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Simple Steps to Stepping Your Horse Sideways

John's goal is to move Charlie sideways toward the jacket on the fence. He's approaching at a slight diagonal, getting the horse's shoulders and hips to work together off rein contact.

When a horse performs a relaxed, collected sidepass, it looks a lot like he's dancing. It's hard to imagine how a horse is able to master that footwork and step sideways with such effortless grace. It might seem like teaching your horse to move his feet (and as a result, his entire body) in a sidepass would be a complicated, drawn-out process-but nothing could be farther from the truth. By working through a few simple exercises, you can have your horse sidepassing in a couple of hours-or even less.

Applying the Formula
Whenever we approach a particular lesson, we need to identify the four basic pieces of our training formula.

Motivator: What can we do to get our horse to change what he's doing? To teach the sidepass, we'll be taking the slack out of one rein. The horse will then try various options that will get us to release that rein pressure.

Spot: What specific part of the horse's body are we trying to move? A good way to focus your attention is to imagine a spot the size of a quarter on whatever part you're concerned with: jaw, shoulder, ear-anyplace you can physically touch your horse.

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Direction: Where do we want the spot to move? For this lesson, we'll be picturing our horse as being in the center of a clock, so we can think very specifically in terms of moving his feet toward one o'clock, three o'clock, and so forth.

Reward: How do we tell the horse he did what we wanted? We give him what he wants-a release of the rein.

Our sidepass lesson is built on several components, and each one will have its own set of these four elements. As we proceed, we'll show you how they apply to each step.

Keeping It Simple
You may have heard people describe their methods for teaching a horse to sidepass, and it might have sounded like an elaborate process. But we never want to overcomplicate the way we communicate with our horses. For one thing, it's hard for us to be consistent if we're using (and trying to coordinate) a lot of signals. For another, it's just plain confusing to the horse, who's trying to determine what we're asking. And finally, why burn up all our possible cues when we can get the desired response with just one? If we can get the correct movement with a single rein, we still have all our other cues for refining that movement as our training advances.

For the sidepass, we'll actually use two cues-a speed-up cue and a one-rein cue. The speed-up cue is important because as we encourage the horse to move sideways, he will tend to slow down. That's a good thing when you want to use lateral (sideways) movement to keep him from rocketing off down the trail or flying across the arena. But for the sidepass to work, we'll need to keep him moving.

To get your horse to speed up, you squeeze or kick lightly with both legs. As soon as he gives you a noticeable change of speed, you can let your legs hang relaxed. Remember to stop kicking when he speeds up. Don't nag him with your legs to keep him going, because if you do, he'll begin to ignore your legs altogether. Being able to speed up your horse on cue is essential in all sorts of situations, so you'll want to put in some time making sure you get a correct, consistent response. Other cues, such as leaning forward, kissing to the horse, or shaking the reins won't be enough to make him move forward if he doesn't want to.

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