I had always thought that the half pass was an exercise to be reserved for fancy breeds competing at the higher level training of Dressage. Then I was taught the importance of introducing this exercise to all disciplines, as well as all breeds. The half pass is a lateral movement. All lateral movements when done correctly address common athletic purposes:
- Strengthening and suppling of muscles and joints
- Increased balance, lightness, and coordination
- Most importantly, correct spinal alignment (straightening and bending)
- Lateral work also contributes to mental focus and harmony
The half pass should be introduced at the walk. When the horse is confident and understands what is being asked, the movement can be practiced at trot and canter. When you and your horse have schooled at the higher gaits, the walk half pass in your Working Equitation Dressage test becomes quite simple.
The best way to teach your horse a correct half pass is to start with shoulder in. Your outside leg is already back a bit behind the girth to control the haunches, your horse’s shoulders are already leading, the horse is already bent around the inside leg. Now just step into your inside stirrup a little while applying slight pressure with the outside leg. You may need a little reminder to move away from leg pressure with a light tap of the whip on the outside. Kicking the horse will only disturb his focus and coordination. If you have to kick your horse to move away from pressure, you may want to go back and retrain your leg yields so your horse responds to quiet dialogue.
The other way to train the half pass is with your turn on the haunches. As you have the shoulders moving in a circle around the haunches, ask the horse for a sideways step. An important factor if training out of turn on the haunches is that the horse needs to be bent in the direction of travel! You can also use a small circle (volte) as the horse already has the bend to prepare for the half pass.
What can go wrong…
Horse rushes sideways — Your horse is attempting to evade the bend. Horses seek comfort, and this can be frustrating for them to figure out. You need to be sure you are reminding the horse with the outside rein to slow and steady the steps, only using a gentle inside rein to control flexion.
The hindquarters are leading — Too much outside leg pressure. Try just using weight in the direction of travel and be sure you are controlling the shoulder with your outside rein (like neck reining). Straighten the horse with your inside leg or go back to a few steps of shoulder in to get the coordination back. Check to be sure you are not holding too much pressure on the bit. This will interfere with allowing the outside hind to step over and in front of the inside hind, causing the horse to swing its haunches in to compensate.
The movement resembles a leg yield — Your horse is not properly bent in the direction of travel. Work on your shoulder in and pirouettes (turn on the haunches) to create suppleness and flexion from poll to tail. Use your corners to set the horse up for the correct bend. If your horse is braced against your inside leg going through the corner, you will not get the correct bend in your half pass. Think about pointing your horse’s ears at X with slight flexion of the inside rein. Be careful not to make the movement about the inside rein only.
Beneficial exercises to practice-
- At F, three steps of shoulder in, half pass left to X, one step to straighten at X before half pass right back to wall, then straight. Practice both directions out of corner at F and H.
- Anywhere you are – 4 strides half pass, 4 strides straight, 4 strides half pass. This one is good for the backyard rider!
- Half pass left to X, turn on haunches to change direction, continuing with same left bend. Half pass left back to wall. The continuous bend is a great suppling exercise, practice both directions. Another good pattern for those of us training in a small area.
Not only does lateral work bring harmony, beauty, and elegance, it prolongs the athletic life of your horse with the benefits of suppleness.