Horses move sideways by crossing one pair of feet while the other pair is spread.
Moving sideways in rhythm is not something horses do much in their everyday life. It may therefore take the horse a while to get his legs organized smoothly when we first teach this movement.
You can get a sense of how it feels if you step sideways crossing your legs. While your legs are crossed, spread out your arms. While your legs are apart for the next step, cross your arms. If you’ve never done this before, it is tricky to synchronize at first. Horses have to adjust four legs. I’ve seen horses needing to think hard to get this sorted, so be especially patient and celebrate small successes.
We usually first teach sidestepping in position beside the horse, facing his ribs and asking the front and rear ends to move over independently. We gradually build up this skill until we can ask the horse to move first hind end and then front end – in rhythm, ideally keeping his body in one plane (Prerequisite 1).
Moving sideways encourages suppleness via gymnastic stretching of the muscles. It helps develop the horse’s spatial awareness, his foot awareness and his body awareness.
Sidestepping is useful for safe maneuvering on the ground – negotiating gates and for asking the horse to line up with a mounting block for mounting and dismounting.
It is also a fun maneuver to add into our slow-dancing routine.
Sidestepping to the left and right with the handler in front of and facing the horse.
- In case you have not yet taught basic sidestepping, Number 29 in my Blog Contents List (link at top of page) presents a detailed training plan for teaching sidestepping with the handler beside the horse as in the photo above.
- Horse is relaxed with touch signals given with our hand or a body extension (stick). See #87 HorseGym with Boots: Relaxation with Body Extensions. https://youtu.be/nkwxYwtCP_Y
This clip demonstrates a way to teach sidestepping while face-to-face with the handler. #276 HorseGym with Boots: Line Dancing Face to Face. https://youtu.be/wc53IZfUBkc
This next clip puts together the first five tasks of the Slow Dancing routine.
#277 HorseGym with Boots: First Five Dance Moves. https://youtu.be/UW_oE85ZhsM
ENVIRONMENT & MATERIALS
- Work area where the horse is relaxed.
- Ideally, the horse can see his buddies, but they can’t interfere.
- Horse is not hungry.
- Handler in a relaxed frame of mind.
- Low barrier between horse and handler, a few meters long.
- Halter and lead.
- Stick to act as a body extension.
- Horse well warmed up before asking for these yields.
- Some people may prefer to have the horse target ribs to a body extension rather than move away from a touch signal given by a body extension. I use the ‘moving away from a touch signal’ because it is easier to give the horse a clear signal while maintaining the position in front of the horse. As well, it’s usually the signal taught as a riding signal for moving sideways.
2. It is also much easier to morph the stick gesture into an arm gesture rather than try to fade out a long hand-held target. I soon didn’t need the stick. I then gradually toned down my arm gesture as the horse learned to tune in to my intent and my body language of crossing over my own feet plus a voice signal, “Across” and the direction of my body moving.
3. I like to begin new tasks with a rope and halter but use touch on the halter via the rope as little as possible. The halter and lead are there in case the horse needs clarity about what I am expecting him to do. After a while I lay the rope over the horse and when that is all smooth I work at liberty.
4. Most horses will find this easier on one side. Aim to eventually become equally smooth on both sides. Check out Right-Side Neglect* and Right-Side Anxiety* in the Glossary.
5. At first, be happy if he can only sidestep with his body at a 45-degree angle to the barrier. With frequent short practices, he will develop the muscles and flexion to be straighter. What you see Boots doing in the video clips has been built up over many years with frequent flexion practice in different guises.
6. It’s important to warm the horse up with general activity before asking for yields like this.
7. If the horse shows resistance to a specific move, it is essential to get muscles and joints checked out. Arthritis and/or past injuries may restrict or severely limit certain movements.
8. As we gradually develop and then maintain these sidestepping exercises, our horse’s flexibility will gradually improve.
9. Doing a little bit often gives the most reliable results. As usual, we are teaching a habit in response to a signal. We never want to make the horse sore or reluctant.
- Find or set up a low barrier a few meters long. In the video I used a long plank, but a low fence or a rope/tape between two tall cones or other uprights would do the job.
- The handler is face-to-face with the horse, with the low barrier between them. Gently use a long stick to create a touch/gesture signal at the girth area to ask the horse to sidestep from left to right, away from the touch/gesture signal.
At first, click&treat for any inclination to step sideways. As the horse catches on to the idea, gradually ask for more until you are able to click&treat every time the horse reaches the end of the barrier or markers you’ve set up. The end of the barrier gives the horse two ‘destinations’ where he knows he will stop and get his click&treat. Like us, horses like to know what is going to happen before it happens.
- 3. Repeat 2 above going from right to left.
- 4. Repeat 2 and 3 above until the horse is smoothly sidestepping a few meters to both the right and left. As mentioned in the notes above, he may find one side harder. Accept what he is able to do and work gradually from there.
- 5. When 4 above is ho-hum, use ground rails as a barrier between you and the horse. The purpose of the barrier is to let the horse know that stepping forward is not part of the task.
- 6. When 5 is good, ask the horse to step the front feet across the ground rails and ask him to sidestep along the ground rails. This will help him stay straight rather than inch forward or backwards.
- 7. When 6 is smooth, ask for sidestepping face-to-face with no barrier between you.
- 8. When communication is excellent, play in different venues.
- 9. When it all feels ho-hum, play at liberty.
- Play at liberty
- Play in different venues
- Play on a slope
Develop ‘the box’ exercise as in this clip. The clip was made a while ago when I first taught Boots about sidestepping with me while I was facing her: #275 HorseGym with Boots: Thin Slicing ‘The Box’ Movement. https://youtu.be/1CiUBJQf-JM
Thank you so so much for helping me teach my horses dance moves
Hi Nancy, you are so welcome. Thank you for the lovely feedback. H