Turn on the Haunches 

A few weeks ago I blogged about Turn On The Forehand so now I think we`re overdue a blog about turn on the haunches.

Turn on the haunches put simply, is when the hindlegs turn on a very small circle (about one metre diameter) and the forelegs scribe a larger circle around them. Basically, the reverse of turn on the forehand. It is the prequel to walk pirouettes, which I think makes people slightly afraid of turning on the haunches because it seems technical, or difficult.

I like riding turn on the haunches as it encourages the horse to step under and take their weight onto it, so it is useful for strengthening and introducing the idea of collection. I also like riding turn on the haunches with horses who like to fall through their outside shoulder as it teaches them to move their shoulders across in a turn. It is also useful for riders who over use the inside rein and tend to give away the outside contact. I often begin introducing the concept of turn on the haunches by riding squares, which awakens the rider and horse to the outside aids and increase control over the outside shoulder as well as beginning to encourage the inside hindleg to step under.

Riding turn on the haunches will increase the sensitivity of the horse to the rider`s aids, teach the rider to co-ordinate the aids, and improve the suppleness of the horse`s shoulders. Making the shoulders more mobile will enable the horse to be straightened by the rider, which also helps collection.

Unlike turn on the forehand, which is performed from halt (turn about the forehand is from walk), turn on the haunches is performed from medium walk, aiming to maintain the four beat rhythm through the turn. The inside hind leg marches on the spot whilst the outside hind leg circles around it, but not crossing over. However, the front legs do cross as they move forwards and sideways around the turn.

How do you ride turn on the haunches?

First, establish an active medium walk with the horse on the aids. As you approach the turn ensure you have inside flexion (if you are turning right then inside flexion is to the right), with the inside leg on the girth to maintain the walk through the turn and to prevent the inside leg stepping sideways. The outside leg is behind the girth, helping to maintain the walk and to prevent the hindlegs from swinging out. The inside rein opens to guide the horse around the turn whilst the outside rein stops the head and neck bending excessively. The rider`s weight should be slightly to the inside seat bone. Before you make the turn use half halts to shorten the walk slightly and collect it to help the horse balance through the turn.

It is vital that in turn on the haunches the walk rhythm is not altered nor the activity affected and the horse steps backwards. If the horse starts to step back then immediately trotting forwards before attempting the turn again should help them understand. Riding positively out of all turns should also help keep the horse thinking forwards. You should feel that the horse remains balanced through the turn, and doesn`t rush or throw themselves around the turn. If they do then ride fewer strides, so that you are riding a 50 degree turn instead of a 90 degree turn until the horse stays in balance, then you can increase the turn.

Hopefully now turning on the haunches seem more achievable to you, and you can give it a go next time you ride. After doing a few try just trotting some circles and see if you can feel the difference and the increased straightness of your horse.


An Old Tale

I love hearing stories of days gone by. Gasping in horror, cringing at the political incorrectness, wishing I was born before the era of Health and Safety.

 Dad used to regale tales of him and his brother causing mayhem – crashing their canal boat into a “modern” cruiser to reveal the owner sitting on the toilet; or the toddler (I forget which brother it was) cycling on his tricycle through the Armistice Parade on his way to his grandparents while his parents hid their faces; or the more recent ones which include my Mum. And the hammer and her dislocated finger.

One day, I’ll become famous for writing these stories down and causing people to cry with laughter.

One lady at my yard has just as many stories as my Dad. Most of them include escapades out hunting (in reference to yesterday’s blog, perhaps that’s why I’m not so keen on going hunting) and she often tells us about her riding school in the 80s.

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about our plans for the day and I said, “my task for today is to wear the Duracell Bunny out”. 

We moved on to talking about energy levels and how best to take it out of them. N.B. I found that medium trot for ten minutes in the school with Matt last week stopped him spooking at ghosts.

She then told me the following story. 

There was a livery on my yard who had an Irish horse. Little horse, but bags of energy. He never seemed to tire. 

Then one day she came to me and asked if I’d take him on working livery. Her job had changed, or she had less time. Whatever the reason was. 

Now I didn’t really want him in my school. Who could ride him? So I said “okay, I’ll have him on a weeks trial”.

That Saturday this horse escorted a hack at 9am with one of my grooms, a girl like you. Competent. Then at 10am another groom took him on the next hack. Then at 11am he did a lesson.

We had half an hour break for lunch at 12, and he did another three lessons after lunch. He was knackered! 

But I tell you what, I never had a problem with him in all the years he was in the riding school.

I gulped. That was a pretty intensive workout for anyone, and I was very glad the Duracell Bunny I had to ride wasn’t as fully charged as that one! 


As I’m sure many of you know, the hunting season is in full swing at the moment and my social media is full of hunting photos every weekend.

Last week a farrier asked me if I was going hunting on the weekend. I replied “no” and he looked shocked. It’s not the first time people have looked at me as though I’m crazy for not going hunting.

It’s not that I’m against hunting as a sport; now it is all about chasing pre-laid scents or runners, over land that has been checked by the hunt master it is far more comparable to a large, fast sponsored ride. Years ago there was the anti-hunt movement, and yes both sides had valid points, but discussing them isn’t the object of my post. Every Boxing Day we used to hack into town for the meet – a great hack with my friends, and the contagious excitement of the little kids when they were allowed to go for the first time.

I have to say that hunting doesn’t appeal to me. Yes, I love going cross country and tackling big fences, but I think I am more of a calculating rider. On the cross country course my favourite fences are the questioning combinations. I like to walk the course, study the fences, find my lines, see what’s behind a jump (so I don’t get any nasty drop surprises). Perhaps I’m not brave or zealous enough to ride at a hedge, with no idea what the other side holds, whilst jostling for space and hoping the horse in front doesn’t stop. Of course, if you or your horse benefit from a lead over a fence, or are more likely to push outside your comfort zone jumping en masse then hunting is a great opportunity to do so.

I have another reason to not go hunting. Otis. Firstly, he is a total idiot in groups of more than three so I would spend the entire meet caprioling around, in desperate need of Velcro jodhpurs and a parachute. Secondly, I would worry  about the risk of him injuring himself in deep going. I’m a bit of a worry wort about riding in deep mud or heavy going, which means my winter hacks are rather sedate and steady. Typically, his current injury occurred on hard ground …

I think a lot of the appeal of hunting is the social aspect. Which is probably why I’m not interested – we all know how antisocial I am. Just like the popular clique at school, I’m not part of the hunting brigade. Also, my idea of fun is a catch up in a small group over a cup of tea (preferably with cake) as opposed to a big party. Maybe hunting is for the extroverts?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be disparaging about hunting. It has it’s perks, and as you can see if you attend any meet, it is as popular as ever. I guess I’m just trying to say that it’s not for everyone and those of us who don’t partake usually have valid reasons and should be respected and not judged for them.

Matt’s Diary – Week 10


The Chauffeur was on time this morning. I think Young Mum has finally drilled it into him that it is of imperative importance that I am turned out first. Otherwise I will have a tantrum! I behaved myself and was pleased that he spent more time on my stable than Otis’s. And no, it’s not because I’m a mucky pup, it’s because Young Mum neglected me yesterday and didn’t take all of the wet patch out when she gave me new wood pellets… her excuse was that she ran out of wheelbarrow space!

Anyway, I was on my best behaviour for The Chauffeur on our way to the field.


Again, we tolerated The Chauffeur on duty today. I must say that I hope he’s asked Santa for a spirit level for Christmas. If I’m honest, I quite liked having the weekend off, I got to catch up on gossip and have a nice roll to give my eyes a face pack since that’s the only part of me exposed.


Young Mum was back, and it was a bit chilly for my workout at dawn. It’s not long until Important Dressage Competition 2, so Young Mum needs to learn the directions. Apparently sat nav doesn’t work in a dressage test. I got to escort Otis along the road again. We get to walk further now, so I feel like it’s worth my time. 

I blame Otis for this afternoon. We’re both in the dog house. Young Mum didn’t even put an extra rug on me for the night, even though it was supposed to be arctic conditions! It all started when Young Mum was catching me. She’d already got Otis and left him grazing outside his field. He thought it would be a good idea to trot downhill past my field. So we had to go and fetch him. Which I found exciting because I’d never been that far along the track before.

We both gave a couple of snorts as she led us back up. Pretending really. It was fun seeing our breath in front of us. 

Then suddenly a bike whizzed up behind us on the road. We could see it through the holey hedge, and both jumped. Then Otis piaffed sideways – apparently there’s a technical term for prancing now. And I just joined in. 

As we reached the corner, suddenly the bike appeared mid air! It’s owner was trying to throw it over the gate so she could take the short cut to the stables. Well that was it! We both snorted and reversed along the track to the stables. What a funny thing to do with a bike! I decided I’d had enough, and snatched the lead rope from Young Mum and legged it, Otis in hot pursuit! Halfway towards the stables, Otisdecided the grass was more tempting, and stupidly, he let Young Mum grab him. I however, am not stupid and squealed and cantered off again as she lunged for my rope. Otis rejoined me and we cantered away from the stables down the other track of fields. This was exciting because I’d never been here. So obviously we had to go all the way to the end. 

Disgraced, Young Mum didn’t groom us or walk Otis, or anything when we got back to the stables. Lucky we even got dinner I suppose as she was so late.


Tuesday’s seem to be the new lesson day. I suppose I can’t complain after having the weekend off. Young Mum turned us both out really early, but she came back just after lunch, having bought lots of feed for us. If I’m honest, I was starting to get a bit worried when The Chauffeur told me on Sunday that there weren’t any bags left, just the scraps in the bin. I can’t be expected to be in peak condition if I’m not fed my usual rations of gourmet Alfalfa.

Young Mum caught up on poo picking today, which I commend her for because it was bitterly cold and The Chauffeur had neglected this part of his duties. Plus she had to push that heavy wheelbarrow up the hill without sliding back down!

We both had a good groom and then Young Mum and I escorted Otis out to warm up for my lesson. I was very good; I just have to remember to stand to attention on the centre line, not look at everyone else. But it’s so exciting, I want to know what they’re doing in their field! Then we did lots of canter figures of eight so that my change of bend in trot is perfect. It’s getting there…


Young Mum decided I could have the morning off today. I should think so! Minus seven it was! She was busy in the evening teaching too so it was minimal services.


This frosty morning Young Mum dragged me out for a lunge. When I started off I had a stretch to sniff the ground. It smelt fresh and crispy so I thought I’d roll in it. Make myself all frosty! But Young Mum wouldn’t let me. 

After my awesome cantering on the lunge she took my Pessoa off. I stood there, watching her trying to get me to roll. Scraping the ground with her foot, pushing me away. But I’m not a dog, I don’t do tricks so I continued to look at her disdainfully. Eventually she gave up and let me put my rugs back on to warm up.


​This morning I had a pedicure and I’m afraid I had to tell my nice farrier to buck his ideas  up a bit. He arrived at 7, and I ate breakfast while he filed and shaped my hooves. Then of course it was time for me to go out. But he wasn’t finished. I had expressed my concern about the timing when Young Mum had booked me in. She knows I have to be turned out first! After being told off for fidgeting and dancing around, Young Mum held me while the final nails were hammered in. I expressed my displeasure by dragging Young Mum and Otis to the field.
I was still grumpy this afternoon, so when a car passed us through  the hedge I told Otis to jump. We squished Young Mum between us and cantered off. No stopping for snacks this time, we held our tails high and hot hoofed it down the other track! I broke the headcollar as I went.

I half thought about not letting her catch me at the bottom, but the look on her face told me otherwise.

After telling me that I had my “Welsh Brain” on she rode me. With the excuse of this new brain I proceeded to execute some fabulous spooks and gallops for very little reason. So I had to do ten minutes of medium trot!


Equitation is a word that seems to have fallen out of favour nowadays, even within the equestrian world. I chose to name my business Starks Equitation for two reasons; Ian Stark (the Olympic eventer and unfortunately no relation) has a business Starks Equestrian, and I wanted to highlight the fact that my business was oriented around riding horses, as opposed to providing livery services or selling equine equipment.

What does the word equitation mean though, and why am I rambling on about it?

Equitation is the art or practice of horse riding or horsemanship.

I have chosen to start talking about equitation because of a thought I had months ago when I was writing for a dressage judge, and a conversation I had last week.

Let me tell you about the conversation firstly. It wasn`t so much a two way conversation, but we were discussing how Matt finds medium canter quite difficult and I said that I had always struggled to impress the show judges with our gallop. Except this one time.

We were in an Equitation class at one of the county shows. I remember being quite impressed with the idea of equitation – maybe I had a chance as Matt never stood out, but I knew that my riding was okay. It was a busy class and I felt like we were standing in line for ages. I looked around to plan my show as the judge hadn`t specified. Where could I get a good gallop?

When it was my turn, I went out and halted in front of the judge in the other direction to everyone else. After saluting I moved off in trot, rode my figure of eight in canter, and then came round ready to gallop behind the line. As I got level with the line, ready to turn right, Matt glanced left. I knew he would, after all the generator of the burger van was chugging away. As I turned right I kicked hard and let him spook, semi-bolt, and most importantly, gallop away from the generator. We calmly collected the canter at the other end before trotting and halting to salute the judge.

I remember patting him, knowing that I`d had his best show-ring gallop to date, but I wasn’t expecting to be pulled in third! Yes, I know equitation classes judge me more than Matt, but I felt marginally more motivated to keep showing for a bit longer, as well as feeling smug that I`d learnt some ring craft finally.

So now. The reason why I`m bringing this up?

When I was watching the dressage tests I felt there were several categories of competitor. Firstly, there were the lower level riders on their old faithfuls, perhaps having a go at their first dressage test. Then there were more competent riders on their green youngsters. And there were average riders on their schoolmasters. The dressage judge said to me at the time that she wished she could judge the riders as much as the horse, as she felt that some horses were being let down by the riders, or vice versa, but the test sheet had to reflect the horse, and not the rider.

Which made me thing. Surely that by competitions focusing solely on the results of the horse we are encouraging, or at least not dissuading, poor riding and bad habits in order to get results.

Could British Dressage somehow incorporate equitation into their dressage tests? Perhaps there could be a “Best Rider” rosette, or an Equitation league a bit like the RoR league? Or perhaps there should be a totally separate equitation class, with a different test that marks each movement in accordance to the rider`s balance, position, accuracy, and application of the aids?

You see equitation promoted in some showjumping competitions where they have a style class, or in JAS competitions where you are judged on how stylishly you tackle the course of fences. Hunter trials and arena cross country could incorporate some equitation fairly easily, I`m sure. When I`ve taught young kids at Pony Club and had to do a little showjumping competition I`ve often judged it on style rather than whether they were clear or not – I look for them to ride straight lines to and from jumps and fold into a good jumping position over the fence.

America shows offer a variety of equitation, or horsemanship classes, in different disciplines and they are usually well subscribed, so perhaps we should take a leaf out of their book and offer classes in all disciplines and at all levels to encourage the amateur rider to improve their standard of riding so that we can rid the equestrian world of sawing hands and tied in horses.


Seeing Strides

Spotting your take off stride when jumping is a bit of an art. Some people have an innate eye, but for most of us it’s practice.

In the old days we were taught to collect the canter then three strides away from the fence fire the ponies. I’m not sure how much of this technique was developed and taught in order to keep the slightly mental ponies under control…

Regardless, I could never count down correctly, despite rarely getting in front or behind the movement.

I prefer to teach, and indeed jump, with an energetic, positive canter that is the same before the turn to the fence as it is on the penultimate stride. If the rhythmical canter is maintained I think it is then easy to develop an eye for seeing a jumping stride.

To teach this, it is not always so easy to explain. I’ve recently introduced the idea of seeing a stride to a young client. Since I’ve been teaching him we’ve worked on his position over fences, riding straight lines, thinking about his lines between jumps, as well as the rein contact and different types of canter on the flat. 

I don’t want him to get too obsessed with finding his stride; I think that may cause him to look down at the fence, but I do want him to learn the feel of a good jump. The slightly further away take off spot, and no sneaky chip in stride by his pony. I think when my client understands the feeling of a good canter on the approach and the effect it has on the jump itself then he will subconsciously ride to the fence better, and perhaps start to ask the pony to take off at the correct point, instead of a bit too close.

There are two problems to overcome first of all. The pony is used to, and likes getting close to the fence. My rider is also used to that short penultimate stride, and often tips forward on the stride, sometimes causing a refusal. So we need to train and build the pony’s confidence in jumping a wider bascule, and we need to teach my rider not to expect the chip-in before the fence.

 The obvious answer was a grid. 

After warming up with a discussion of the gears in canter I had my rider canter over three canter poles. Once he was able to generate a better canter beforehand he could feel that the poles were inconsequential to the canter – the pony didn’t need to make an effort for them.

Then they jumped a cross pole with a placing pole. Again, it took a couple of tries to be able to maintain the canter right to the jump. I then introduced a landing pole. This was to help maintain the canter after the fence. 

Once this combination was negotiated successfully I moved on to the second fence. Eventually it would become an oxer to help open up the pony’s stride. The second fence started as an upright, once stride away from the cross pole, however the landing pole would ensure that there was only one stride between the two jumps.

We had a couple of issues when the canter died in between the jumps and my rider tipped forwards and the pony chipped in. But we got there, jumping it from both reins.

It was here that my rider asked an intelligent question: why was I insisting he alternated the rein that he approached on. So I quickly explained the asymmetry of canter and how we needed to make sure both hind legs were equally strong, and make sure he and his pony were straight. This led us onto the fact that the pony drifted right through the grid when he came off the left rein, so we had a break from the exercise to establish straightness between the fences.

I like being challenged by my riders when they ask questions like this, and also when we move on to discussing another topic which they have initiated. I think that helps them learn and retain information.

Back to the original grid. We now had the second fence as an ascending oxer. Without using any placing poles, I added in the final fence. A substantial upright (well, it is when you’re only twelve hands high!). 

After riding through the grid a few times my rider could feel the difference in the canter between the fences; could feel how lovely the bascule was; and most importantly understood that he was now meeting the jumps on a perfect stride.

I even heard a couple of “wows” as they flew the last jump, he felt it was so good!

Our next few lessons will carry on the same theme, of creating a good, jumping canter, and maintaining to the fence as well as closing the leg before the fence to prevent the pony chipping in. Eventually I want them to be able to ride a course of showjumps whilst meeting every fence on a perfect stride. 

Another Suppling Exercise 

One of the horses I school often loads her outside shoulder in an attempt to evade engaging her inside hind leg. To help improve her suppleness, straightness and ability to change the bend, I’ve been doing a lot of leg yield, shoulder in, and 10m figures of eight and serpentines based around the 10m circle. 

One exercise I introduced to her last week, and she’s just starting to grasp, is leg yielding with changes of bend.

I do the exercise in a 40m x 30m arena so don’t need to change the rein constantly, but if you work in a 40m x 20m the exercise will need adapting.

Starting on the left rein, turn onto the three quarter line and leg yield to the left. This alone is quite tricky because if, like the mare I’m talking about, you load the outside shoulder and tend to fall out of turns then the turn needs to be ridden carefully so that you are straight onto the three quarter line. Then the bend needs to be changed. Again, another test of the horse is cheating. 

Once you have leg yielded towards the centre line a few steps (how many depends on how balanced the horse is and how easily they change the bend) you need to ride straight, change the bend again and continue on the left rein.

This exercise alone can be difficult enough for a horse as it requires them to be very adjustable in their way of going. The leg yield needn’t be many steps, but they should remain straight through the body, with the inside (right in my example) hind leg stepping under the body and pushing the body left instead of the left shoulder pulling the body left.

To make this exercise harder you can leg yield for more steps; you can leg yield off the track (therefore fighting the attraction of the fenceline) and you can ride it from both ends of the arena. This is where I have the advantage because the short sides of my arena are longer than normal so I have more preparation time. You can also add in some circles. A 10m circle before accentuates the left bend which makes it harder to change the bend before the leg yield. A circle after the leg yield should help you feel the impact of the leg yield because the horse is straighter and less likely to load the outside shoulder on the circle. 

Transitions will add another dimension to the exercise – I may introduce those later this week when the mare is finding the exercise easy. You could trot the leg yield and ride forwards to canter for the circle, or make a walk transition in the middle of the leg yield to check the horse is totally on the aids. I guess the only limits are your imagination!