Obstacle Folks.... Help! LOL

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Dec 17, 2002
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OK, so I want to train my gelding for Obstacle.. I get him out, look at him for about 5 min thinking "How do we sidepass?" uhhhh, no clue.. Next... Ok "How do we learn to pivot", I stare at him, then put him up! LOL


any tips on training a horse to sidepass and pivot would be greatly appreciated!

This is simply how i teach it. I've done a TON of big horse showmanship successfully, and have recently trained my first mini. Someone will probably find an issue with something, and you don't need to follow it, but, it might be useful!

As per pivot - I use the blunt handle of a crop/whip, (a jumping bat works well). By that, i mean the little rubber knobby thing at the end. Take a step towards your horse's throatlatch, like you are asking for a pivot, then touch him with the handle (i find the middle of the next works well). Add more and more pressure until one front foot crosses over the other, then pull back off the pressure, give him a break, then ask for another crossover. If he moves his back end, back him up a few steps quickly as a "punishment,"or jerk (not YANK) the chain - but don't get mad, he is learning. Always use a chain halter like you would use in the ring when practicing, and especially while training. No need for them to learn it twice! It may take a few minutes for him to move his front end, but he cant stand like that forever - at some point he needs to do something you can respond to! I start verrrryyyyy slow. 3 consecutive "cross overs" are good for me for each training session in the first week. Keep building and building until he can go a 1/4 turn, a 1/2 turn, then a full turn! Eventually, he will learn that as you set up to pivot, and walk towards him, to do it. Personally, I find a pivot one of the top two most frustrating things to teach- mostly because it goes sooo slow. After he crosses over well at a slow pace, THEN speed it up.

As for sidepassing, the first thing i work on is yielding to pressure. Apply pressure on the middle of his belly, right below the second or third to last rib. Much like the pivot, apply dull, firm, increasing pressure, until he moves sideways, then immediately pull back. I continually say the word "over" like a mad woman, until they get it as a vocal cue too. Once again, or or two sideways steps are good for the first 2 or 3 sessions!!!!

After they "get" going sideways, then practice going sideways over stuff! (the bane of my stallions existance LOL). I start with a cotton lead line. Lay it out straight on the ground. Put his front feet on one side and his hind on the other. Sidepass until you are at the other end, and keep the feets on their respective side! We then move up to crazy colored PVC pipes, and ground poles, cause if he'll sidepass over that, he'll sidepass over anything!

Hope this helps! Let me know if you need clarification.
IMO it will be a whole lot easier to teach them to pivot on both ends then side pass. I had a horse that I could not get to side pass and honestly the Downunder Horsemanship method has really helped and now he is a 2X AMHR National Top 10 winner in Open Halter Obstacle.

I would first start working on pivoting on the hind quarters. Get like a dressage whip and lift your hand up high close to their head so they can't walk into you and stare at their hindquarters and start tapping the air with the whip, like 1-2-3-4, then if that doesn't work start gently tapping his butt, 1-2-3-4, if that doesn't work increase the pressure til he moves his butt away, it may only be 1 or 2 steps just take it. You may have to smack him pretty hard at first or not much at all, depends on the horse. Just start out slow and it may not be pretty at first and ask for more once he understands it better. Teach him on both sides.

Then I would teach him to back off easily to pressure, both sides and work on backing straight. Use you whip if you have to to tap him on his chest or shoulder or hind end to help get him off the pressure and to help straighten up.

Then teach him to pivot his forequarters. Take your hand up near his face and have a whip or crop either on his neck or his shoulder. You may need to keep that whip on his shoulder to learn to move away from pressure. Remember horses push into our personal space with their head and shoulders so this is the hardest to teach IMO. Basically the same way you teach them to pivot their hindquarters you teach their forequarters. Make sure you do it both sides. This year you had to pivot them to the left, or off side and half of those horses had trouble doing that.

Side pass take them to a good solid fence or structure, like your round pen would work. Nothing that will poke in case they run into it when you do this. Now that they know how to pivot side passing should not be that big of deal. Get them up next to the fence so it helps them not to go forward and take the whip and tap towards their forequarters and ask them to move their forequarters, then ask them to move their hindquarters, then their forequarters, and so on. Just little steps but you'll notice they will be moving side ways. Keep doing this til they get really good, now you can make it one step and just point fore quarters, hind quarters, fore quarters, hind quarters. Try to make it more fluid like. Just ask for small steps at first. And if they back off the fence just bring them back up to the fence. If their hind end is not keeping up with the front end tap their hind end and once he's straightened up reward him. Pretty soon you'll be able to do this off the fence.

Yes you want to make it look cleaner for the show ring but you can certainly make it look cleaner once they know the exercise. Then you can start side passing over objects and such. I've trained 2 horses this way and both of them took Top 10s at Nationals in open halter obstacle this year and this is their 2nd year in obstacle. Not saying it's the best but it works for me.
Thanks for all the awesome information.... I have another question
How wide is the teeter totter obstacle typically?
Side pass, turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches and back are all the same command that is move away from my space. Mine are trained to move away when I step toward them, step towards the shoulder, they move the shoulder away...turn on the haunches, step toward the center they move their whole body away...side pass, step behind the center they turn their haunches away, turn on the forehand...etc. All starts with "step" in the stall, as they are groomed, even as babies teaching them to move away.
I agree with Stormy. Except I used 'side' as the command. Using body english (yours) and the lead rope to turn their head with a voice command and repetition. Also I used a light chain under the jaw run up thru both rings to the top ring, not used as punishment but as a tool to move the head. Use a basic western style halter.

Be patient, especially with ground tie, using the lead rope as a tug downward with 'whoa' command over and over. I would do this, keep the rope loosely in my hand and walk around the horse continuing with whoa command, they will move but go back and repeat, just keep repeating and eventually they 'get it'.

Teeter totter can be different widths, but most likely wide enough for handler and horse to fit together.

I always found the backing through an L shape the most challenging and you need a good whoa on your horse for controlling each step, so leave that for after side pass and ground tie success.

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