Turn on the forehand
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, April 30, 2015 01:06 PM
Turn on the forehand is a very useful exercise. However, I am very much against teaching it from a complete halt. The purpose of training a horse is to teach him to transfer more weight on his haunches and be lighter in the shoulders. This gives a horse wonderful mobility and a better balance to carry a rider with ease and gracefulness.
When the turn on the forehand done from a halt horse learns to pivot on it's front. Very often he leans over it's front legs in order to lighten the haunches for easer turning (opposite of the whole purpose of training!!!!). Some horses lean over the front so much that their front legs are not vertical any more and are slanted backwards. Very often elbow joint of the inside front leg (for example, left front when haunches are displaced to the right) turns outward as the foot does not rotate as much as the body does. You can imagine how unsightly such execution looks.
Start teaching the exercise to your horse from the ground and allow him to make a small circle with his front legs around you. You can do it with a halter and a lead rope using a whip to touch his haunches making him walk around you while you either stand on a spot or make a very small circle yourself. Never go backwards inviting his front to move into your space! Very common mistake! The more sophisticated version is with the reins over his neck. The hand closest to the horse controls inside rein near the bit. The other hand controls the outside rein that comes over the neck near the withers and the whip which is pointed downward toward horse's hind legs. This way you have outside rein. It gives you better control of straightness, line of travel, speed and consequently of balance..
When the horse is familiar with the turn on the forehand when asked from the ground ask from the saddle. Let your horse execute a small circle with front legs and ask haunches to step sideways into a large circle. Help with the touch of the whip behind your leg. The horse knows the cue from the ground work and will quickly start moving haunches sideways. Here are several points to check while performing a turn on the forehand:
  • The front and the hind legs turn into the same direction. If haunches are asked to turn left, the front end also travels to the left just on a smaller circle. Do not let your horse move haunches to the left and shoulders to the right and vise versa.
  • Flexion away from the movement is OK and facilitates the turn. However, keep him well aligned and do not let the neck bend and break in front of the withers. This will invite your horse to load outside shoulder and turn will be unbalanced. Outside rein!
  • The flow, rhythm and tempo of walk is important. If your horse speeds up or makes uneven steps he is unbalanced.
  • Keep your eyes level and stay aligned with your horse. You will feel him turning much better that way. Common mistake looking down particularly away from the direction of the turn. This twists the rider's upper body too much to the inside, the body usually collapses, seatbones become unevenly loaded or completely disconnected. The horse feels his rider's weight too much on the inside and is very reluctant to move away from the inside leg. From the horse's point of view his rider is not with him in the turn.
  • The horse must step forward and across with his hind legs, not side by side or even worse behind and across. Always have a sense of moving forward and not backwards. Starting from a halt invites the horse to step backwards, especially, if the movement taught near the wall. One of the reasons I avoid teaching it there.
Increasing difficulty: When you have practiced enough that your horse turns very obediently without losing the rhythm or tempo and it feels easy and light start spiraling in and making front legs walk on smaller and smaller circle until they walk practically on a spot.
The other way to increase difficulty is to keep him completely straight with no flexion and then flex him into the direction of the turn.
Happy riding...
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