The half-pass is the movement which for many epitomises the very essence of dressage. Horse and rider glide elegantly across the arena, appearing to float on air and in perfect harmony.
Half-pass can be performed in collected trot or collected canter and in passage during a freestyle test. The exercise is performed on the diagonal line. In the trot, the horse's outside legs pass and cross in front of the inside legs. At canter the movement is presented as a series of forward and sideways strides across the arena. The horse should be slightly bent around the rider's inside leg in the direction in which he is moving. He should show the same cadence and balance throughout the movement; his inside hind leg serving to lighten his shoulders and give the exercise freedom and mobility.
So, how do you go about teaching your horse half-pass? Don't worry if you aren't quite up to advanced level just yet. Lateral work is a great way of suppling your horse and developing your own co-ordination and adds variety and interest to your schooling sessions. You don't have to be technically perfect to have fun in the private and safe environment of your home arena or field and there is no scary judge to spoil things!
Begin by teaching your horse travers. Travers put simply is quarters in along the wall. The horse's quarters are brought to the inside so that the outside hind leg steps into the track of the inside foreleg in a line behind the inside shoulder. The horse is bent around the rider's inside leg and moves in the direction of the flexion at the poll and the bend through his body. As he moves along the wall, his outside legs cross over in front of the inside ones; his inside hind leg taking more weight and showing increased flexion in its joints as the horse's body moves sideways and across it.
Start teaching the exercise in walk to give you more time to get yourself organised. Ride a ten metre circle in the corner of the arena to establish a clear inside bend. Drop your weight into your inside seat bone but be careful not to lean over. Keep your hands level and positioned either side of his neck; resist the urge to cross the inside rein over. As the horse's forehand hits the track, maintain the bend and forward impulsion with your inside leg; put your outside leg back behind the girth and push the horse's quarters in off the track.
Be content with one or two steps to start with and gradually build the exercise up as the horse becomes more confident and understands what you want him to do.
It's very important to maintain the energy levels as you ride the movement. If you find the horse is losing impulsion, this could be because you have too much angle and the quarters have come in too much. You are looking for an angle of no more than 30 degrees. Eyes on the ground are very useful here, preferably with a video camera positioned at the end of the long side so that you can watch yourself back and correct your positioning accordingly. Riding strongly forward down the long side of the arena in a good working trot will help to keep the horse thinking forward. Once you've got the impulsion back, go back to walk and begin the exercise again.
If you begin to lose the angle and bend and the horse's quarters start drifting back to the track, pick up your circle again to re-establish the bend and start the exercise again. When the horse has got the gist of what you want, have a go at the movement in trot.
Now that you and your horse are proficient at travers you can move on to half-pass. Half-pass is simply travers ridden across the diagonal line instead of down the wall.
Ride a ten metre half circle at the end of the arena's long side as if you were going to ride off the centre line straight back to the track. Imagine a straight line of fencing running from the centre line back to the track. As you complete your half circle, maintain the bend and ride travers down the imaginary fence line back to the track, keeping the horse's shoulders against the "fence" and bringing his quarters in around your inside leg. You are now in half-pass!
As you become more proficient you can half-pass right across the arena; mix it up and ride the movement in canter when you feel brave enough. In trot, ride half-pass as a zig zag either side of the centre line.
Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day and some horses learn quicker than others. If everything goes wrong, go back to the beginning, think carefully about your aids and start again. And have fun!
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