls, and for edging between gravel and grass in non-traffic areas.


Weight Carrying Capacity

Dear Cherry,

I am looking for information about the amount of weight a horse should carry. From what I have read and been told, 20% of horses weight is what person and tack should weigh. Any related articles???

Thanks. Pat

Hi Pat,

I've written about all sorts of interesting and useful things related to horses in my new book How to Think Like a Horse.

Here is an excerpt from that book that should answer your question.Cherry Hill


Carrying Weight

A horse’s body isn’t really designed to carry extra weight, but it can by virtue of its suspension-bridge features.

How much weight can a horse carry? This will depend on several factors including the horse’s weight, bone, conformation, breed, condition, type of riding, rider’s skill, and type of saddle used.

An often quoted thumb rule is that a horse can carry 20% of his weight. This would mean a 1200 pound horse could carry 240 pounds which would include rider plus tack. Horses with denser, larger bone might be able to carry more than the 20%. Bone is determined by measuring the circumference of the foreleg just below the knee. Average is about 8 ½ inches for a 1200 pound riding horse. If a horse has lighter bone, he would likely be able to carry less than 20%. If he has heavier bone, he would likely be able to carry more than 20%. Horses with short strong backs, short strong loins and tight coupling tend to be able to carry more weight than average. That’s why Icelandic, Arabian and some Quarter Horses are suited to carry higher weights. A horse in peak condition will be able to support weight better than a thin, poorly conditioned horse. A horse used for walking and posting trot work might be able to carry more weight than a horse that is used for galloping or jumping. But even that depends on the skill of the rider. A skilled rider sits in balance and moves in harmony with the horse. A loose, crooked or imbalanced rider continually throws the horse off balance and thus makes his work more difficult. Therefore a skilled rider might be able to ride a smaller horse while a novice rider might require a larger, more solid horse to compensate for the erratic movements of the rider. Finally, the type of saddle can affect the weight carrying capacity of a horse’s back. A rider’s weight as well as the weight of the saddle itself, is distributed on the horse’s back by the bearing surface of an English saddle’s panels or the tree of a Western saddle. An average English saddle has a bearing surface of about 120 square inches and an average Western saddle has a bearing surface of about 180 inches. So when using a Western saddle, a rider’s weight will be borne by an area that is 1 ½ times the size of the bearing surface of an English saddle. When comparing, you will also need to take into consideration that a Western saddle might weigh 15-40 pounds while an English saddle would weigh between 10-20 pounds.

Because the back ligaments weaken with age and use, we need to fit saddles well and learn to ride effectively in order to preserve our horses’ comfort and usefulness.


Equine Communities

Hi Cherry,

I am a multiple horse owner and former farm owner. I am 54 years old and looking for an equine community where I can purchase a home that is part of an equine community. I visited one in Florida that didn't even come close to my expectations. My vision was one of custom homes...according to need, with a community area which included pastures, shared barn and indoor/outdoor arenas, plus trails. I know that this concept is developing as we speak, and I am sincerely interested for my retirement. I sold my farm and currently board my two personal horses for a mere sum of $1500/month. Of course they are both in some training, but when I retire I would like to have them in my back yard in a more affordable venue. I know that land is not cheap, but I am sure that there are more people like myself who wish to continue to own their horses after they retire without paying someone else to keep them. Any leads?


Hi Virginia,

Thank you for your letter. Yes, this seems to the wave of the future, yet we are in that phase where many of these communities are in the planning stages. I'm picturing baby boomers who, in the future, want to keep their horses but don't want to have to maintain a facility. Developers see that too.

I know of several equestrian communities here in the Rocky Mountain region that are in the infant stage of planning so are still years away from selling homes. Commercial real estate agents are often the ones that handle those types of parcels, so one way to find out what exists or what is in the works would be to select an area in which you want to live and then contact a commercial real estate agent or appraiser in that area.

But easier still is to just type "equine community real estate" into and you will get many leads of already existing equine communities. I did that just now and found links to communities in Georgia, North Carolina, California, and Virginia on the first page and, well you know google, there are more than 10 more pages to browse through.

Happy hunting ! Cherry Hill















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