In our July article ?Body Building,? we discussed the use of turns on the haunches and the forehand as part of a set of exercises to increase your horse’s core strength. We’re now going to explain how to introduce these concepts to the horse, so you can accomplish these movements.
An important part of any training is the ability to put your horse’s body parts, like the haunches or forehand, where you want them. it’s a skill that’s applicable to any discipline, even trail riding (for instance, pushing the horse closer to a gate to open or close it).
Throughout the training and use of these exercises, it’s vital to always maintain your horse’s forward energy. And as we attempt to introduce this work, it would not be surprising to have moments where the horse ?gets stuck? and wants to step backward in confusion.
So always be sure to monitor the forward energy carefully, and remember to take plenty of truly forward breaks while practicing these movements. Once you?ve executed a few turns, then go to a more forward exercise, such as trotting or cantering large figures.
Similarly, do not attempt these exercises until the horse has a reliable ?forward button??when you close your leg, your horse steps out willingly or performs the upward transition you’re asking for?and until you have enough body control to have mostly independent hands, seat and legs and are able to apply them correctly whenever needed.
TURNS ON THE FOREHAND.? it’s always easier to start with a fence on one side, to help define where the horse can go, so start by walking down the long side of an arena. Pick a spot where you’re going to start to ask for the turn on the forehand, and as you approach the spot, begin to half-halt by pulsing the reins softly, closing your legs, and slowing and closing your seat.
As the horse steps underneath himself and compresses his stride, bring your outside (fence side) leg slightly back toward the middle of his body. Increase the half-halt so the horse stops his forward motion, and as you do that increase the pressure of your outside leg.
Keep your reins straight and short, and keep the horse’s neck slightly bent to the outside. Pulse the outside leg along the horse’s side until you feel the horse take a sideways step, with the outside hind leg, away from your leg. Your initial goal should be one or two sideways steps away from the pulsing outside leg, and then immediately walk straight forward out of the turn.
As your horse gains understanding and builds confidence, increase the number of sideways steps. Work on feeling his hind legs move in your seat and back. You should ask with your leg and feel him pick up the corresponding hind leg and step across the other hind leg as you ask him rhythmically to do it?never stepping back. The horse’s hind legs should make a half-circle around the forelegs remain stepping actively in place.
Your first benchmark should be being able to do a complete half-turn. Do no more than one of these half-turns per long side initially, so that you can maintain an active, forward walk in between the turns. Remember, always think ?forward.?
MISTAKES WILL HAPPEN. Once you and your horse are performing steady, rhythmic turns on the forehand along the rail, it’s time to try doing a full turn on the centerline or elsewhere in the arena. See?Help for Horse and for Rider.
Turn down the centerline and picture in your mind?s eye which direction You’ll be turning. Initially plan on three-quarters of a turn and immediately walk forward out of the turn. If that goes well, attempt the full turn. If at any point the horse becomes stuck or steps backward as He’s rotating, walk immediately forward, wherever you are, and try again.
Remember that, at its most basic level, a turn on the forehand is ceasing the forward motion and channeling it to lateral movement. Although the horse is not traveling straight ahead, He’s still ?going forward,? at least mentally.
From the rider?s perspective, there will likely be some mistakes and adjustments as you figure out the balance between the rein aids containing the horse and the leg aids moving him sideways. There will be moments when the rein aid becomes too strong and the horse stalls out or steps backward, and there will be times when the leg aid is too strong and the horse squirts forward or just swings sideways.
When these mistakes happen, don’t get frustrated?simply walk forward and try again. In time, the balance point between your rein aid and your leg aids will feel natural and easy to find.
TURNS ON THE HAUNCHES. Once you and your horse have become competent at turns on the forehand, you can move on to turns on the haunches, which are considerably harder. Again, start on the long side of an arena, next to the rail. Begin to half-halt as above, only this time You’ll ask your horse for a definite inside bend. Put your inside leg in the middle of the horse’s body, and the outside leg slightly behind the girth. Also turn both your hands slightly to the inside (the direction of the turn) so that the outside rein can help bring the horse’s shoulder around.
As you start to half-halt to slow and collect the horse, try to feel when each hind leg is in the air as the horse steps. (It should correspond with your use of the alternating leg aids you use at the walk.) If you can apply the corresponding leg while each foot is in the air, You’ll help the horse to understand how his feet should move.
Apply the outside leg to start swinging his body sideways, but be careful not to displace the haunches to the inside. Keep your inside leg active in order to keep the inside hind foot moving, as the horse should continue to step in the same rhythm as in his normal walk, not just spin on the inside hind leg.
Just as with the turns on the forehand, start with one or two steps and then walk forward. Gradually build up to a full half-turn along the rail, eventually leading to a full 360-degree turn on the centerline.
In both the turn on the forehand and the turn on the haunches, one end of the horse will make small active steps relatively in place, where the feet clear the ground and the joints keep bending, while the other end makes a larger circle. An inside ?pivot? hoof should never be settled firmly into the ground.
?TOO BIG.?? When starting out, haunches turns will most likely be ?too big,? that is the horse keeps stepping but wanders a bit from his original location. While training, this is a perfectly acceptable starting place, as long as the horse is keeping his momentum, direction and step. With time, strength and the refinement of the rider?s aids, the circumference of the turn should get smaller and smaller, until the steps of the hind legs are nearly in place.
Should you run into road blocks with either of these exercises, getting help on the ground can help get you over the challenges. Most likely, your aids are not clear enough or they?re accidentally preventing the horse from moving his body correctly. But if your horse really isn?t getting the idea of the sideways step, a helper encouraging him from the ground with a whip (light touches and taps, not hits or strikes) can help them help grasp what your aids are asking.
BOTTOM LINE.? Once you?ve got both of these turns mastered, you can use them in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes, including improving your horse’s body strength. You can use then on the trails for maneuverability and as a ?check in? for your horse’s attention and rideability.
Article by Performance Editor John Strassburger.