Pirouette work
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Friday, January 1, 2021 09:05 AM
Teaching a horse turn on the haunches that eventually becomes a walking pirouette and a canter pirouette is a long process of many years. From the work in hand before even being ridden a young horse can be introduced to the aids of turning shoulders, learning about balance and weight transfer. And then gradually refining the turn under saddle.
Important things to remember:
  • A horse is walking(cantering) during the turn, he never stops. That means a rider never stops riding a walk(canter), never tenses up or freezes to block the movement
  • A very small circle will feel like a turn on the haunches due to shoulders turning a lot. Still a horse will be walking on a single track - hind feet following the front ones. To be an actual turn it has to become a two track movement. Front feet describing a bigger circle compare to hind feet. Use eyes on the ground, mirror or video to make sure
  • A rider is not supposed to lean inward to encourage the turn. Yes, more weight will be on inside seatbone but not because of leaning (this will disconnect outside seatbone). A rider will feel more weight on inside seatbone because of it being positioned forward ahead of outside one and a horse "walks into it" during the turn and because core muscles on inside will be "plugging rider in" into the direction of a turn
  • Inside rein is only concerned with preserving a flexion and slightly opens to direct the horse. It does not mechanically pull the horse into a turn! Inside leg job is to ask a horse to go to outside rein and step under himself. Now, outside aids, leg and rein, turn the horse! It only works if all of the above prerequisites are present
  • When the turn is tight and well executed the horse's neck look like a hand dial of a clock moving to the right in right turn (or to the left in left turn). The horse can make mistake of going too much sideways, then it is not a turn it is a sidepass.
  • A human body likes to turn one way but not another. This will affect rider's balance in a turn. Sitting on a horse a rider will turn too much into her good turning direction and collapse the horse. The other way a turn will be too much sideways because the rider's body doesn't want to turn
  • Teaching traverse to a horse will greatly improve the turn on the haunches because it teaches the rider to better control the hind end. Basically, doing a traverse on a circle and spiraling in will lead to a turn on the haunches. However, this exercise is not that simple and the rider can get lost in geometry and alignment of her horse.
My favorite exercises when it comes to turn on the haunches:
In walk (for more trained horse also in canter) ride a 10 m square with each corner of a square being a 1/4 turn on the haunches (basically two steps). Use quarter lines and letters to gauge the appropriate size of your square. Do not ride against the wall, your horse will turn following the wall and not your aids. This exercise helps a lot with horses that want to stop, hurry their turns, fall inward, etc For riders, this exercise is helpful in teaching forward concept in a turn, coordination of the aids to go straight, better connection and understanding of the movement.
From turn on the haunches into turn on the forehand and vise versa
This is quite challenging exercise. It is done in walk and requires consistent connection throughout both turns to create seamless, flowing execution. It doesn't matter with which turn you start. However, turn on the forehand in motion is easier for a horse and improves connection from inside leg to outside rein which then helps in turn on the haunches. Watch not to lose the flexion, it is the same throughout the exercise. For example, if you started with turn on the forehand from right leg with right flexion then turn on the haunches is also to the right to preserve flexion and inside leg to outside rein connection. Ride one or two steps forward between the turns and never let your horse stop in either turn. A version of this exercise is called "Waltz" (Gen. Decarpentry) when you do only half turn of each kind and move along the line progressing one direction turn after turn. Hence, Waltz! :) Done rhythmically and smoothly it looks amazing - like a dance.
Walk-canter-walk transitions during the turn
This exercise is for a more advanced horse. The horse has to do canter-walk-canter transitions easy and balanced and be introduced to canter pirouette.
Start in medium walk, collect it a bit in preparation for the turn and start fairly large turn on the haunches, letting hind legs to walk a small 1-3 m circle. Use a cone on the ground for better visual anchoring. The horse must be active, on the aids, focused, ready for action. Preserving the turning aids ask for a collected canter and continue as working canter pirouette. After a few strides (full canter pirouette takes 6-8 strides), so 3-4 strides will be sufficient, ask for a walk transition continuing the turn. A few walk strides and back to canter. Watch for the connection, balance, flow. Be aware, a horse will try to swing haunches out or push forward to enlarge the turn. Pay attention how difficult this is for your horse and adjust the size and give lots of breaks. A variation is to ride out of the pirouette in canter. This teaches your horse to push forward from the hind legs. This is like you are doing squatting and then jumping forward. It can be quite challenging for a horse.
Incorporate these exercises into your routine and explore together with your horse challenges they create. It will improve your feel, connection and it's consistency, focus and obedience of your horse, his suppleness and coordination. The first and last exercises also develop collection in canter.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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