The sidepass or sideways lateral movement also starts on the ground. Some trainers teach it by
1. face the horse into the rail
2. stand facing his side
3. ask him to move (either by pressuring him physically with your hand or using your handy stick) – first his front, then his rear, then his front, then his rear – repeatedly, until he is eventually moving away from you with his whole body.
As he anticipates moving front then rear, he begins to move sideways, skipping the front/rear and condensing it into sideways. The cues begin to move to the center gradually. Eventually, just the middle girth cue moves him off laterally around the pen with his face to the fence.
You may notice that I prefer to teach all of this in a halter or side pull. That keeps students from depending on bit and mouth cues to jerk the horse into position or from using the reins for balance and giving sloppy or damaging bit pressure when it is not needed. We don’t want the horse to be thinking about his mouth. We want him to think about your leg and his feet.
Sideways Under Saddle From a Standstill
Mount and stand. Collect your reins so that your inside rein is slightly tighter than the supporting rein on the outside. This tips your horse’s head slightly to the inside and forces him to lead with his outside shoulder. It will also inhibit forward movement.
Press your inside heel into his barrel at the middle position and give him a verbal click to move. You want him to move away from the pressuring leg. Expect him to be confused at first and try to move forward. Prevent that by your rein pressure. If you’re now out of position, get into position again and ask again. Accept a baby step. Just one cross-over of the front feet will suffice for a first try. (If you can’t seem to prevent the forward movement, face a fence and ask for the sideways move.)
This may take a little while as both you and your horse become coordinated. It isn’t a very natural move for a horse, and you have to be aware of both your reins and your legs. You may find it is taking quite a bit of energy to “push” him over with your leg and heel and also control the reins.
The easier he is to move away from pressure on the ground, the easier your heel pressure will become. The goal is to be very subtle, inhibiting his forward movement subtly and giving the leg cue subtly. The gentle nature of the cues comes with lots of practice, asking ever more gently as you go along.
The reins are important. Barely tipping his head toward your pressure leg and supporting with the outside rein so you don’t pull his head too far inside is the correct request. Later when we want him to spin away from our pressure leg (at his forward position), we will want his face to be to the outside instead of the inside. Don’t try to teach both lessons simultaneously, and don’t confuse him with two different head positions for this sideways move.
One of my old, fat horses got pretty good at this after about 3 weeks of work. But she refused to give me more than 4 good tries before she just sat back and refused to move. Until she got good and easy at it, I stopped at three (or sometimes only two) good moves so we could always end on a a successful note. Soon, as she became confident and didn’t have to think so hard, she could move sideways repeatedly with ease.
This is a great maneuver for opening gates or avoiding obstacles.
Note that this is a “Sideways” move and not a sidepass. The difference is smartly detailed in one of the videos below. To turn this into a Sidepass, the horse’s head must remain straight. That can be accomplished with Shaping whereby you begin to hold both reins even and ask for the move with your leg but no head cue. Don’t try to shape it until your horse is VERY PROFICIENT at sideways.
(More details coming soon)
Sideways Under Saddle While in a Walk or Trot
(More details coming soon)
You might notice that your horse’s Collection begins to improve as your leg yields become more precise and his performance gets easier. That is because he must lighten up his body, rounding his back to “dance” quickly to and fro. (Test this theory on yourself. Actually dance with a partner yourself. Notice that as your partner begins to change direction quickly, you must lighten up on your feet, use more core muscles, bring your body up so can change direction and follow your partner’s lead.)
Many horses exhibit “false” collection, rounding only their neck to bring their face down in response to a tight or harsh bit. Take away the bit pressure and perfect your dancing leg cues, and he will begin to use his back, rear, and core to round his whole body.
Two great videos demonstrating the details of what a sideways movement and a sidepass look like.
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