Control over a horse’s body movements is a confidence builder for any rider. Here, you’ll learn to boost your horse’s responsiveness to your go-sideways cues, so that all lateral moves become easier. I’ll give you three techniques: one at the hitching rack; one in hand; and one mounted, at a gate. Each builds on the others. The first two focus on moving your horse’s hind end; the third adds front-end movement as well. Master them all, and you’ll be well on your way to controlling your horse’s sideways movements.
At the hitching rack. Practice this one at grooming time. (If there’s any chance your horse will pull back, untie him first.) Stand at your horse’s side and use a sweat scraper or hoof pick to create pressure right where your heel presses on his ribs when you’re mounted. Use the least amount of pressure possible, building if necessary; don’t start with a jab.
The instant he takes one sideways step with a hind foot, stop and praise him, then ask for another step. You can draw his head toward you slightly if need be to help encourage his hindquarters over.
Now try it from the other side, repeating the lesson frequently from both sides until your horse responds willingly to mild pressure.
In hand. With your horse saddled and bridled, stand next to him, holding the reins in one hand. With the thumb of the other hand, press in the same place as before—just behind the cinch where your leg would be. This time, rather than tipping his head, use the reins only to keep his head straight. Practice on both sides, always using the least possible pressure that’s effective.
Opening a gate. Now mount up and move both his front and hind ends in opening a gate. Ask a friend to move the gate manually so you can have both hands on your reins to influence your horse’s body.
Line your horse up parallel to the gate. Have your friend push it open a bit, toward you, as you ask your horse to step sideways with his front end, away from the gate. Do this by carrying both reins away from the gate while applying pressure using the heel nearest the gate—right at the cinch—to encourage his shoulders over.
After he takes one sideways step away from the gate with his front end (the gate coming at him helps him understand what you want), move his hind end. Simply apply pressure with your gate-side heel (in the same spot as you did with the tool or your hand) to move his hind end over a step. If he resists, bump with that heel a little farther back on his ribs until he takes the step.
Go back and forth this way, moving his front end, then his back end as your friend moves the gate a little more open, toward you, each time.
Work both sides of the gate, opening it in either direction, then reverse all the cues to teach your horse to close the gate, reinforcing the lateral lesson.
From here, you’ll be well prepared to move on to other lateral exercises (such as sidepassing). And, as your control over his body increases, so will your confidence in the saddle.
Sandy Collier, Buellton, California, is a Quarter Horse world champion trainer and the only woman to win the open division of the World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity. Find her popular book (Reining Essentials) and numerous training DVDs at sandycollier.com.