Ask An Expert – Side Pass Over Pole Part 3

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This time we are following on to Part 3 from Claire’s question in the prior posts;

What is the easiest way to teach a horse to side pass over a pole?  My horse is more comfortable side passing if we practice with the pole in front of him but he worries with the pole underneath.

Secondly, since starting to learn this he often will anticipate this and then not stand over the pole and halt.

Answered by Maree McAteer;
Sidepass Training

Part 3

In part 1 & part 2 we addressed how to get your horse comfortable with the pole between his legs and then how to hook up  awareness and aids to the idea of moving sideways in a steep halfpass.

Part 3 is to now take all that and put it into a fluent organized pass over the pole.  In a thoughtful course design the entry and exit markers to the sidepass will be further from the pole in the lower levels and closer in the upper levels.  This is the space/distance you have to fluently transition you horse from straight to steep halfpass while still keeping moving forward. This is best practiced with an imaginary pole until you have the process of going into halfpass, maintaining halfpass and out of halfpass mutually understood. I find it useful to have priorities of what you maintain and what you let slip for the sake of not causing anxiety.  I prioritize in this order:

  1. If any anxiety appears I can stall, relax at the halt and regroup calmness before continuing or leaving.
  2. Keeping the angle of the horses body over the pole just off perpendicular with the forehand just leading the direction of travel.
  3. Within that position I will work on moving the feet in the direction I wish to go.
  4. I will cultivate the inside bend being on the side I am moving towards.
  5. I will sit right in the middle of the saddle with my bend in the direction of travel.

This list for me honors that it is a repetitive process of positive practice to learn/teach the steep halfpass.  Each time I practice I start with the visualization of riding the dream sidepass but in slowmotion. I will start to move my horse into position moving the hindquarters, shoulders and head/neck to create the angle and bend, once I have that I endeavor to move him in that position along a straight line.  This is where I might find my position in the saddle getting ‘creative’ to maintain parts of the horse in the right idea – it is my lowest thing on priorities to maintain so I will just notice. Next it might get hard to keep the bend while maintaining stepping and angle so I might let that slip to straight, then my angle might get distorted so I would pause the stepping to fix the angle.  After the fix of the angle it gives me a chance to give a momentary peaceful break before continuing with the stepping.

One of my favorite sayings in riding is ‘the correct timing and aids are the ones that work’ . This is so true in the process of teaching/learning sidepass over the pole.  It is best to stay humble, calm, observant and creative.  When your horse makes a repetitive ‘mistake’ look at it first with the question ‘did I use an aid he understands’ then ‘can he physically do it or is there a problem moving one leg as much as the others’.  It is a puzzle and it is for the rider to solve the puzzle and work out how your horse will learn to do this exercise.

When you have put all this together you will then have a good feeling through your seat of all 4 legs and which way they are moving, bend and the idea of keeping a consistent bend no matter what is the direction of travel and the relationship of the hindquarters, forehand, neck and head in developing collection. No small feat so be kind to yourself and your horse in the process of learning.