Monday, April 25, 2011

The Half-Pass

I know. The half-pass is better known as an English maneuver, but I don’t know what I would do without it! A half-pass ensures that my horse will lope off in the correct lead, teaches lead changes, positions for spins and is a great tool for correcting if he  charges in a run-down (half-pass to a walk).

The half-pass is the most demanding form of leg yielding, so my horse needs to know how to leg yield in the simplest way – that is, giving to pressure from my inside leg and moving forward sideways to the outside of the circle – before I teach the half-pass. I also teach him to move into the circle (off of my outside leg) before I teach half-pass. So, if you are walking a circle on the right rein, you should be able to leg yield your horse to left a few steps as in Basic Exercise: Leg Yielding and also leg yield him off of your left leg a few steps to right (still walking in a right circle) before you try to half-pass. (Note: When you leg yield into the circle, apply outside leg and outside rein wide to tip the nose to the outside, then inside rein (on the neck) until he moves a few steps forward/sideways into the circle.)

What is a half-pass?
A half-pass is a form of leg yielding whereby the rider re-directs the forward motion of his horse into forward sideways motion with the horse’s head in the same direction as the direction of travel (as opposed to basic leg yielding where the horse’s head is away from the direction of travel).

The Exercise
Walk your horse in a large circle on the right rein. Make sure your right leg is not in contact with your horse. With your weight to the left (it helps to really exaggerate this at first), apply right rein pressure in a “give-and-take” in the direction of your left shoulder – a rein of opposition. I find I need quite a short rein to do this so my hand doesn't get too high. Apply left leg pressure and steady direct left rein pressure until your horse steps to the inside of the circle with forward sideways steps. Your right rein will be holding your horse on the circle and your left leg will be moving his hind quarters into the circle. Ask for only a step or two at the beginning, using your voice or bumping softly with your inside leg for forward motion. Release all aids and repeat, then repeat to the left.

Where can it go wrong?
  • The horse loses forward motion. If your horse does not want to move forward when you have him in a half-pass position, “cluck’ to him (voice) and/or bump him with your inside leg. If you cannot convince him to go forward or he backs up, release the half-pass aids, walk forward (you always have to have forward motion!) and try again.
  • The horse will not give to the inside rein. Make sure you are pull/releasing the inside rein. If you are solid on both reins, your horse will be confused, especially if he is just learning the maneuver. If he is not giving to the inside rein, the rest of the aids for the half-pass are not going to make it happen, so get this working first!
  • The horse does not give to the leg. If your horse does not give to the leg, you might have to go back to more basic leg yielding until he responds better. Also, turns on the forehand might help. Then go back to try the half-pass. Remember, you need only a step at first.

Note: On horses that really resist my attempts to teach the half-pass, I will break it down like this: On the right circle, for a half-pass to the right (inside of the circle), I first apply my right leg to leg yield out of the circle (the simple exercise). When he responds, I shift my weight to the left (outside), apply my left leg, and change my inside rein to the rein of opposition (toward my left shoulder). If he takes a step, I reward with a release of aids; if he does not, I go back to the simple leg yield and repeat. I might also try the opposite approach: leg-yield into the circle (weight in outside and outside leg pressure but with the head to the outside). When he moves off of my leg, change the right rein angle from “on the neck” to toward my left shoulder. He is now in half-pass position. Again, reward for one small step.

The half-pass is not easy for horse or rider if they have not performed it. More balance, engagement of the hind quarters and impulsion is required than a simple leg yield. As the horse learns, the rider must be able to feel when his horse is out of position so he can adjust rein or leg to help. As with all the exercises, when the horse learns at a walk, I first ask for more refinement and more steps, then at a jog and eventually at a lope.

I will try to post a video in the near future on this post to demonstrate the exercise with variations.

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