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.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer