Over the years, I rode many a half pass in international event competitions. Now, I often joke about the fact that I had long since given up actively eventing at the international level before I really learned how to ride a good half pass! I am bracketing the half pass together with the haunches-in, because it is fundamentally the same exercise, and the haunches-in is the foundation of a good half pass.
The haunches-in, or traverse, is a lateral movement, in which the horse is bent in the direction of his movement, around the rider's inside leg. His hindquarters are to the inside of the track and the outside hind leg crosses in front of the inside hind leg; the outside front leg is placed ahead of the inside front leg. The half pass is basically the same exercise, but it is performed on the diagonal of the arena and the outside front leg will cross in front of the inside one.
Here are four tips I've learned that improved my two-track work.
1. It goes without saying that your horse must be able to move laterally off a light outside aid before attempting to do either exercise. If not, you will have to use too strong an outside leg, causing you to sit over your outside seat bone and your body to fall behind the movement. If your weight falls to the left when you are asking your horse to go the right, it will be physically impossible for him to go there! So your upper body needs to turn slightly into and incline toward the direction of the movement. Make no mistake about it, this is hard to do and requires considerable practice and expertise!
2. The essence of a good half pass is the freedom of the horse's shoulders. Although it may be helpful initially to bring the inside hand toward the outside hip in order to control the shoulders, the goal must be to open the inside rein so that both hands move toward the direction you are moving in the half pass. It can even be helpful to bring the outside rein just a little up and against the neck to guide the forehand and keep it ahead of the hindquarters.
If, for example, in your efforts to control his shoulders, you move your hands to the left, while you are asking your horse to make a right half pass, you will end up restricting him too much, the stride will shorten and you will probably end up with the hindquarters leading, which, of course, is incorrect and probably causing him to twist his neck and tip his head as well.
3. Continually monitor and emphasize the forward movement. The tendency, when doing both half pass and haunches-in, is to want to feel a lot of sideways progression. But moving sideways at too great an angle causes the horse to get stuck.
4. When you ride out of the corner hold the haunches a little to the inside with your outside leg, maintain plenty of flexion in the head and neck, and, by aligning it with the track, simply use the horse's crest as a sight line and ride him forward along that line, looking over his poll towards the end of the arena (in the case of the half pass, towards the appropriate marker). You will find that you have to use a lot of inside leg to keep the horse going sufficiently forward and to keep his forehand on the track. Apply this principle to the half pass, making sure that you move the horse's shoulders into the exercise first so they always stay ahead of his hindquarters, and you will do it most successfully!
As an international and Olympic event rider for Great Britain, Jeremy Beale now focuses on Grand Prix dressage and is a U.S. Dressage Federation gold medalist. With his wife, Jan, he teaches at their Pen-y-Bryn Equestrian Center in Chester Springs, Pa.
This article first appeared in the April 2002 issue of Dressage Today magazine.