Side Step the Pole II

In our second installment on Side Step the Pole, Working Equitation Competitor, Trainer and Clinician Amy Star offers additional insight into how to train your horse to side pass cleanly.

Coaches Corner

By Amy Star

This seemingly simple obstacle has quite a bit of depth and challenge to it in the working equitation. There can be several variations from easiest to most challenging: single pole, two poles laid out separately, two poles to form an “L” or three poles connected to create a “Z” or “step shape”.Log layout 2

The judge will be looking for a good walking rhythm being maintained during the obstacle, with adequate crossing of both the front and hind legs. The body of the horse does not have to be perpendicular to the ground pole and in fact allowing the horse’s forehand to be a bit advanced from the hind will help the horse in crossing over and maintaining a good rhythm.

In this photo the dark brown mare is crossing her legs nicely, and Amy Side stepis slightly looking in the direction she is traveling . However her forelegs appear very close to the pole risking touching it. This tack and attire all fit in the western discipline and are permissible in a competition or show.

At the lower levels it is normal for the horse to bend in a counter arc as in a leg yield and to be closer to perpendicular to the pole.  As the horse’s training progresses the bend of the horse should change to a renvers position with the horse looking the same direction as he is traveling. The rider needs to be able to influence both the shoulder and the hindquarter independently when the pole layout requires a change of direction. This will result in a turn on the hind or a turn on the forehand to maneuver the change of direction.Amy Side Step 2

This obstacle will make the rider very aware of where the horse’s feet are underneath, or point out the rider’s lack of awareness.   A good reference for riders, when they are learning, is to look down at your stirrup, you should see the pole behind your leg, for the horse to be centered over the pole.  If you look down and you see it in front of your stirrup, the horse’s front feet will be much too close to the pole.

In the photo to the left the bay mare is showing nice crossing of leg, she appears slightly counter bent from the angle of this photo. The rider could improve by sitting more centered, rather than being too much to the left.

Competitors Notes

  •  Hitting the pole with the horse’s feet is marked as penalty each time it occurs.
  • Develop rhythm and flow over the pole
  • In the second photo there is mixing of tack styles,  this acceptable for practice, but it would not be permissible in competition.

Training Tips

  • Look for the pole behind your calf as you pass to ensure clearance for the feet.
  • The forehand should be a bit advanced of the hind.
  • Also see Side Step the Pole 1 for tips on introducing this obstacle to your horse.

Amy Star of Marana AZ has been breeding, raising, training and competing on Andalusian and Lusitano horses since 1996.   She is a founding member of USFWE and offers Working Equitation Clinics for riders from Introductory to Advanced Levels.  You can read more about Amy at or contact her at

Working Equitation Today appreciates Amy for taking the “risk” of offering our first article from an outside contributor.



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