I find it’s always a good test of someone’s true dressage knowledge to hear what they say when their horse does a leg yield. If I hear them saying my horse just did a half pass or side pass, then that’s a pretty good indication to me, that no matter how much of an expert they think they are, that they don’t really have a very good understanding of the basics of dressage.
However, it’s not uncommon for the leg yield, half pass and side pass movements to be confused with each other and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about…I didn’t know the difference either when I first started! Yes, they all have one feature the same, the horse moves sideways off the rider’s leg aid, but that’s about where the similarities end.
So what’s the difference between the 3?
The leg yield is when the horse moves forwards and sideways at the same time, while keeping their body as straight as possible with a small amount of flexion away from the direction their travelling in. This means that if your horse is travelling to the left, they will have a small amount of flexion to the right and vice versa.
It’s the basis for all other more advanced lateral movements.
The technical definition of a half pass is when the horse moves diagonally forwards with a small amount of flexion towards the direction they’re travelling. The forehand can be very slightly ahead of the hindquarters.
However I feel the easiest way for most people to remember it is that the horse is simply flexed in the opposite direction to what they would be in the leg yield. In the leg yield they’re flexed away from the direction they’re travelling, where in the half pass they’re flexed towards the direction they’re travelling.
The half pass is a reasonably advanced dressage movement that should only be attempted on a horse that has very good collection and well established, basic lateral movements (leg yield, shoulder-in, travers).
Strictly speaking the side pass is not actually a dressage movement, though it can be useful to incorporate in training. A side pass can be performed on the ground or under saddle and simply involves the horse moving sideways with no real flexion and no forward movement at all.
Unlike the leg yield (which has recently been incorporated in some dressage tests) & half pass, the side pass is not used in any official dressage competitions.