Pro Horseman Julie Goodnight helps a reader teach her horse to side pass and pivot.
I need to teach my horse to side-pass and pivot. Which should I do first, and should I start on the ground next to her or in saddle? Thanks!
— Ellen Russell
Whenever possible, it is a good idea to start your training from the ground.
As you do ground training with your horse and in your routine handling, you should be able to move his shoulders or hips (or both) away from you and establish total body control from the horse’s nose, to his shoulder, to his hip. You should also have control over your horse’s feet — where they move and how fast.
If you have total body control of your horse from the ground, it will be easier to achieve in the saddle, if you know how to cue correctly. Once you have total body control, whether you are asking for a side pass or pivot on the forehand or pivot on the hindquarters, your horse should respond to your aids and move the appropriate parts of his body. The horse has to learn the cues and the rider must know how to apply them consistently and effectively.
In the progression of groundwork exercises I cover in my video, Lead Line Leadership, you teach your horse to side pass and pivot from the ground, along with many other exercises that give you complete body control. That lays a good foundation of understanding for your horse when you are ready to try it from the saddle. It will still be challenging for him when you are on his back because he won’t be able to read your body language quite so well and because your balance and you hands will interfere with his thinking.
There is no one correct progression for training these advanced maneuvers but generally the side pass would come before the full pivot. I like to start lateral work with the leg yield or two-track– moving the horse forward and sideways off your leg at the walk and trot. The forward movement of the horse make these exercises a little easier for him. Later I would progress to side passing. I will also work on moving the horse’s shoulders and hips, with cues from my legs and hands and work up to quarter turns on the forehand and the hindquarters.
Horses need to learn these type of steps slowly, like you would learn a new dance step, particularly when it comes to a pivot. Whether you are working from the ground or the saddle, focus on getting one correct step, then cueing your horse to walk forward out of the pivot; the release and praise is his reward for moving in the right direction. Then you can ask for two steps, quarter turns, half turns, progressing eventually to the 360-degree pivot. Keeping the horse straight and moving correctly is the important thing.