Q: I find half passes tricky to ride since I never get the feeling of flowing along. I’ve tried focusing on flow before I enter the half pass, but it doesn’t seem to help. How do I get flow in the half pass?
A: Half pass is one of several lateral movements that we use to gymnastically supple the horse laterally through his body, and to develop and strengthen him in order to achieve the appropriate degree of collection and engagement of the hind legs relative to his level of training. The half pass is ridden on a diagonal line. As in travers, the horse is bent around the rider’s inside leg and flexed in the direction in which he is going (different from leg yielding), and with the shoulders slightly in advance of the haunches.
There are various scenarios that could lead to a lack of flow in your half pass. Half pass is an advanced exercise and is executed well as a result of a horse and rider who are well trained and who have a solid foundation for the basics (rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and collection).
A horse I have in training has very nice half passes to the left, in both trot and canter. He stays well engaged, creating a very nice, uphill balance. He bends easily to the left and stays well connected from back to front, maintaining a steady connection. He flows forward and sideways with ease, maintaining a steady and clear rhythm. To the right it is not so easy. We have trouble keeping the steady flow forward and sideways. The stronger I push him sideways with my outside (left) leg, the stiffer he becomes. I loose engagement of his hind legs along with the uphill elevation of his shoulders and withers. He gets stiff all over and unsteady in the connection.
I feel the difference has to do with this horse’s stiff versus hollow side. For many riders the hollow side often seems to be the easier direction in which to work because it seems as though the bend comes easier to the hollow side. Don’t be fooled! The bend seems easier because the horse wants to carry his haunches slightly to the inside (right) and the shoulders slightly to the outside (left), lacking straightness. When riding half pass to the right, it is too easy for the haunches to lead causing the shoulders to get stuck and unable to move into the direction of the half pass.
In this situation, if I remind myself to keep my horse’s neck and shoulder more straight with my outside rein, making sure I get a true shoulder-fore position (not just a neck bend) before starting my half pass, things tend to flow more easily. Sometimes making a trot−walk−trot transition within the half pass helps to maintain straightness, realigning my horse’s shoulders relative to the haunches, and rebalancing the weight onto the hindquarters, reinforcing proper engagement and collection. When this all happens, the shoulders are free to move over, taking the rest of the horse’s body with him.
Riders also have asymmetries. A common rider flaw is one who sits to the outside of the horse’s center of balance. When riding a half pass your weight should be toward the direction that you want to be traveling. Keep in mind the general rule of keeping your shoulders parallel to your horse’s shoulders and your hips parallel to his hips.
Straightness, engagement and collection must come first, then power and expression can be developed in time. We all hit stumbling blocks in the process of our training. During these times revisit and study the Pyramid of Training.
Bailey Cook is a USDF certified instructor through Fourth Level.