Side Step the Pole

 Feature Photo by Tammy Sparks Williams

Side Step the Pole is performed in Level 2 and up. 

Xino & TJ ground pole 8894 al sh50
Kris Garrett photo

It is frequently fascinating to see the reaction of a horse when asked to  side pass over a pole for the first time.  Even very seasoned horses  can take on the attitude of “why would you want me to walk sideways with that thing under me!” But rest assured every horse will accept the pole under them shortly.

During Ease of Handling phase Side Step the Pole is always performed at a walk.   It is not a Level 1 requirement.

As with all obstacle challenges, the point is to make this maneuver appear to be fun, effortless, harmonious and of course pretty!

Here are a few tips to help get started training your horse to side pass (or side step) the pole.

  • Start with a pole lying directly on the ground, not elevated.   Knocking the pole over will only startle the horse and constantly dismounting to re-position the pole on blocks will distract you and the horse from the mission.
  • On the initial encounter(s) simply walk over the pole.
  • When the horse is comfortable ask the horse to stop with the pole between the front and hind feet.  Stop the horse when you can look down the back of your calf and see the pole right under and slightly behind your heel.  In this position the pole should be about centered between the front and hind feet and will permit the horse to move without contacting the pole.  Praise and make the horse comfortable having the pole under him.  Then just walk on.
  • Next, start asking the horse to side pass off the short end of the pole.  Best success may be achieved by walking the horse over the pole (as above) about a foot or two from the end of the pole.  Leg yield the horse toward the short end, leaving the outside leg and rein open.  This will encourage the horse to move away from the inside leg.  Over time increase the distance the horse passes over the pole.
  • Ultimately you will want to initiate the obstacle next to the pole and passing completely over the pole.  As seen in the feature photo at the top.
  • Change the angle of the horse slightly with time.  This obstacle is actually more of a side step than a side pass.  Initially your horse was probably perpendicular to the pole and each step was completely side-passing.  Now begin to change the angle of the horse slightly so that he is almost quartering over the pole, leading with his head and shoulders.
  • The outside shoulders should lead slightly to permit the horse to step over the inside legs.
  • When the above is achieved it will be evident that impulsion can be requested.  At this point you are well on you way to mastering one of the more challenging obstacles.  Congratulations!

Troubleshooting.  Occasionally a horse will refuse to side step the pole.  In this instance set the pole five or six feet from the arena wall or fence.  This will prevent the horse from walking forward.  If the horse backs from the pole without side stepping simply face his butt to the wall.  If all else fails enlist the help of a friend to “block” the horse from escaping the task.

If you find the pole difficult for your horse take heart, Portuguese master horseman Pedro Torres, a World WE champion admitted in an interview that the famous Lusitano stallion Oxidado  was terrifically challenged by this obstacle for some time!

Prerequisites: Side Passing without an object.


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