Dressage Lesson with Nicky Lickley @ Kingswood EC

So, this evening I was, for once, in the right place at the right time!  Ricky had some new whips made, but he didn’t like them, so I have been gifted one of them!!!  Rode with it in my lesson tonight and I really like it.  It’s a long dressage whip but has a crook on the end to prevent it being dropped – it’s beautifully balanced, really easy to hold and very ‘flicky’.

After working in, we did some 10m circles and half 10m circles to change rein – these were great to make me think of setting Finn up properly and getting her working from my inside leg into my outside hand.  Nicky said that I should do more of these as they’ll really help Finn – but I must set them up and ride them accurately.

We also did some lateral work tonight 3/4 line leg-yielding to the track then into shoulder-in.  I must allow through the hand and ride forward.  When this was going well Nicky asked me to do some travers, riding travers then into shoulder-in and back again.  This was good and I could really feel Finn working through her back – she felt bigger and more elevated in front – she was actually sitting on her hocks!!!

We then moved onto half pass (I haven’t done this for ages – like 20 years) so a reminder of the movement and aids (taken from the internet as the pictures help):

The half pass is simply a travers on a diagonal line. So often the movement ridden as a counterflexed leg yield without the correct degree of bend around the inside leg, which is what gymnastisizes the horse and teaches him to carry and reach with the hindlegs.   Think of a straight line sketched through the rider’s outside seatbone, inside hand and the bit.

Half-pass.In the half-pass the horse moves equally forwards and sideways away from the wall or track.  As in travers, the horse is bent around the rider’s inside leg and is flexed into the direction of travel. The half-pass is ridden almost parallel to the wall or track, the shoulders always a little in advance of the quarters. This is especially important since the shoulders are slightly narrower than the quarters and therefore the inside shoulder has to be brought that little fraction more into the direction of the movement.  What will the half-pass do for you?

  • It will supple your horse on both sides
  • Very good for obedience
  • Improve collection
  • Will prepare you for the more advanced dressage tests. There is a half-pass in every advanced test.
  • Looks good. If you ride a good half-pass, people will think that you know what you’re doing.

At first, half-pass is only performed for half of the diagonal (say from the centerline to the track or from the track to the centerline) or as a counter-change of hand returning from the centerline immediately to the track. As your horse advances, gets fitter and more obedient, you will be able to ask for the half-pass all the way across the arena.

The Aids: The aids are near enough the same as travers except you ask from a shoulder-fore or shoulder-in position to establish the length bend. Not a circle or a corner.  Before starting the half-pass try to ride a few strides in shoulder-fore or shoulder-in.  This is to make sure you have the correct bend around your inside leg and the horse’s inside shoulder is leading. Outside leg behind the girth to ask for the quarters to step sideways, inside leg on the girth establishing bend and forward impulsion. Ride into the outside rein. Soft, but adjusting neck bend with the inside rein. The transition into half-pass will be especially fluent if the rider takes care that horse makes the first step sideways with his inside foreleg.

The Problems:  When you are teaching or riding half-pass be aware that things can go wrong and if you don’t correct them now / immediately, the problems will rear their ugly head inevitably when you are tense and preoccupied in the competition arena. When a horse makes a mistake and you, the rider let the mistakes perpetuate, then they are no longer mistakes but part of his training.  The most common training faults are:

  • Too sudden and incorrect change of direction
  • The horse tilting his head
  • Trailing the quarters
  • Leading with the hind quarters
  • Loss of rhythm
  • Rushing

If you detect any of the above faults in your training session, stop riding half-pass immediately and go back to basics.  Analyse the way you are sitting and riding (see Rider Errors below).  Ride energetically forward regardless of whether he has finished the movement or not. Ride small circles or voltes making sure the horse is off your inside leg and you are not using the inside rein to drag your horse around a circle. Ride figures of eight with lots of changes of length bend, from the leg, not the hand. Ride shoulder-in and travers. Have the movements checked by somebody who knows what they are doing or at least can tell you what is happening or what they seeing from the ground. Ride lots of transitions including transitions from medium to extended trot and canter.

Most Common Rider Errors:

Incorrect weight distribution:  If you are leaning to the outside, for example you are leaning away from the direction of movement, you are literally stopping your horse from going sideways. A horse will always try and put his balance under your center of gravity. Don’t press too hard with the outside leg behind the girth. It will make you stiff and make you lean towards the strong leg. If you find you are leaning away from the movement, stamp into your inside stirrup. Don’t lean into the direction, just make sure you don’t lean the other way. In other words, sit straight and be still.

Collapsing the inside hip: which usually involves the inside hand crossing the withers:  Easy one to correct. Don’t collapse the inside hip. Don’t cross the hands / reins across the wither.

Not sitting quietly enough: Another easy one to correct. Don’t fidget. Let the horse get on with his job. When a horse is going laterally / sideways, he needs you to be at your most supple without you leaping about the saddle. He has to cope with his balance and crossing his legs. He really does not have time to cope with your imbalance.

Half-pass to a letter.

Trying to push the horse across using brute strength and not technique:  A lesson from Nuno “The legs must be relaxed downwards, near the horse, but soft, without moving they must touch by very short quick instances”.  Train your horse to listen to small aids. Use finesse, tact and intelligence. With regard for your horse’s temperament, don’t be afraid to back up your leg with the whip or spur. Always ride for lightness.

Horse makes the angle too acute or not enough going sideways:  This has happened because the rider has never ridden or is inconsistent in riding their horse in half-pass to a predetermined place in the school, usually to a marker. Never let your horse simply go sideways. Always, and I mean always, make him go half-pass to somewhere. It’s the only way you will ever know you are riding him and not being taken for a ride.


The first is the simple down the centerline and half-pass to the track. Use the turns to get your length bend. Shoulder-fore for a few strides down the center line and use the horse’s natural urge to get back to the track to make the half-pass flow. Leave the centerline at a letter and arrive to the track at a letter.

The first is the simple down the centerline and half-pass to the track. Use the turns to get your length bend. Shoulder-fore for a few strides down the center line and use the horse’s natural urge to get back to the track to make the half-pass flow. Leave the centerline at a letter and arrive to the track at a letter.

Try the same exercise as above, only shoulder-in or travers down the long side.

We rode the half-pass from the centre line today – riding a step or two straight and then pointing the horse’s shoulders at the quarter marker.  The horse must lead with the shoulder and maintain the forward impulsion towards the track, keeping the bend uniform throughout the body.  This will need some practice!

We finished the session with some counter-canter.  I explained to Nicky that I had been having problems picking up the counter-canter.  A good exercise which helped this a lot was to trot on the track and then leg-yield out from track a stride or two, pick up counter-canter on the inside track and ride to end of long side – bingo!!  However, I must be sure not to be too greedy!