Classical Riding – The Half Pass

Half-Pass right - Elizabeth Tate with Elliott - Photo by Black Tent -

Half-Pass right – Elizabeth Tate with
Elliott – Photo by Black Tent –

The Half-Pass is the next logical step on the ladder of lateral movements, usually being taught after Shoulder-in and Travers.

Travers, which was discussed in last month’s article in this series, is a very good precursor to Half-Pass. However, it is a different exercise and requires, as well as creates, more collection and effort on the part of the horse. It therefore follows that the horse must be appropriately fit and prepared before commencement of this exercise.

The Horse’s Movements in Half-Pass

The horse should move simultaneously forwards and laterally, bent towards the direction of travel and bent around the rider’s inside leg.
The forehand should precede the quarters by about half a stride. This point, together with the forward momentum, is important. If both or either of these principles are lost, then the exercise will become more akin to a full-pass, which does not create the same amount of suppleness and strengthening benefits as Half-Pass. The Full-Pass also does not require nor create collection and weight carrying of the haunches as does Half-Pass..
Both the horse’s front and hind legs will cross over in Half-Pass. For instance in left Half-Pass the right fore will step in front of and cross over the left fore. The right hind will step in front of and across the left hind towards the horse’s centre of gravity, pushing the horse forwards and sideways. Thus the outside hind is the driving leg, and the one which does most of the work and is therefore strengthened and suppled.

As mentioned in previous articles, most horses have a stiff and a more supple side, as well as one hind leg which is stronger than the other. The two are not necessarily on the same side, so it is quite possible to have a horse who bends easier to the right, but whose left hind is the weaker; thus such a horse will find right Half-Pass the more difficult one because, although he can bend easily to the right, his left hind finds it harder to drive the movement. This horse will find right Shoulder-in easier than left because in Shoulder-in it will be the right (inside) hind driving the movement.

It is important to practice any exercise on both reins; not just the one which the horse finds easy.
However, it must be borne in mind that these exercises are, even when carried out in walk, quite strenuous and should not be practiced to excess, especially in the early days of training. The horse must be afforded patience and empathy if he finds it difficult in the early days, and he must NEVER BE FORCED. The least little bit of understanding and co-operation on the part of the horse should be liberally praised.

Differences and Similarities to Leg-Yield

Some people find it easier to understand the movement of the Half-Pass by thinking of it as a reverse leg-yield. It does have definite similarities in that the horse moves forwards and sideways at the same time, with the forehand in advance of the quarters by about half a stride. The big difference is that the bend is reversed. In leg-yield the horse moves away from the bend (or just a flexion which is all that is necessarily required) whereas in Half-Pass he moves towards the direction of bend. Also in Half-Pass a modicum of bend (although not necessarily great) is required equally from poll to tail. It is virtually impossible, and would be incorrect, to perform it without any bend at all.
The similarities between the two exercises end there. Leg-yield is merely a movement which helps to supple and balance the horse, at the same time teaching him to move away from the rider’s unilateral leg aid. It does not require, nor create, collection and the extra weight bearing capacity of the haunches, as does Half-Pass. For this reason leg-yield is not actually a classical exercise and many classical trainers do not use it at all. Some people may think that it confuses the horse, but this has never been my experience. With a sensitive rider, giving clear aids, the horse soon learns to move forwards and sideways with a different bend. I believe that leg-yield is a good preparatory movement for the lateral exercises, as well as being a good warm-up exercise in walk for advanced horses.
With more advanced horses, whose Half-Pass is well established, riding Half-Pass, changing the bend to leg-yield and back again, is a good exercise to keep the horse supple, quick off the aids, and interested in the lesson.

Half-Pass right - overhead view of position of horse

Half-Pass right – overhead view of position of horse

The Rider’s Aids for Half-Pass (Right Rein in this case)

It is a good idea to ride either a Shoulder-in or Travers down the long side of the school to improve the collection before commencing the first strides of Half-Pass.
Presuming that you are on the right rein, you could ride a Shoulder-in then change to Travers at the half-way marker down the long side. Straighten the horse at the corner and give a gentle half-halt. At about the quarter line (half way before reaching the centre line) on the short side of the school, turn off the track to the right. You are aiming to ride forward and sideways back to the track from whence you came, with the horse bent around your right leg. If you begin at the quarter line, you will not have too far to ride before reaching the track – less daunting than starting at the half-way line.
Leg, Torso and Weight Aids
For Half-Pass right step slightly into your right stirrup, bend the horse around your right (inside) leg, which should give support and encourage the bend. Turn your shoulders in the direction you wish your horse to position his shoulders; bring your right shoulder very slightly back. Your left (outside) leg should be taken back from the hip, not just from the knee.
As the horse moves off the track, ask with your left (outside) leg for the sideways movement to the right. It is important to do this at the point of leaving the track, before the horse has straightened up. In order to differentiate the outside leg aid from that of canter, try making the pushing aid slowly and gently. At the same time as the left leg requests the movement of the quarters the left (outside) rein must back up this aid (see Rein Aids below).
Be careful not to try too hard to push the horse over with your outside leg, nor to step too far into the inside stirrup. Both these mistakes can cause a rider to collapse at the hip, causing weight to be transferred to the outside seatbone, seriously confusing the horse and hampering his lateral steps.
Look where you want your horse to look. It almost goes without saying that you need to be in a good classical seat. Sit tall with your chest expanded, tummy and lower back muscles toned, but without stiffness; shoulders relaxed back and down with elbows resting against your side; thumbs on top of the reins, with a straight line from your elbow to the horse’s mouth.

Rein Aids

Your right (inside) rein indicates the direction of bend, but must definitely not be over-used or opened to the right. This would pull the horse onto the right shoulder and over-bend the neck.
It is imperative that the left (outside) rein is held against the horse’s neck to both support and indicate the degree of lateral steps.
Keep both hands together just above the withers; take them to the right slightly so that the left rein is against the horse’s neck, but don’t allow your left hand to move over to the right of the withers.
A tactful sponging of the fingers of the right rein may be required to indicate to the horse that he should be looking right.
The left (outside) rein is key to the degree of lateral steps. If you use too much left rein then the movement will cease to go forwards and will merely move sideways, thus losing much of the physical benefits of the exercise. The forward movement must take precedence over the sideways steps.
However, if too little support is given by the left (outside) rein then the horse will most likely walk in a straight diagonal line back to the track, losing the Half-Pass altogether.
There should NEVER BE ANY PULLING WITH THE REINS. All rein aids should be given with tact and sympathy and your hands should work in conjunction with all the other aids so they are never in isolation.
You will soon know if you are using too much outside rein because you will feel the movement losing the forward momentum; so just ease with this rein, without giving it away altogether. If you give the outside rein too much the horse will feel abandoned and confused.
Keeping the Forehand Preceding the Quarters (by about half a stride)
This can be very tricky when first teaching Half-Pass. You may feel that the quarters swing inwards to the right and then get ‘left behind’ to the left. This is only to be expected at first and you must try to feel where the quarters are and adjust the amount of left (outside) leg pressure needed, which will vary from moment to moment, until the horse understands the movement. Try not to over-use your outside leg; use the minimum aid possible. It is always easier to increase the aid than to correct an over-strong aid. When he is established in Half-Pass of course your aids should be almost imperceptible.
At first you may feel like it is a bit of a juggling act, but practice and patience makes perfect.

Don’t Do Too Much Too Soon

As with all new exercises, always begin training in walk. Just a stride or two will suffice in the beginning, then ride straight forward again.. Practice on both reins and be prepared to understand that one rein will be easier than the other. However, given time and patience, this inconsistency will become less noticeable.
It may be many week or even months before the horse is ready to advance to performing Half-Pass in trot, and possibly years before he is capable of doing it in canter. Let the horse dictate your timetable; take as long as it takes, it will be worth it in the end. If you try to do too much too soon, you will not only have left the ethos of the classical school, you will most likely be damaging your horse for life and losing the beauty and harmony that could have been yours. Both you and your horse should enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Anne Wilson is a freelance classical riding trainer, based in Bedfordshire; trained with Sylvia Loch and holder of the Classical Riding Club Gold Award Certificate – Phone 01234 772401 or email:-
See Anne’s book ‘Riding Revelations – Classical Training from the Beginning’ available from

Author: Features Editor

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