by Marilyn Pineda
A few months ago I started sharing a series of ground training exercises and techniques to practice from the saddle that would provide the basic components of a nice side pass. This month we are going to bring everything together and put the side pass into motion from the saddle. Remember, it is important to have a few things mastered before beginning this phase of training the side pass step. They include: subtle bending in the neck; yielding to light pressure; moving the front quarters in both directions; moving the hindquarters in both directions; and the ability to move one step at a time.
We’ll be working from the saddle, and will start with passing to the right. Find a place to work with your horse that has a long, straight line to it such as a wall of an arena, or a straight fence line. Set your horse up perpendicular to the wall and be sure you are sitting relaxed and comfortably balanced on your horse with a loose rein in each hand. First, lift your right rein out from the shoulder of your horse to create an open place for the horse to move towards and cue him with your left leg to move his front over to the right with a single cross-over step. Then close your right hand and stop. He may tip his nose slightly to the right, but use a light contact in your left rein to keep his nose pointed to the wall. Gently rein him back if he tries to walk off to the right and use leg cues if needed to keep him from backing away from the wall as you are asking him to move his shoulders. Try using “whispering” body language to encourage him to perform what you ask without over-reacting and creating unwanted motion. At this point we want to keep things very calm and move one step at a time if at all possible.
Allow your horse to pause for a moment after moving, then collect him lightly with your left rein and use your left leg to ask him to move his hindquarters to the right with one cross-over step to catch up to where his front quarters are now positioned. This will place you perpendicular to the wall again. Relax and stop. After allowing your horse to pause and process for a moment, ask him to move his front quarters with another single cross-over step to the right, then stop. Can you see where this is headed? The next step would be to move his hindquarters with one cross-over step to the right, and stop. Continue calming asking for steps: move the front quarters, stop; hind quarters, stop. Keep your horse’s nose gently pointed towards the wall and come back to a perpendicular position with each set of front and hind steps. Make your way along a reasonable length before stopping to give your horse a purposeful rest then back away from the wall and walk calmly back to the starting point to do it all again. I recommend working in one direction until he starts to understand things a bit before changing to the other direction.
HORSE TRAINING TIP: Maintain calm energy. You are asking your horse to do a lot of multi-tasking in this phase of learning the side pass, and it is likely to be confusing and stressful for him. Be patient. He may back up or move more than one step and end up turned away from the wall. Simply make any needed corrections and continue with your requests; he will catch on.
As your horse gains understanding of what you are asking with single steps, you can start blending your signals until he can move his front and hind quarters simultaneously into multiple side passing/ cross-over steps. You will then have the completed side pass, as well as all of the benefits that come with it, as you and your horse continue on the path to Riding Well Grounded.
Published July 2014 Issue
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.