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Step 12: Sidepassing

Right, Left, and Both

Back to Step 11: Passing Other Horses    To Series Beginning: 12 Step Program for Training Your Horse

Editor's note: This article is the last of a multi-lesson training series.

So far, the previous articles on Steps 1-11 constantly reiterate that you need to control your horse's feet. If you've done all the previous Steps, you should now be able to move your horses' feet forward, backward, and even keep them perfectly still whenever necessary. You can also turn your horse while moving forward or backward, but can you go sideways? If you can already do everything else, then you've already set up your horse with the cues necessary to move sideways or to "sidepass".

Sidepassing is basically steering the horse's shoulder and hip causing the feet to follow. If you already mastered the hip over cue and the steering of the shoulder cue, you're ready to put them together and sidepass. Make sure your horse knows these cues quite well before beginning so you don't set yourself and your horse up for failure. Horses are simple-minded animals and like to think only about one thing at a time. You're now asking your horse to graduate to college and consider thinking about two things at once.

So, any time you apply multiple cues at once, give your horse the chance to succeed by being adequately prepared. Do this by making sure the fundamental cues are 110% understood by your horse already, and work with patience and lots of time. Break the process down into "baby steps" with very small goals leading up to your end goal. You may dream of sidepassing away at a trot diagonally across your arena, but that won't happen the first day or maybe even for weeks. Also, consider that sidepassing is a move that is not as natural to the horse as walking or galloping, so he may need time to not only master the movement from your cue, but to also build up flexibility and muscle to be able to perform the cue repeatedly and at quicker speeds.

Start preparing your horse to sidepass by repeating Step 10 "Steering the Shoulder". This gets your horse to start thinking about moving off your leg and not quite going in a straight line. As always, pick a side to work on first and stick with that side until your horse appears to understand your cue well. Then, switch to the other side. For this article, I'll begin by having you steer the shoulder out and away to the right so you're pushing on your horse with your inside left leg.

Start by walking a circle and continuing to push your horse away with your left leg. When he seems very responsive, bring him to a stop either in the center of your ring or out in the open where you have space to work. Then, just sit on him at a standstill so he relaxes. Make sure all 4 of his feet are positioned as correctly as possible underneath him so you can start giving him the cue while he's balanced.

You'll need to simultaneously do a few things at once and it'll be the "feel" of your horse that will help you get it right. Every horse is different. Some want to walk off easily and others like to back up when confused. Know the horse you're riding and adjust the pressure of your cues to compensate for his tendency so that he's set up to succeed at responding correctly to your commands.

Now, you've been working off your left leg, so pick up any slack in your reins while he's standing still. Lightly bend his nose to the left while keeping some contact on your right rein. The right rein will become your brake to keep him from moving forward. Apply left leg pressure to push him to the right. If he tries to walk forward, apply more brake. If he backs up, let out the brake, but keep your leg on him and even lightly kick him with your left heel to remind him that he should be listening more to your leg than anything else right now. Eventually, he should step over with his front feet crossing underneath him. Reward him by releasing all cue pressure and try again. At this time, don't worry about his back feet moving over yet. That comes next.

Once his front feet are moving over consistently, ask again, but don't give any release when his front feet move. He may resist a little and act confused. You need to let him work it out as he searches for the right answer that will give him the release. All he knows is that he did the same thing before and got release, but now, it isn't working. Eventually, his front feet can only move over so much before his hind feet will also have to move over, then you can release and be sure to give him a big pat for the effort.

This should all have been done at a standstill. If you're on a horse who gets frustrated with not being able to move forward, place him so he's facing a fence or wall while standing still and try it there. You want him to learn it at walking speed first before moving on to faster speeds. Once your horse can walk sideways a good 4-5 steps, try to get a dozen steps. Then, try adding some speed to it. Do this by entering into the trot first and then asking for the sidepass. Your horse's legs should pass underneath his belly more as he reaches out and to the side and travels forward so you move at a diagonal. In time, you may also find that your horse needs less and less rein direction and only leg as the two of you get better at this cue and communicating off your legs.

As a bonus, you'll also enjoy the flexibility that sidepassing up to a gate provides so you can open and close it from the saddle while mounted.

Back to Step 11: Passing Other Horses    To Series Beginning: 12 Step Program for Training Your Horse

Jennifer Goddard has been training horses of various breeds for over 20 years using her natural horsemanship methods. She has also ridden and shown in multiple disciplines and is owner of Levaland Farm, a 30 stall horse farm in Massachusetts. Jennifer has a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and is also President of Equine Business Solutions, a business specializing in the starting and running of equine businesses.

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