Riding Well Grounded – More Exercises to Help Build a Smooth Side Pass

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More Exercises to Help Build a Smooth Side Pass

by Marilyn Pineda


As mentioned in last month’s training article, executing a nice side pass with your horse demonstrates several things: bending in the neck, yielding to subtle pressure, moving the front quarters, moving the hindquarters and moving one step at a time. We’ve covered bending the neck and moving the hindquarters, so now we’ll work on moving the front quarters. As before, we will begin on the ground.

Brenda Belisle works with Ruby on a front foot cross-over step. Photo courtesy of Marilyn Pineda.

Stand facing your horse at a position just behind his head and with the hand nearest his rear resting on his shoulder.  Grasp the nose band of his rope halter with the other hand to help control his movement and to offer assistance to the cues that will be used for this training exercise. Tip your horse’s nose away from you to set him up for success, then tap his shoulder and ask him to move his front quarters just one step away from you. Start with a light tap and increase the pressure as needed in a rhythmic manner to accomplish the desired result.  You may need to find a soft area behind the shoulder, or increase the tap to a firm poke using the combined strength of your index and middle fingers together. The key is for the horse to move the foot closest to you and cross over the front of the other foot.  The hind feet should not move except for a slight pivot to allow his body to shift to the new position.

Do not stop the tapping cue until your horse executes a cross-over step.  This may take a few minutes in the beginning. The horse may be confused at the start of this ground work and react by stepping forward, backward or even shuffling sideways. That is all okay, simply walk with him as he moves and keep your hand on the halter to keep his nose tipped away from you. Continue the cue at his shoulder until you see a cross-over step then immediately release his nose and discontinue cueing. Don’t worry if your horse moves a bit after you release him, he will likely have excessive movements until he understands what you are asking him to do.

After your horse responds, give him a few moments to process the activity. Then repeat the exercise until he can make just one successful cross-over step. When he is able to understand and perform a one step cross-over while pivoting on his hind feet from one side, you can begin the same ground work from his other side.  Be aware that all horses have a dominant side. It is likely your horse will understand this exercise better on one side and struggle when moving in the other direction. This may mean you need to spend extra time on his weaker side.

Important ground training tips: Always start with a light tap and only increase the pressure to the level needed to achieve the desired result. Maintain calm energy and immediately release your horse when you see the cross-over you are looking for, even if it looks clumsy. The release is his reward as well as a signal that he has done something correctly.  It may take several tries before he figures out what he is doing right!

Slowly increase the number of cross-over steps as you practice this ground work until you can move your horse in a complete circle in both directions (pivoting on his hind feet). Soon he will be turning on his haunches with ease!  This maneuver is important both in the arena and out on the trail. It is also often used in trail challenge activities such as the Equine Trail Sports events hosted on the Fire Mountain Trail Course. Next month we will transfer this exercise to the saddle. It will be one more step towards side passing, another skill on your path to Riding Well Grounded.


Published May 2014 Issue

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