Sidepassing an L-shaped obstacle is common in trail classes and improves your horse’s handle when working at home. For this exercise, your horse’s hind feet will be inside the obstacle, between the poles. It’s more challenging than with your horse’s front feet inside the L.
To practice this, you’ll need four 8-foot poles or garden timbers. Set them in an ‘L’ shape with about 3 feet between the poles. If you’re up for a tougher challenge, set the poles closer together. Use a bit your horse responds to, and ride with one or two hands for practice, depending on your sidepass skills. Take your time as you work through this obstacle, using the lightest cues possible to get the desired response. It’ll keep your horse light and reduce frustration.
1. To start a sidepass with your horse’s hind feet inside the L, line up the inside pole underneath your seat. If you get too far forward to start, your horse will likely hit the inside pole; too far back, and he’ll hit the outside pole. If the pattern kicks off with this obstacle, you should be settled at the L and ready to work when the judge acknowledges you. If it’s later in the pattern, you’ll want to line up and begin sidepassing as fluidly as possible. This takes practice, so work on it both from a standstill and with an approach-and-go at home. For a sidepass to the right, look slightly over your right shoulder to keep an eye on his right hind foot. Then you can gauge if you need to step him slightly forward or back to stay between the poles.
2. The first step is crucial in setting your horse up for success. Slightly lift your hand to inhibit your horse’s forward motion, and press with your left leg to move your horse’s legs to the right. Begin with a light cue, and add more pressure as necessary. If you jab your horse with a spur from the start, he’s likely to jump forward. Too much rein pressure can cause him to step backward. In either case, he’ll hit the poles and wind up outside the obstacle.
3. Your horse should slightly lead with his right hip as you step to the right, as shown here. This allows you to keep an eye on those hind feet and their placement inside the obstacle, but more importantly, it helps keep his inside shoulder elevated. Cadenced footfalls give a smooth, rhythmic appearance and allow you to predict where each foot will land within the L.
4. If your horse gets out of sync and leads with his right shoulder, it’ll allow him to drop his shoulder, as shown here. He’s likely to step backward with his front feet and hit the inside pole. Continue with left-leg pressure to push your horse to the right, but use your right foot to slow down his front legs. Then his hind feet can catch up, and you can set him up to lead with his right hip.
5. When you reach the corner, stop your horse’s front feet in the angle, as shown here. If he’s too far forward, his hind feet will likely hit the poles. Too far back into the corner, and he’ll knock with his front feet. With his front feet in this position, he’s set up to complete a turn on the forehand to move his hind feet around the angle.
6. For the turn, again lift your hand to stop your horse from stepping forward as you push his hind legs around the angle with left-leg pressure. Use your right leg in support and to block his right front from stepping backward.
7. Once you’re through the corner, go back to your cadenced sidepass, with your horse’s right hip slightly leading his progress down the pole to the finish. Be sure to sidepass all the way off the obstacle before stepping forward or moving onto the next maneuver.
Liz Place, Del Mar, California, trains Western all-around horses for open, amateur, and youth competition from Sunset Horse Ranch. She’s a lifetime horsewoman, with AQHA world and reserve championships. Learn more at lizplaceperformancehorses.com.