Training for the Sidepass

Training for the Sidepass

Use these tips from AQHA Professional Horsemen Robin Frid and Tim Kimura to prepare your horse for the sidepass.

The sidepass is a basic, body-control skill that riders can expect to see in trail classes at championship shows in the next few years. (Journal photo)

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Trail is one of the largest and most popular classes at many AQHA shows.

“It’s not only a class where horses are asked to walk, trot and lope over poles with forward motion,” says AQHA Professional Horseman Robin Frid. “There are many components and obstacles that we can forget to practice and teach both our horses and riders on a regular basis.” 

Because trail is one of the largest and most time-consuming classes at many shows, courses are often shortened to shorten the days.

“There’s nothing wrong with show managers wanting to tighten up the days,” Robin says. “But I hate to see the slower obstacles requiring more finesse and body control on the chopping block.”

At some shows, a conventional back up and a gate are the sole body control maneuvers.

“Our rulebook outlines several optional obstacles that might reasonably be found on a trail ride, and it is those obstacles that championship show course designer Tim Kimura will be emphasizing in the next two or three years,” Robin says. “We in the AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Council wanted to make sure our exhibitors are prepared to tackle those with skill.”

The AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Council has asked several AQHA Professional Horsemen to explain how they teach their horses and students to negotiate these challenging obstacles. The first is the sidepass.

So how does one teach a horse to sidepass?

The Sidepass

“The sidepass is the moneyball of obstacles,” Tim says. “It asks the question, ‘Can you control the body? Can you control the feet?’”

The sidepass can be set up in several configurations of increasing difficulty, but the simplest, most basic sidepass is the sidepass over a single pole in a single direction, where the horse starts off outside the pole. The rider positions the horse so that his front feet are on one side of the pole and the back feet are on the other side of the pole and then moves him across the pole without touching it.

Training begins long before the horse steps over a pole.

“Before we even start the sidepass, I like to make sure I have the ability to move the horse’s shoulders and hips independently while controlling every step they take,” Robin says, adding that he suggests the horse and rider be far from any pole to avoid the frustration of running into a pole.

The initial move is a standstill, with the horse collected beneath the rider, with hip, shoulders, head and neck all in a line.

To start, Robin says, riders should sit with their shoulders back behind their hips. They should be supporting with both legs and a little rein.

“When sidepassing to the right, I use the side of my left foot and press while opening up a gap with my right leg for the horse to step into,” Robin says. “It is important not to force your horse sideways by poking or kicking it, as this can lead to large quick steps that get ahead of you. I like my riders to focus on a maximum of two steps at a time and then stop and assess their situation.”

When the horse starts square under the rider, two steps should bring the horse’s feet back square and comfortable. When that move is easy for the horse and rider, it’s time to add four steps, then six and then more, until horse and rider can sidepass comfortably while remaining centered and balanced. Neither the hip nor the shoulder should lead, Robin says. The body should move evenly, in a unison, cadenced manner.

Next Steps: Add Poles

When it’s time to add poles, start again with just two steps, building again until the horse is working comfortably.

“In a judged situation,” says Robin, who is also a judge, “the horse’s body should stay square. When a horse sidepasses, it should be crossing its feet evenly. In a sidepass to the right, the left front and left hind legs should cross over the respective right front and right hind legs.”

The sidepass shouldn’t be a fast maneuver, Robin cautions, but a slight increase in tempo increases the degree of difficulty.

“I like a sidepass to be methodical,” he adds. “A sidepass should be like a cadenced dance with minimal cues – every footfall precise and cadence. I personally prefer precision over speed.”

The rider’s body should also stay squarely in the saddle, Robin says, not shifting from side to side, and the hand should remain low, not elevated. If the sidepass is over a pole, the horse’s front feet should be positioned the same distance from the pole as the back feet. The rider can find the correct position by making sure the pole is behind the heel or spur. That keeps the rider from being too close or too far.

“Lately, we’ve been seeing sidepasses over poles where the next maneuver is stepping over the pole and walking away,” Robin says. “In that case, the horse’s back feet might need to be positioned closer to the pole so that when the horse walks away, he doesn’t step on the pole.”

The most important part is practice, Robin says, so exhibitors know their horse’s exact needs in a sidepass.

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