Half-pass can be a spectacular movement when ridden correctly on a well-schooled horse.
This article explains what makes a good half-pass, what the judge is looking for, and how to ride the movement.
What is half-pass?
In half-pass, the horse is uniformly bent toward the direction in which he is traveling. The bend should be through the length of the horse’s body around the rider’s inside leg, not just in the horse’s neck.
The horse’s body should be almost parallel to the track, with the shoulders about one shoe print in advance of the haunches. That is imperative, as a horse cannot travel smoothly sideways in a good rhythm and balance if the haunches are leading.
The horse’s rhythm and tempo should not change, and the steps should remain uphill, elastic, and expressive.
In a canter half-pass, the sequence of the horse’s legs prohibits crossing. A canter half-pass should appear as if the horse jumps into the air, travels sideways while all four feet are off the ground before landing and repeating. Picture the movement as if it were a chef’s knife dicing a tomato.
A correctly performed half-pass should flow smoothly from one side of the arena to the other, with the rider sitting still and upright in the saddle, not leaning to one side.
In competition, half-pass is only ridden in trot and canter, but it may also be ridden in the walk for training purposes.
What does a finished half-pass look like?
It’s important to distinguish between the finished product and the learning stages.
As the horse progresses up the levels, the angle and degree of bend in the half-pass will increase, as the exercises in the dressage tests are made more demanding.
That requires more suppleness, balance, and engagement, so don’t expect a horse in the early learning phase to half-pass like a Grand Prix horse!
What the judge is looking for
When judging the half-pass, the judge is looking for:
1 – Correct positioning
The shoulders should lead slightly, and the horse should be almost parallel to the track.
2 – Clear, uniform, correct bend
3 – Clear crossing and swing
If the horse is not supple through his body, the movement will not flow and cover the ground.
4 – Submission to the bend and cadence
A well-executed half-pass demonstrates elevation of the shoulders, uphill balance, and good lateral reach.
5 – Good preparation for the movement
The exercise should begin and end at the prescribed letter. Accuracy demonstrates that the rider can control the horse’s lateral movement and maintain the impulsion, cadence, and balance.
6 – Rider’s position is correct
The rider should sit still without leaning to one side, as that would unbalance the horse.
How to teach the horse to half-pass
Before teaching your horse the half-pass, he must have:
- Suppleness through the back and laterally
- Understanding of shoulder-in and travers (haunches-in)
The aids for half-pass are essentially the same as they are for all lateral work:
- The rider’s weight should follow the horse’s direction of movement without tipping to the inside.
- The rider’s inside leg is responsible for creating and maintaining the bend and impulsion.
- The rider’s outside leg controls the horse’s sideways movement.
- The inside hand creates a degree of flexion but does not cross over or pull back.
- The rider looks in the direction of travel.
First steps in teaching it then involve:
- Start by riding travers along the track, ensuring your horse’s head is looking straight down the track in front of you.
- Turn onto the center line, let’s say at A, and picture a line drawn on the ground (you can even make one with poles if you find it easier) from D to E, or D to B (assuming this is a 60m arena – if not, then go to a point beyond E or B).
- Now ride travers along that line, in exactly the same way that you rode it along the track. Use your imaginary line instead of the track to position his head and hindquarters relative to each other.
- You have just ridden your first half pass!
This is the simplest and most successful way to teach half pass to both horse and rider, as they focus on riding forward along the line with a modest degree of displacement of the hind quarters, instead of getting hung up on ‘going sideways’.
Remember: always ride half pass forward (primarily) and sideways (secondary).
Problems with positioning the horse for half-pass
Be careful that you don’t allow the horse’s quarters to trail, as that will lose you marks. However, if you try too much parallel positioning in the early days of your horse’s training, you risk killing the flow and freedom of movement. So, only ask for as much as your horse is able to give you until he is more established and supple.
Note that if you ask for too much bend, you run the risk of the quarters being left behind.
However, the biggest mistake that you can make is to have the horse’s quarters leading. If the quarters are in advance, the horse won’t be able to maintain the rhythm or impulsion, and the steps will become flat and earthbound.
Useful exercises to improve the half-pass
Transitions are very useful for improving the half-pass. Ride from collection to medium and from medium to collection within the pace.
You can also use transitions between the paces to encourage the horse to maintain the impulsion and loosen his shoulders.
So, in half-pass, ride from trot to walk and back to trot again. Or ride from working trot to collected trot to medium trot, and then from medium trot to collected trot all within the half-pass.
When riding the half-pass, always keep in mind that the movement should travel forward first and sideways second. That way, you won’t get too hung up on pushing the horse sideways without maintaining the quality and fluency of the paces.
Did you teach your horse half-pass? Do you have any questions about riding half-pass? If you do, tell us in the comments box below.
- How to Ride Haunches-In (Travers)
- How to Position Your Horse for Lateral Movements
- How to Introduce Lateral Work (And in What Order)
- How to Increase the “Crossing of Legs”