Turn On The Forehand

Recently I`ve done quite a bit of turn on the forehand, and on the haunches, with different clients and horses, so thought it was a useful time to blog about it.

Turn on the forehand is usually one of the first lateral movements people teach their horses. For some, however, they wouldn`t dream of touching turn on the forehand as it encourages the horse to put their weight onto the forehand.

So before we embark on pivoting in little circles, let`s discuss why we would use turn on the forehand. The first, and most obvious reason, is whilst out hacking. Gates are far easier to negotiate if your horse can turn on the forehand because you can keep hold of the gate whilst manoeuvring your way through. No more swinging gates, or pushing against the unfriendly gusts of wind. In the arena, learning turn on the forehand teaches a young horse the basic concept of moving away from the leg aid. I find it is useful for increasing the rider`s awareness of what the hindquarters are doing, and it is a good way of suppling the hind legs because they are adducting and abducting with each step.

What exactly is turn on the forehand?

Put simply, it is when the horse pivots on their front feet. Put in a slightly more technical way, the horse turns a small circle with their front feet, whilst the hindlegs scribe a larger circle around them. A turn on the forehand can be a quarter turn, a half turn, or a full circle. Obviously a quarter circle is the easiest as there are fewer steps.

Initially you want to establish that the horse and rider can ride balanced transitions into fairly square halts. These could be direct from trot, or progressive through walk. If a horse stops in a balanced way then they are in a better position to perform turn on the forehand.

Once the halt transitions are established, ride medium walk on the inside track, making sure you have enough room between you and the fence for the length of the horse. Ride forwards to halt (remembering that square part). Maintain the rein contact, and flex the horse slightly to the inside. Remember here that inside is towards the direction of movement. Shift your weight to the inside seat bone and place the inside leg slightly behind the girth. Use this leg to push the horse to step around the forehand. The outside leg, behind the girth, prevents the hindquarters from rushing and supports the horse, whilst the outside rein supports the outside shoulder, keeping the neck straight at the base of the neck and prevents the horse falling out through the outside shoulder. If the horse does not understand the driving aid of the inside leg then a whip can be carried to back up the leg aid if necessary.

Initially, you want two or three steps, which takes you on a quarter circle. Ride forwards away from the movement as you praise the horse. It`s important to move forwards away from the movement so that the horse doesn’t associated turning on the forehand with losing energy or momentum.

It`s really important not to over ride turn on the forehand, after all, it will be difficult initially for a horse, but you also do not want them to anticipate turning when you ride to halt, otherwise you sacrifice your final centre line in any dressage tests! Once I`ve ridden turn on the forehand a few times in both directions, and the horse is beginning to understand the concept, I tend to work on another area of their schooling before doing a couple of reminder turns towards the end of the session. Then, to keep revising the movement, you can use it as a change of rein, during a walk break in the schooling session, or as part of a trickier exercise.

Some horses cheat in turn on the forehand and swivel their front feet. This is incorrect, and you want them to step up and down in the walk rhythm, without taking any forward steps.

Other faults to watch out for are;

  • the horse bending their neck and falling out of the outside shoulder, taking forwards steps as they go. This can be caused by the rider using too much inside rein. To correct it, maintain a more secure outside rein contact, and monitor the different aids as independently as possible.
  • the inside hind leg not coming up and crossing in front of the outside hind leg.
  • the rider`s inside leg shifting too far behind the girth, which displaces their weight to the outside.
  • the horse rushing through the movement, hollowing their back and coming above the bit. This can be caused by the rider shifting their position – lifting the seat, leaning forward, raising the heels and using too much of a rein aid. Taking the stirrups away can stop the position being lost, but ultimately the rider needs to improve their seat.
  • Horse doesn`t understand and becomes “stuck”; doesn’t move around the turn, or backs up. If they back up then the rider may have too heavy a hand, but also if the horse has moved one step then become “stuck”, the rider should trot forwards, to regenerate the energy before trying again. If the horse still doesn`t understand the concept, then it can be practiced from the ground, with or without a rider, using a schooling whip to mimic the inside leg aid.

Hopefully you understand my description of turning on the forehand; I`ve found it to be very useful for horses who aren`t very active or supple in their hindquarters, and a real learning curve for riders as they learn to use all their aids independently and control the two halves of the horses body simultaneously. After riding it, the horse usually settles into a steadier contact, are easier to correct on circles and turns, and have a more active, balanced stride in the trot.

Let me know how you get on!

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