Teaching Your Horse to Side Pass and Leg Yield

If you’re looking to improve your horseback riding beyond just walk, trot, and canter, the next thing you can add into the mix is lateral movements, like side passing and leg yielding. A lateral movement is when the horse moves laterally, or from side to side. If you have no idea where to begin when it comes to training your horse to move sideways, you’ve come to the perfect place!

So, how do you train your horse to move sideways? Here are the steps I would take:

  • Train your horse to move its hindquarters by stepping one back foot in front of the other
  • Train your horse to move its forehand by stepping one front foot in front of the other
  • Learn how to adequately ask your horse to move both ends while in the saddle
  •  Ask your horse to engage both ends and move sideways using a fence as guidance
  • Practice your leg yield and side pass by using certain obstacles


If you’d like a more in-depth look at each point, continue to read. The most important thing when training your horse to move sideways is to be patient and reward the slightest try from your horse.

Teach Your Horse to Move Its Hindquarters in Order to Do Lateral Movements

If you watch a horse move sideways or do a lateral movement, you’ll notice how they step one leg in front of the other both in the front and in the back. The first step in teaching your horse to move sideways is to train your horse to step one foot in front of the other when asked to move the specific end you’re asking of them.

I’ll start by explaining how to move the hind-end first since I find it the easiest to do:

Teaching Your Horse on the Ground:

Groundwork is the foundation of horse training; if you teach a horse how to do something on the ground, you’ll probably be able to hop right into the saddle and do it from the horse’s back. It’s also a great way to visually see what your horse is doing since you can’t do that from the saddle.

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

What I want to see when I ask my horse to step its hind-end over is one back leg step over the other away from the pressure applied. Have you ever had to move your horse’s backside out of the way while you’re brushing them? You apply pressure and the horse steps away from you to give you space; this is the same concept.

How to Accomplish It:

To do this with your horse, make sure you have a halter and a long lead rope. What I do is stand beside my horse, facing behind them. I’m going to apply the pressure by bringing my hand closest to the horse with the lead rope in it up towards the horse’s withers, applying pressure to the head.

Next, I’ll take a step towards the horse’s hind-end as a swing the end of the lead rope in my other hand. This should encourage them to step away from you by crossing one back leg in front of the other. If I were to keep stepping towards the horse, the horse should continue to move its hind-end away.

Teaching Your Horse in the Saddle:

Once you’ve mastered this move on the ground, it’s time to master it under saddle. Now that the horse understands the concept, it shouldn’t be too hard.

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

Now that you’re in the saddle, your visual awareness is taken away; you’ll have to get familiar with what it feels like for the horse to move its hind-end. It should feel like the horse’s backside is swinging the way its stepping and the horse may swish its tail in the beginning.

How to Accomplish It:

The way I usually start asking horses how to do this under saddle is to bring their head to my knee (this also teaches them to flex the muscles in their neck) then I’ll wiggle my foot behind the girth on the same side.

Since their head is at my knee, the only option the horse has for moving is by stepping its hind-end over. As soon as I feel the horse makes the correct step, I’ll release the pressure to let the horse know that it did right.

After a while, the horse will begin to clearly understand what you’re asking. Then, you don’t have to bring the horse’s head all the way back to your leg. Instead, simply close your fingers on the side you want the horse to step away from and wiggle the same foot behind the girth. Reward even the slightest try.

If your horse can’t grasp the concept under saddle, try doing the groundwork exercise with them before you get on.

Teach Your Horse to Move Its Forehand in Order to Do Lateral Movements

Once your horse can move their hind-end efficiently off of your cues, then it’s time to teach them how to move their forehand. It’s the same exact concept except it happens at the opposite end of the horse.

Teaching Your Horse on the Ground:

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

What you’re trying to accomplish with this groundwork exercise is to get the horse to move away from pressure by stepping one front leg in front of the other, which will essentially cause the horse to pivot on its hind-end. I find that most horses have a harder time grasping this concept, so stay patient and make sure you’re communicating correctly.

Groundwork Guide for Beginner Horseback Riding

How to Accomplish It:

The easiest way I’ve found to start your horse on the concept of moving their front end is to start by standing next to their head. What I’ll do is bring one of my hands open-palmed up to their eye, as if I was going to push them. (Don’t actually touch the horse when you do this)

What this does is the horse sees your hand and thinks of it kind of like a wall, then they’re compelled to step away. As soon as the horse steps away from my hand, I release the pressure as a reward. As I continue to practice this exercise, I’m able to keep stepping towards the horse with my hand up and they’ll keep stepping away.

Once I can get the horse to move away from my hand, then I’ll make the cues a little more subtle. Now, I’ll stand a few feet in front of the horse and simply swing my lead rope on the side of the horse that I want to move over.

This is a great exercise because it also teaches your horse to respect your personal space. If the horse were to step forward instead of to the side, they would then be in your personal space. This encourages the horse, even more, to step its front feet over.

Teaching Your Horse in the Saddle:

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

When it comes time to encourage your horse to move its shoulders over-under saddle,  you will have to rely on the feel of the horse under you rather than your sight to tell whether or not your horse is doing what you ask.

When a horse steps its front feet over, it should feel like they’re pivoting to the side without moving forward. You’ll feel the horse’s front-end lift and its back-end tuck under.

How to Accomplish It:

To begin under saddle, halt your horse facing a fence at a 45-degree angle. Your goal is to use the fence to keep the horse from stepping out of the shoulder movement and to help the horse put your cues with the correct movement.

You’re going to ask the horse to keep turning towards the fence with its front-end until it is facing the opposite direction.

To ask your horse to do this, sit up tall in the saddle. Apply pressure to the rein opposite of the fence and lay it against your horse’s neck, as if making a barrier for your horse to move away from. With opposite rein, open it away from your horse’s neck so the horse has space to move into.

With your leg opposite of the fence, close it around your horse and apply pressure at the girth to signal the front feet to step over.

As soon as you feel the horse pivot one step, release the pressure and reward your horse! Once you master this exercise, you can start practicing away from the fence. If you feel like your horse is going to walk out of the movement, just halt and ask again. It’s part of learning!

Asking Your Horse to Move Sideways for the First Time

Teaching Your Horse on the Ground:

Once you have control of both your horse’s hind-end and front-end on the ground, you can now combine the movement to make your horse move sideways. The concept and cues are mostly the same, although you have to remember you’re combining the movement of both ends.

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

Ideally, you want to see both of your horse’s ends moving laterally by having one leg step in front of the other.

How to Accomplish It:

When I first introduce the side pass to my horse on the ground, I use a fence in order to help guide the horse. The fence keeps the horse from walking out of the cues and helps to communicate that the movement should be sideways, not forward.

Have your horse stand facing a fence. I’ll just warn you that in the beginning, most horses won’t understand the concept of moving their body sideways along the fence. To help them grasp what you’re asking, ask them to move one end, then the other. Step the front-end in the right direction, then the back-end, and vice versa.

When the horse has gotten comfortable with moving each end over along the fence, now it’s time to ask for effort from both ends. Your body language will play a big part in this. Think of it like you’re making yourself a wall for the horse to move away from.

Remember how you can move the horse’s front end away by bringing your hand up to their eye? Do this with one hand as you use your other hand and lung whip to control the back end. Your body language should encourage the horse to move away from you.

As soon as your horse gives the slightest try at moving sideways, stop and reward them! They need to know that this is the motion you’re looking for when it comes to getting your horse to step sideways.

Remember, if your horse ever seems to get stuck with lateral movements, go back to the beginning of moving each end of the horse over separately to get the point across.

Teaching Your Horse in the Saddle:

What You’re Trying to Accomplish:

Once your horse can effectively carry out a lateral movement on the ground, then it’s time to do it in the saddle. In the beginning, work on a simple side pass. With this, you should feel the horse move laterally with no forward movement.

How to Accomplish It:

Get on your horse and face a fence, just like if you were doing the exercise from the ground. In the beginning, simply start by asking your horse to move its front end, then its hind end in the same direction along the fence. If you feel like you have good control of your horse, then feel free to ask for a side pass!

To ask your horse to side pass along the fence, close your fingers around the rein on the side you want to move away from. Close that leg around the horse and apply leg pressure behind the girth.

On the side you want the horse to move towards, open your rein away from the horse’s neck and open your thigh to invite your horse to step in this direction. You’ll find that you’ll sit heavier on the side the horse should move away from.

Once again, as soon as your horse makes even the slightest try at a side pass, halt and praise your horse! Once you get comfortable with the cues and your horse gets comfortable with the movement, you can try the side pass away from the fence.

Exercises to Help You and Your Horse Get Better at Lateral Movements

The best way to help a horse learn something is to make it fun! Setting up different obstacles and situations to practice a technique will help your horse to not only execute the technique more effectively but also help them understand what is being asked.

Here are some great exercises to try in order to help your horse get better at lateral movements:

Put Obstacles in Your Path to Move Around Laterally

Put an obstacle in your path that your horse will have to avoid by moving laterally. This exercise will mean that you have to ask your horse to leg yield over in order to go around the obstacle. ( A leg yield is when your horse will move sideways as well as forward all in one motion)

If I’m in the arena, I’ll put a barrel out. If I’m on a trail or in a field, I’ll pick a bush to leg yield passed. Simply turn your horse to that they’re walking straight toward the obstacle. This is great practice because you’ll only have so many strides to move your horse over before you run into the obstacle.

As you walk towards the obstacle, whichever side you want your horse to move towards, close your opposite hand over the rein, close your opposite leg around the horse, and apply pressure behind the girth. Help guide your horse by swinging your seat towards the direction you want your horse to move into.

I love this exercise since it makes it very clear whether or not your horse was able to laterally move. If they didn’t, then you run into the obstacle; if they did, then you can watch as you walk passed safely. It’s a great way to see your progress at moving laterally.

Side Pass Over Poles or Barrels

This exercise can be done on the ground or in the saddle, and it’s a great way to perfect a side pass. Simply lay a pole on the ground then align your horse to they are perpendicular to the pole. Next, cue them to step sideways as they maneuver directly over the pole.

The idea is to be able to get your horse over the pole and to the other side without ever hitting the pole in the first place. If your horse steps their feet over correctly and doesn’t move out of the sideways movement than it can be done. This will also help you as the rider learn how to ride the side pass more effectively.

To ask your horse to side pass over the pole, apply pressure to the side you want your horse to move away from. Close your fingers around the reins and your leg around the horse as you apply leg pressure behind the girth. On the side you want your horse to move towards, open your rein and open your thigh to give your horse something to move into.

If you ever feel like the horse may step out of the sideways movement as you cross over the obstacle, ask them to halt and regroup. I find that this helps both the horse and the rider refocus and correct the things that need to be corrected.

Lateral Movement Pole Bending

Lateral movement pole bending is when you weave through a set of poles by asking your horse to move laterally to the left and right to go through them. This exercise will help your horse become more responsive to the cues of lateral movement.

Set up poles or cones far enough apart that you could fit a few strides between them. Ride your horse through them, encouraging them to leg yield left and right through the pattern.

This exercise requires a lot out of your horse, so if they aren’t ready, they may get stuck with the lateral movements. If this happens, simply halt and give them a breather. Focus on getting passed one pole at a time.

I take all these steps to help train my horses in their lateral movements. I hope this article will help you and your horse take the next step in your training. To find out some more training tips, check out this article, Getting Your Horse to Follow You: Easy Training Guide.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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