Perfecting the Sidepass With Your Horse, Part 1

Sidepassing is not just asking your horse to move sideways. It requires your horse’s front, middle and back end to engage simultaneously.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Can you ride your horse sideways? That’s what you’re being asked to do when you have a sidepass maneuver in trail or ranch horse pleasure. It’s not just going sideways, though. The real question is whether you can engage the front, middle and hind end of your horse, all at the same time.

Here’s how AQHA Professional Horseman Bill Bormes tackles the problem, one step at a time.

Ride to the Pole

My first priority is to determine where the middle of my horse is in relation to where I sit on my horse. Usually, it’s directly below my heel. As the rider, I need to know where this “sweet spot” is when I position my horse so she can best clear the pole with it centered beneath her.

If she’s too far forward, she rubs the pole with her back feet. Too far back, and she rubs it with her front heels. For me, the middle of my horse is usually the heel of my boot. For you, it might be different. Maybe the shank of your spur marks the middle for you and your mount. Every horse and rider team is different.

When I ride up to a pole, I ride without hesitation to where the pole is at the exact center of my horse, and we halt precisely at that spot. I don’t want to have to nudge my horse forward or backward. The moment I move forward or backward, that’s a deduction in the maneuver score, because I’m not moving laterally. I stop my horse so that her barrel is directly above or beside that natural log.

Ranch horse pleasure isn’t the only class that calls for a sidepass. If trail is your forte, you’ll use this skill in trail, too. Get your copy of AQHA’s “Showing to Win: Trail” DVD today to sharpen your trail skills even further.

Finding the middle of my horse and being able to consistently hit the mark takes some practice. Let yourself develop this skill. It cannot be mastered immediately. If I let it be fun for me, my horse will also think it’s fun.

Sometimes I practice by stopping at random bushes or trees while riding out in the forest, making a game of being precise. I don’t necessarily sidepass them, I just practice precision. And who doesn’t need to practice stopping? We all recognize that the definition of riding safely is being in control of our horse.

Another tool I regularly work on improving, both when I’m practicing and when I’m showing, is to slow my thinking down, because if I’m hurrying in my head, I’ll hurry in my ride. I make myself slowly and deliberately think about each maneuver, then deliberately follow the pattern or map I outlined in my head, which includes riding up and stopping in the correct position, next to the pole.

That’s the first piece of the puzzle.

Crossing the Log

When I’m showing my horse, I look at the pattern and plan where I’m going to breathe. As exhibitors, it’s easy to take in a breath and hold it, making ourselves even more tense. I work on consciously choosing where I think there are opportunities in the pattern for me to focus on taking a breath. As an example, before I start sidepassing, I take a good breath, both in and out. Doing this also allows my horse a moment, just like me, to think about and adjust to what’s coming next.

Showing in trail, too? Sharpen your skills and learn what it takes to win a trail class with AQHA’s “Showing to Win: Trail” DVD. Be sure to check out the other DVDs in the “Showing to Win” series, as well.

Recognize that it’s just like when we are driving a car. After we see the brake lights in front of us, there’s a moment’s hesitation before we react and stop. If we, as the rider, decide we’re doing something and we don’t give the horse an opportunity to adjust and be prepared for that movement, her first reaction is to startle, be stiff, or freeze in place instead of moving naturally. The most important part of ranch pleasure is natural movement, so take every opportunity to be natural.

Now, to correctly execute a sidepass to the right, the rider needs to see the corner of his horse’s right eye. The horse’s body should be perpendicular to the pole, and her neck will have a slight but visible arc to the right. Her body is positioned so that if I ask her for a right lead lope departure, she would do that easily. Her back is rounded upward, and her attention is on me.

To accomplish this head and neck position while I’m sidepassing right, I lift my rein hand up and over fractonally toward my left shoulder. While doing this maneuver, I keep my hand within the width of my body. By lifting my hand and keeping it within the width of my body, I avoid overbending my horse’s neck. This position also diminishes the risk of overbalancing my horse’s weight down onto either of her shoulders.

My body is centered in the saddle, hips loose and free, feeling balanced on my horse. Depending on my horse’s balance, I position my left leg to fit it.

Make sure you check back next week for Part 2 of this series to learn how to position your leg for the sidepass cue and to learn how to do some advanced maneuvers.