The sidepass is a maneuver that shows up in most trail courses and some horsemanship patterns. Knowing how to move your western horse laterally in a sidepass (sideways) can help you with lead changes, opening gates and most of all, better communication between you and your horse.
Bruce Walquist is an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Professional Horseman and judge located in Cleburne, Texas. He specializes in training, sales and lessons for AQHA all-around horses.
He says in a sidepass, the horse should move sideways with his head and body straight—not moving forward or backward—and with the horse’s legs crossing over each other.
“Going to the left, you’d like the left legs to move sideways, then the right legs to cross over,” he says. “When the horse is finished and really broke, you want both sets of legs to be crossing over at the same time.”
Before You and Your Western Horse Begin Sidepass
Before you start asking your horse to sidepass, make sure he knows how to move away from pressure. This can be on the ground, asking him to move away from your touch on his shoulder or hip. If you have trouble sidepassing, get back on the ground and work on this concept.
Bruce recommends visualizing your horse broken up into three sections: the front end, the middle, and the hind end. Moving each of these parts requires a different cue.
“Using your leg by the cinch will move the shoulders, pressing with your leg at the middle of the ribcage moves the horse laterally, and closer to the flank moves the hip,” says Bruce. “You want to be able to move each part to make adjustments while you are asking for a sidepass.”
To practice moving your horse’s front end, you’ll practice a pivot. Your horse’s hind end stays stationary while you cue your horse to move his front end around it. To go right, cue with your left leg at the girth, while placing your left rein against your horse’s neck. Pick up your reins if he walks forward, but then release.
To practice moving his hind end around, you’ll do a turn on the forehand. Keep your horse’s front end stationary while his back end rotates around. To move his hind end to the right, hold your rein hand steady to keep your horse from walking forward then slide your left leg back to press close to your horse’s flank until he moves his hind end. Here are a couple of ways to practice your sidepassing skills.
Western Horse Sidepass by a Fence
This is the great way to start when you’re learning to sidepass. Stand your horse in front of a fence, so he can’t walk forward. Cue for a sidepass. If you’re going to the right, open up your right leg away from your horse, then press with your left at the horse’s rib cage. you can also lay your left rein against your horse’s neck, but not enough to cause your horse to bend to the right. If you need to move his front or back end to keep him straight, move your leg up to the cinch area or back toward his flank.
“The fence is a barrier that helps you have more control, which can make it easier to sidepass when you’re learning,” says Bruce.
Once you can sidepass your horse in front of a fence, try the same maneuver in the middle of the arena. To go right, press with your left leg at the ribs and open up your right leg. You’ll need to check your horse with the reins if he starts walking forward, then release, or he’ll back up.
Sidepass Over a Pole
Walk your horse beside a pole on the ground until his front feet are in front of the pole and back feet are behind it (the pole should be lined up with your heel). If you’re sidepassing right, open your right leg and press with your left leg.
Don’t rush your horse—if you need to adjust by moving his front or hind end, do it one step at a time until he’s straight again, then press at his ribs to move his whole body laterally.
These next two are more advanced. Don’t be intimidated—take it slow, and have fun learning to work with your horse!
Sidepass Between Two Poles
Walk your horse up beside two poles set just over one horse length apart, then stop. Ask him to move sideways by cueing at his ribcage. If he walks forward, stop him with your reins. If he moves backward, bring your reins forward and gently squeeze with your legs.
The goal is both front and back legs moving sideways at the same time, but you can always move one end or the other to straighten up.
Sidepass Over an “L”
Bruce says this is a fun challenge for horses and riders. Walk your horse up beside the pole, then ask him to move sideways. When you get to the corner, ask his front end to move around by cueing near the cinch. Take care to give him room to step around. Once he’s turned the corner, ask him to move laterally with your leg at his ribcage.
Special thanks to Trinity Bell aboard A Certain Faith for demonstrating these exercises!