Half-pass
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, February 23, 2017 08:25 PM
The half-pass is very elegant movement. A well executed half-pass, especially in collected trot, can take your breath away. However, in order for half-pass to look good a few technical details must be adhered to. First and most important one - a half-pass is travers on a diagonal line. This is not just an imaginary tool to help learn half-pass. This is the fundamental rule for it. If you watch international dressage competitions on FEI TV, Youtube or occasionally on regular TV and a camera happen to be placed at the arena letter where half-pass ends the horses half-passing toward the camera show text book execution of travers. Why many riders either forget or never learn that important point about half-pass? One of the reasons can be the way half-pass looks when observed from the front. Its optical illusion of sideways movement makes it very hard to guess it is travers on a diagonal line.
What that means for the riders who want to teach their horses this beautiful movement is to learn the principle - controlling the path of the horse's shoulders/front legs is of paramount importance. All books talk about how travers is an exercise to teach the horse obedience to the leg but it is only a pat of the deal. Ability to effortlessly control how and where shoulders and front legs are traveling while displacing haunches is what makes half-pass so attractive. If that wasn't so nobody will be half-passing, everybody would be leg-yielding, it is so much easier. However, a leg-yield does not look remotely expressive compare to a half-pass because shoulders do not have lift and freedom achieved in half-pass due to bend and collection.
Interestingly, many riders fall victim of that mistake turning or allowing their horses to turn a half-pass into a leg-yield. How does that happen? Horses try to escape the effort of bend and collection and fall on their inside shoulder. This creates an illusion that the horse moves sideways more and he arrives at the wall earlier. Because a rider saw many times watching half-pass from the front how much high level horses go sideways he/she thinks this is a good sign the horse reached the wall earlier. But when a clever horse turns the half-pass into a leg-yield (even if the rider kept the horse parallel to the long side) the bend, balance and collection are lost.
In order to ride half-pass correctly first make sure your horse executes travers near the wall well. Then take him away from the wall on inner track or the quarter line. This still provides visual support of the near wall but not right at it. Then do travers on the centerline. Learn to really see the line of travel. Keep your eyes on it and guide your horse's front on that line. If you have difficulties controlling the line, controlling haunches and the movement feels not like an effortless execution but reminds you of a task of catching falling marbles from a bag full of holes you and your horse is not ready for a half-pass yet.
When you start to feel more confident place a poll on a diagonal line to give yourself a visual tool. Use this poll as imaginary wall along which you are executing travers. For example, if traveling on the right rein you turn on the centerline at A, place the poll just outside of the point of letter D and position it toward letter R. Ride along it in travers to the right. You will see how not easy it is to stay near the poll, most horses will try to leave the poll and come to the wall earlier.
Another mistake easily made by riders in a half-pass is forgetting to make sure their horse looks toward the letter where diagonal line ends. Along the wall it is easier to see where the horse is looking. If allowed to look into the wall the horse again is more leg-yielding then half-passing.
On a diagonal line this is even harder. Many half-passes look like leg-yields with the flexion toward the direction of travel. This is not a half-pass! In order to be sure of correct positioning of your horse ride a few strides of shoulder-in. Your horse will be looking inside the ring with shoulders positioned in. Ask your horse to travel on a diagonal line where his head and shoulders are pointed and request that he keeps his haunches to the inside. Compare to shoulder-in a half-pass requires more bend. Starting a half-pass from a shoulder-in feels like asking for more bend while changing the line of travel.
A good test is to interrupt the half-pass and resume the shoulder-in again on a line parallel to a long side. This will reconfirm to the horse to stay engaged and to stay lifted through the ribcage and the shoulder. If this transition is difficult it means the horse was leaning on inside shoulder in the half-pass.
Bottom line - learn how to ride travers well, the half-pass will be easy after that.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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