Side passing is often confused with leg yielding and without a good understanding of basics it can be quite challenging for novice riders. Here are some of my thoughts and ideas about both the challenges and the solutions, to get things working for you.
Leg yielding is in some ways complementary to side passing but in most fundamental respects it is quite different. Leg yielding is when your horse moves laterally away from pressure, bending its body around the inside leg. In side passing, the horse moves laterally with its body straight, head either directly ahead or slightly inclined to the direction of travel. This makes leg yielding easier because it is more natural for a horse to bend around the pressure of the inside leg, effectively scurrying away from pressure.
In order to successfully communicate a side pass your horse will need to have some pretty solid basic understanding of moving body parts independently. Turning on the haunches and the forehand are fundamentals to side passing, if you haven’t got those elements working pretty well, you will find it quite difficult to get a side pass.
Many riders confuse leg yielding and side passing and can’t tell the difference. Now I don’t mean that to sound denigrating, after all if you don’t do dressage, the distinction is easily lost. Most folks of the horse moving sideways as being a side pass. The point is that without a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve you will be more inclined to settle for something that achieves substantially the same result – siding up to the gate.
Another common problem is that overuse of the so called “one-rein-stop” has become fashionable, and many folks have developed floppy necked boot licking horses. These horses have been pulled to the side so much that the slightest touch of a rein will have them flopping their necks around to where their nose is touching the boot of the rider. With such horses it take a lot of reconditioning to get them to follow the rein with their feet.
To be set up for success it will be helpful if your horse will move its front feet to follow the feel of a direct rein, without over-bending its neck, and be able to easily, and softly, move both the forehand and the haunches without the use of spurs. The best place to start practicing side passing is facing a solid object, this minimises the need to check the horse’s tendency to move forward and allows the rider to focus on leg, seat and rein cues.
One might start the exercise, after a half hour or so, of warm up exercises that entail bending around the leg, following a feel from the reins, and moving the forehand and haunches smoothly to each side. Get your horse into position and softly ask the nose to incline, very slightly, to the direction of travel while using the outside leg to tap the flank, initiating movement from the hind. If the result is the horse trying to turn to follow the rein cue or stepping its hind out, the rider will need to adjust the pressure on the aids until the horse starts to initiate movement with front and hind feet at the same time.
Horses get frustrated when they do not clearly understand the cue(s) and they are trying without satisfaction to the rider. So, be very mindful of your cue(s). Think back to the basics of getting a horse to side up to a rider on a fence or back up from the rider on the ground simply by shaking the lead rope. The cue may be exactly the same, shaking the lead rope, but the horse will know immediately, from the rider’s release, when it has moved in the desired manner.
When you are tapping the flank, the horse may explore by trying to move backwards, trying to leg yield, trying to step out with only the haunches, etc, but unless the rider rewards any of those actions by stopping (releasing the horse) it will continue to explore. The very first time, and every time thereafter, the horse makes the slightest correct (desired) step the rider should stop and rub the horse’s neck for 30 seconds or so. This allows the horse time to think about what happened, and mentally prepares it for the next time. Patience is always the key to success with horses.
While not a full and thorough exploration of the topic, and this being only my interpretation of a way to get a side pass started, I do hope that you find these ideas useful. Good luck with your practicing.