Within dressage training there is a great emphasis on developing a straight horse, and riders work carefully to create this quality. However, without balance a horse will never be straight. Imagine walking along a narrow wooden beam. When your balance is perfect, walking along the beam is easy, but when you are unbalanced, you wobble from side to side, arms waving to regain your balance and prevent you falling off.
When a rider is unbalanced, they make it hard for their horse to move freely in any movement. Unbalanced horses use their shoulders and neck to support themselves making it difficult for the rider to turn or move them on a straight line as the horse continually falls to one side.
By regularly riding some simple exercises, such as correct circles and serpentines, it is possible to develop a horse who is supple to both sides. Accurately ridden, these exercises improve the horse’s balance, freeing the forehand, and allowing them to release and lengthen their neck. As the horse’s shoulder becomes free from supporting the horse’s weight, the horse is more balanced, and the impulsion from their haunches starts to elevate the forehand.
Compare the two pictures of half pass below. Both horses are in the same phase of half pass steps, the red lines show where the rider’s balance is on each horse. The horse on the left is balanced and stepping freely into the half pass. The horse on the right has been taken off balance by the rider’s position behind the movement, and the horse is blocked though his right shoulder and foreleg.
For more information on exercises to help balance your horse please see my blogs on circles (link to foundations-circles-and-corners) spiralling exercise (link to spiralling exercise) and serpentines (link to foundations serpentines) and also a blog about the rider’s influence on balance. (dianefollowell.com/blog/rider-position)
Half pass is a movement across the diagonal of the arena, where the horse’s body remains roughly parallel to the side of the school and they step forward and then sideways. It follows on from shoulder-in and develops greater flexibility and strength in the horse. Half pass can be ridden in walk, trot and canter.
It needs to be developed with care so that the horse remains in his haunches, leading the movement with his inside hind, not his inside shoulder.
Go back to shoulder in and circles if the horse has difficulty in half pass.
Common faults are;
Look at the pictures below and see which half pass you think is most correct.
For more information on correcting problems in half pass please see
Half pass – Correcting Problems – Horse twists the head.
Half Pass – Correcting problems 2 – Changes to the rhythm.
Half pass – Correcting problems 3 Quarters or forehand lead too much.
Half pass – Correcting problems 4 – Horse confuses aids for canter.
Half pass, travers and renvers and are all excellent exercises for developing suppleness, performed in different places in the school.
Introduce travers with care or your horse will not produce travers but a twisted contortion. Start at the beginning of the long side of the school and maintain a slight inside bend with your inside leg. Do not over bend the horse. Lightly touch with your outside leg back to bring your horse's quarters to the inside. As with half pass use intermittent touches with your leg, and only use the leg as necessary so you don't rush your horse in the movement. Don't over bend them to the inside or the outside shoulder will fall away.
The wall on the long side can prevent forward movement, to resolve this ensure your horse is carrying the movement from the inside hind leg not the inside shoulder.
Renvers is the reverse of travers, the quarters are to the wall and the shoulders are on an inner track with the horse bent in the direction of the movement. To position your horse for renvers, turn on to an inner track on the long side of the school. Change to bend towards the outside of the school. As with travers use your outside leg (outside to the bend, which will be on the inside of the school) to move the horse's haunches towards the wall.
Travers and renvers can be ridden on a circle and are both very beneficial to the development of a horse’s suppleness, engagement and collection. Care must be taken to ensure that the horse is correctly round the rider's inside leg and not just crooked.
The picture below shows the position of a horse in half pass, travers and renvers. The red line represents the wall and you can see how in each exercise the position of the horse is the same.
Half pass is a lateral movement where the horse takes steps to the side and forward moving in a diagonal line away from the starting point. Unlike shoulder-in, the horse is moving towards the bend, i.e. A left half pass has left bend. It is of great benefit to the suppleness of a horse and the engagement of the hind legs. (for more information see Half Pass - Correcting Problems 1)
Changes in rhythm are quite common and are due to a variety of reasons. It can be difficult to understand why the rhythm has changed, but once you can identify why the rhythm has changed, the correction is straight forward.
Rider blocks with rein
This is a very common fault, when the rider uses the inside rein to create or maintain the half pass, rather than the legs. The outside leg asks for the side step, and the inside leg gathers the horse, maintaining the impulsion and the bend. If the rider doesn't use their legs in time with the horse's rhythm, or uses the legs together, the horse starts to rush, or is blocked, and the rhythm changes.
The horse blocks with shoulder
If this occurs, the horse presses the inside shoulder into the half pass. The correction for this is by using the inside rein away from the horse's neck. By opening the inside rein, the horse is encouraged to stay in the correct bend and is lead into the half pass. It is vitally important not to pull the rein back as you do this or the horse will be blocked in the hind leg.
Horse quickens towards end of half pass
Sometimes a horse will speed up as they feel the wall approaching, to correct this, first decrease the pressure from your outside leg, and stop the half pass 2 or 3 metres from the wall by tactfully riding forwards.
The horse changes the rhythm
In this instance, the horse performs a good half pass but the rhythm is not consistent throughout. Ensure that your horse is bent round your inside leg and lightly connected in the outside rein. Once in half pass, check the use of your legs; using them out of rhythm with your horse will quicken his steps and alter his natural rhythm. Each horse has their own rhythm and it is important that you ride him in that rhythm.
For some horses, if the angle is too steep, they will lose the engagement of the inside hind leg and the rhythm will alter. This may be due to conformation, or suppleness, so ride the half pass at a slightly smaller angle.
Alternatively, it may be that you are asking too many steps and your horse is not able to keep the movement for so long. In which case, ask fewer steps, and gradually increase the number of steps over a few days.
The half pass is a lateral movement where the horse takes steps to the side and forward, moving in a diagonal line away from the starting point. Unlike shoulder-in, the horse is moving towards the bend, i.e. a left half pass has left bend. It is of great benefit to the suppleness of a horse and the engagement of the hind legs.
Half Pass essentials from the FEI rule book;
To ride half pass, the horse must be placed round the rider's inside leg and lightly connected to the outside rein. Evidence of a good half pass is arriving at the end of the movement with your horse still connecting from your inside leg to your outside rein. Many problems occur when the rider creates a half pass by using the inside rein to force the bend and the outside leg to push the horse in the direction, abandoning the inside leg and outside rein.
When the horse is able to do shoulder-in from the long side on to the centre line, you can begin some steps of half pass. Start with your horse in a shoulder fore or shoulder-in position. The degree of the angle depends very much on each the horse; for novice horses, have a shallow angle. The inside leg gives the bend, and then the outside leg, slightly behind the girth, pushes the horse to the side.
It is important for the inside rein to yield and the legs to alternately touch and release, or the horse will become blocked. The rider's shoulders should be turned slightly in the direction of the movement so they remain parallel to the horse's shoulders, and the rider's seat should be balanced across both seat bones.
The horse twists his head when:-
Usually these errors need to be corrected by going back a level in the training and spend some time placing the horse correctly around circles and shoulder-in, ensuring suppleness on both reins.
Then set up the half pass again, ensuring that you don't take the inside rein, as this prevents the inside hind leg from coming through and creates resistance on the inside rein, blocking the horse.
If the horse is stiffer on one side, return to shoulder-in to supple them more before starting half pass again.
Initially, you may need to ride half pass at a slightly shallower angle until your horse is comfortable in the movement, then you can gradually increase the angle and the number of steps.
Don't use your legs together as this will confuse your horse. If necessary, touch lightly with alternate legs, in rhythm with the movement of the horse.
The half pass is a movement where the horse travels diagonally away from the line of travel. The horse should be bent in the direction of the movement and the outside legs cross in front of the inside legs giving a series of steps carrying the horse forward and sideways along the diagonal line.
A half pass should have a lightness and fluidity of movement, where the horse remains engaged on the inside hind and soft on the inside rein. At the end of the movement, the horse should be bent round the rider’s inside leg and connected lightly in the outside hand – very often the opposite is seen.
The FEI requirements list the essentials of half pass as:-
The rider’s position is critical in enabling the horse to perform a correct half pass. The rider’s inside leg creates impulsion and maintains the bend, and their seat should remain level. Closing the body towards the inside elbow will place the rider’s weight correctly to the inside allowing the horse to easily step across.
The aids from the rider’s legs are important as they must alternately touch and give. Using both legs at the same time confuses the horse. Arthur Kottas and Nuno Oliveira both comment on this.
“The inside leg first gives the bend, then the outside leg, a little behind the girth pushes the haunches intermittently towards half pass”
“In half pass, the inside leg gives the flexion. Get the flexion first then use the outside leg.
Be very attentive to your inside leg. You must push with one leg and stay quiet with the other or the horse will be confused.
I remind you, when you work with one leg stay quiet with the other.”
The most common error that riders make is to pull the inside rein back to create the bend. This action blocks the horse on the inside, inhibiting the movement to that side, and then the rider must use excessive outside leg to push the horse across. In addition, these actions put the rider’s weight to the outside, further preventing the horse from stepping into the half pass.
You should begin to train half pass when the horse is confirmed in a good quality shoulder-in and can maintain this from the long side of the school to the centre line. With some horses, you can ask half pass directly from the shoulder-in, but with others it can be helpful to straighten out of shoulder-in for a step, whilst maintaining the bend, and then ask for a step of half pass. Initially only ask for 1 or 2 steps, the quality is far more important than the quantity. When the horse understands this, gradually ask for 1 or 2 more steps.
At first glance, the half passes in the pictures below look correct, but if you look closer, you can see that the chestnut horse is out of balance. The rider’s inside leg has come away from the horse and the inside rein is being used to create the bend. The rider’s outside leg then has to do too much to move the horse across which impacts the rider’s position.
You can clearly see the rider on the chestnut horse is leaning to the outside of the half pass which is making the movement harder for the horse. Some horses are athletic enough to perform the movement anyway, but it produces a stiff truncated half pass.
François de la Guérinière
If a horse refuses to move sideways in one of the two directions, it is a sign that he has not been rendered supple enough on the opposite side.
…the shoulder-in means controlling the outside much rather than driving the inside.
Only when the horse is calm and confident can he give the rider his impulsive forces which the rider can then use at will.
Nuno Oliveira on Half Pass
Renvers is the final exercise in this quartet of lateral movements with shoulder-in, half pass and travers. Like travers, it is the same as half pass, but this time it is performed down the side of the school with the horse’s shoulders to the inside and, unlike shoulder-in, the bend is in the direction of the movement. If the travers and half pass are well established, renvers is a natural progression of these movements.
One way to start renvers is from half pass. Begin with a good well balanced half pass. As you approach the wall, gently step the quarters over a little with your outside leg, while slowing the shoulders with your inside rein towards the neck. Do not pull the rein back as this will block your horse’s hind leg and place him on the shoulder. The rein and leg action will advance the quarters the track, and once the quarters are on the track, maintain this position and angle down the side of the school.
An alternative method is from the long side. Ride a good corner so your horse is well balanced on the long side of the school. Change the bend to the outside and then bring the horse’s shoulders in with a delicate movement of the hands towards the inside of the school. The outside leg sends the outside hind leg under the horse’s body.
With some horses I find that transitions between shoulder-in and renvers have a good suppling effect and can significantly engage the quarters. To ride this, start in a good walk shoulder-in and then after several steps, change the bend so the horse is positioned in renvers. Be very careful that you can retain the balance or the horse will drop into the shoulder again.
François de la Guérinière
This exercise [shoulder in] has so many benefits that I regard it as the alpha and omega of all exercises for the horse which are intended to develop complete suppleness and perfect agility in all it’s parts.
In the shoulder-in hold your body against your outside elbow.
The most common fault made by riders in doing shoulder-in is to have the horse more bent in front of the wither (or saddle) than behind it. The horse must be the same in front of the withers (or saddle) as he is behind.
Correctly done the shoulder-in gives great results as it relaxes and straightens the horse.
The most important aid [in half pass] is given by the rider’s inside leg which pushes the horse forward and is responsible for correct bend.
The position of the [horse’s] head [in half pass] should be such that the neck is not more bent than the whole body.
Don’t exaggerate the bend in the half pass. Otherwise you block the inside shoulder.
As with half pass, travers develops the strength and flexibility of the hind leg as the leg steps under the body mass and carries the weight across. Travers is essentially a half pass ridden down the long side of the school, the main difference being the entry to the movement. In this exercise, the quarters are brought to the inside with the shoulders remaining on the original line of travel. The horse is now bent in the direction of travel with the outside hind leg crossing the inside hind leg.
If the horse has been taught a correct shoulder-in this movement is easy to perform. Start with a good circle at the beginning of the long side, ride the corner very correctly with the horse well balanced and round the inside leg. Maintaining an inside flexion, have a moment of straightness as you come out of the corner and then, lightly ask your horse to bring the quarters to the inside with delicate touches from the outside leg behind the girth. Stay balanced and move in the direction of travel. It may help to drop your inside knee down a little so you stay with the movement and don’t tip to the outside.
When the horse is confident with travers on the long side, bring him on to a large 20m circle in travers. This further engages the hind quarters and is a developmental exercise for pirouettes. Travers on smaller circles can only be performed in walk and canter due to the mechanics of the paces.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
Please CLICK HERE to read more about Horses and Riders I have been able to help with Classical Dressage Training