The side-pass is a basic western manoeuvre. As you'll see in the Trail Gate guide, it's certainly something you should work on if you're a fan of western trail classes - the chances are that you'll need to demonstrate that you can do it at some point. But for those of you who aren't interested in competition, it's just as relevant. Remember that WES runs a fantastic Trail Riding Awards Scheme and that you can win certificates, a beautiful silver buckle and other awards based on the number of hours trail-riding you do in a western saddle. There are lots of us who may never enter the show-ring but who nevertheless want to have a well-trained, safe and reliable horse to ride out on the trail. Haven't we all needed to tuck into a gateway to allow a vehicle to pass us safely? So don't think of this as just something that show-riders need to be able to do well, you should really think of it as an important element of the training of your horse. This guide provides some useful pointers for your basic schooling.
A bit about the horse...
In this guide Judith is riding Megan, a 16hh Traditional Cob who's trained for both western and English competition. Don't be fooled by Megan's stature and all the feather - she can move! As you can see from the picture, she hasn't really got western paces, but she has competed in western classes (Judith was bribed with lots of chocolate) and is a bit of a star as a trail horse. [Note: in the picture at the top of the page Megan is being ridden by Judy Jones. In March 2011 Judy completed her WES 250 hour Trail Award riding Megan and Skooter, Megan's 4 year old daughter.]
What equipment do you need?
Not a lot really - initially it's just you and your horse and somewhere to work. Later on you'll need some poles, the heavier the better. For training purposes we sometimes use 4" by 4" timber instead of round poles because it tends to stay in place if your horse knocks it.
Is your horse ready?
As always, you need to be honest with yourself about where you are in your horse's training. No point in kidding yourself, as you'll just end up confusing your horse and looking like a twonk! So ask yourself these questions....
Do you have some lateral movement in place?
Can you and your horse perform turns on the forehand and haunches?
Does your horse give softly to the bridle?
Does your horse stand still and relaxed, waiting for your next cue?
If the answer's no to any of them, work on these fundamentals first and then come back to the side-pass when you're ready.
Are you ready?
If you're interested in competitive riding there's just no substitute for going along to as many shows as you can and watching more experienced riders. It's all part of the investment you need to make in yourself. Have you watched side-pass being executed by an experienced horse and rider combination so that you know what you are trying to achieve?
You also need to plan your schooling sessions so that you are breaking each step down into understandable chunks. One of the most common mistakes Judith sees is the rider trying to school for the finished product i.e. side-passing over poles before the horse understands the basic manoeuvre.
Basic schooling for side-pass
The first photo shows Megan side-passing to the left.
Start by standing at right angles to a fence or wall. The fence just acts as a barrier and helps the horse to understand that you don't want to go forwards. Make sure that your reins are short enough to help keep your horse's head and neck straight. Drop your right heel at the same time as drawing your right seat bone back. Then ask your horse to move away from right leg pressure whilst taking your left leg away. While your horse is learning this manoeuvre just be happy with one step at a time.
Then obviously you'll need to repeat this on the other side, reversing your cues.
Once you're confident about moving up and down the fence try side-passing with a pole in front of you. This is a great way to assess your progress without the added pressure on your horse of having a pole underneath his belly. Try to quit the side-pass on a good step rather than just because you reached the end of the pole.
The next step is to begin to stand over the pole without fidgeting or anticipating any movement. This is also the time for you to practise positioning yourself so that the pole is directly under your horse. You can check if you're in the correct position by taking a look at where the pole is in relation to your foot - it should be just behind your heel. Notice that Megan is standing about a third of the way along the pole, this sets her up well for the next stage....
... where Judith has asked her to side-pass to the left along the pole. In only a few steps she's completed the manouevre without hitting the pole. You should always be aware that it's very easy for some horses to lose confidence by starting to tread on the pole. Once this happens they find it hard to stay relaxed and focused, so you should definitely try to avoid this.
Once you're happy with side-passing to the left and right without touching the pole you can go on to teach your horse to side-pass towards the pole. Here Judith has positioned Megan so the pole is a step or two to their left, and is about to ask her to move off her right leg so that she has the pole underneath her. This can sometimes be a little confusing for the horse. Stay patient and be prepared to go back to an earlier stage if necessary.
Here Megan has started her side-pass to the left. Notice that she's staying straight and crossing her legs well. This is the time that your horse might become a bit over-confident and suddenly they've zoomed along the pole and are standing 10ft away with a smug expression on their face! Don't worry - to avoid this, practise stopping before the end of the pole - you could either walk forwards or side-pass back the other way.
Once all of these preparations are well-established you've reached the point at which you can start to work on some of the configurations you might find in competition. Here Megan is side-passing to the right on an L shape...
... when you reach the corner you need to ride a turn on the forehand ...
... then continue side-passing until you're clear of the obstacle. As with all training take your time and break the task down into as many small steps as possible. Don't ever be concerned about going back a stage or two if your horse starts to have problems.
Some final pointers...
As always, we recommend that if you have any problem with your training you should ask a properly qualified person for help. Ideally that means a WES Approved Instructor or someone with equivalent professional credentials. Don't ever be afraid to refuse help from well-meaning amateurs who are probably trying to be helpful, but who think they know a lot more than they do!