Teach the Sidepass

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I'd like to teach my 6-year-old Arabian mare to sidepass, so it'll be easier to open and close gates on the trail while mounted. What training method do you use to teach a horse to sidepass?
Ronald Morgan
Kansas City, Kansas

You're right, Ronald, it's a lot more convenient to open and close gates while mounted when you can sidepass right up to the gate. The sidepass is a lateral maneuver in which a horse crosses his fore and hind legs to move directly right or left. Horses can be taught to sidepass from a dead stop.

I teach a horse how to sidepass under saddle. But before you teach your mare this maneuver, perform ground work to establish a mutual bond of trust and respect with you in the leadership position. (For help, see my previous columns.)

Here, I'll tell you how to teach your mare to sidepass while mounted. As you teach her this maneuver, don't become frustrated if she makes mistakes; this is all new to her. Be patient, and understand that it might take several sessions for her to understand your cues and accomplish this maneuver. Stay safe. If you need help, contact a qualified trainer or riding instructor in your area.

Preparation Tips
Before you begin, outfit your mare with tack that fits her well to enhance her comfort. A comfortable horse is more likely to listen to your cues.

Use a smooth, full-cheek snaffle. This bit will be easy on your mare's mouth, and the cheekpieces will keep the bit from sliding too far to one side of her mouth when you're applying lateral pressure to one side. Use either leather split reins or a one-piece loop rein.

Teach your mare in a safe arena with good footing and sturdy rails; not a round pen. The rails will serve as a training tool and guideline for you and your mare.

Step-by-Step Technique
Step 1. Position your mare. Mount up, and ride your mare toward the arena rail with her nose pointing directly at it. Stop her when her nose is about 8 to 12 inches from the rail. Allow her to relax at the stop for a couple of minutes.

Step 2. Teach the sidepass to the left. Begin by teaching a sidepass to the left. (Avoid teaching the sidepass to the right until your mare sidepasses well to the left.) Slide your right hand down the right rein, and slowly tip her nose to the right. Simultaneously, apply firm pressure with your right calf against her ribcage, and hold your left leg away from her body. Your left leg will be the door that will be opened for her to move to the left. Be sensitive with your rein cues, and apply pressure with each rein as needed. Don't jerk on the reins.

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Step 3. Be patient. If your mare gets confused and starts to back up while being taught this maneuver, release all pressure from the reins and squeeze her with both of your calves to get her to go forward. Ride her forward back to the rail and continue the exercise.

Step 4. Keep her straight. If your mare does not move laterally by keeping her body straight, use your outside (right) leg to straighten up her hind end. You may have to move your outside leg to several different areas of her ribcage at different times to control her body movement.

Step 5. Teach the sidepass to the right. Once your mare masters a sidepass to the left, teach her to sidepass to the right by reversing the cues outlined in Step 2.

Step 6. Open and close the arena gate. Before you go on the trail, practice opening and closing arena gates, or any gate that does not put you in an unsafe position. After you have successfully opened a gate while mounted, sit on your mare for about five minutes to allow her to relax and soak in what she's accomplished.

Step 7. Hit the trail. Once your mare sidepasses and opens/closes gates well in the arena, ask her to sidepass in both directions on the trail. Find an open area at first, and ask for the sidepass only. Then progress to combining the sidepass with opening and closing gates you encounter. TTR