Improving Half-Pass
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, November 23, 2020 09:04 AM
Half pass when done well looks magnificent. A horse, elevated and swinging, pushes across the ground up and sideways. This is not an easy movement for a horse and horses never do it at liberty on their own. This is taught, developed and improved over years of training. Some horses more talented for such work, some less. However, EVERY horse can learn a half pass regardless of breed and conformation. It does take work and time though. Plus, it takes even more work to improve it...
I am not going to describe here what is a half pass or how to teach or ride it. There is a ton of information about it - online, books, etc. I am going to give you couple exercises that can improve a half-pass when you are already working on it. One of them is:
Shoulder-in to Half Pass to Shoulder-in
This exercise can be done in all three gaits: walk, trot and canter. One of the challenges of a half pass is continuous engagement and pushing power of the hind end while going sideways. It is very tempting for a horse to start falling toward the direction of travel, hence, losing lift and bend. It usually starts to manifest in heavy inside rein, stiff inside side of the ribs, there will be no swing in trot, cadence will be lost. Shoulder-in on the other hand is an exercise that teaches a horse engagement and push under the body. It is easier then a half pass for a horse and allows the rider both: test and improve the qualities we described above. In order for this exercise to benefit the horse shoulder-in must be ridden with bend, horse's shoulders must be level and hind legs step under the body. The exercise is ridden as follows:
  • Coming out of a corner start shoulder-in. If there are issues with shoulder-in opt to 10 m circle and try again. Do not start the half pass if shoulder-in feels stiff, heavy, lacks engagement and push
  • Provided shoulder-in feels good start a half pass. The front of the horse is already pointing where half pass will go. A rider needs to shift more weight into inside seatbone but not lean in. Use outside leg to initiate the half pass which means change of direction (travel to the inside of the ring instead along the wall). However, the sense of the shoulder-in remains in a half pass in the attributes such as bend, coming up and listening to outside rein, staying lifted and engaged
  • First few strides may feel pretty good and then the horse starts to struggle. This is the moment to switch back to shoulder-in and travel on the line parallel to long side. Shoulder-in will remind a horse to engage from inside leg, push shoulders up and connect to outside rein.
  • When shoulder-in feels good a rider can start half pass again. In a big ring this transitions can be done up to 2-3 times before turning around. I also ride them in a big field, then I can fit 5-6 transitions.
Half Pass to Leg-Yield
This exercise can be ridden in all three gaits. It is very beneficial for canter with horses that do not have naturally easy, uphill canter. The main challenge is that leg-yield must be done opposite direction of the half pass. If half pass is to the left, leg-yield is to the right still cantering on the left lead. The point here is to ask the horse to shift his balance from inside of his body where he started to lean and stiffen to the outside of his body. The difference between this exercise and the first one with shoulder-in is simplicity for both horse and rider, particularly in walk and trot. The horse will learn to listen to inside leg better and the rider learns not to shift her balance too much ahead of the horse. Readiness to go opposite direction at any moment helps to sit more centered. Also, it is important not to tip/twist your seat when changing direction.
Remember, quality, not quantity. Observe. Learn to be quiet and simply watch your horse perform or make mistake. Don't do it for him!
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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