Turning Your Horse versus Asking Your Horse to Turn

Turning Your Horse versus Asking Your Horse to Turn

Turning Your Horse versus Asking Your Horse to Turn

It seems pretty simple, navigating a corner or bend with your horse.  And yet, for many riders, this becomes a complicated task really quickly.  The issue is not the turn or the bend.  No, the issue is that they are trying to turn their horse, rather than simply setting things up and allowing their horse to turn.

As the rider, you do not bend or turn your horse.  You simply set things up and ask your horse to bend or turn…

In this episode, I want to dig a little deeper into how you can begin to make the transition from being the rider who is trying to control everything to the rider who is setting things up and allowing things to unfold naturally.

What is a Turn?

A turn or bend is whenever you and your horse deviate from a straight line.  You will meet them while in the arena, each corner for example.  They will also be part of your trail rides, even if it is just when you turn around to come home.

All activities when we are with our horses will include opportunities to work on improving the basics through the correct riding of a turn or bend. 

And that is what I want you to begin seeing each one as; an opportunity. So much can be learned from each turn and bend.  They will help you to understand where you are at that moment with your horse with regard to your training and development.  And, they will help you begin to work on going deeper or further in your training.

Relaxation and Rhythm

I suggest starting right at the beginning before you ever get to the turn, bend, or corner.  Think about how you can best set both yourself and your horse up.  Pay attention to your current tension (relaxation) levels.  Will they be sufficient to get you through the turn the way you want?

Work on establishing the correct tension (relaxation) levels in both you and your horse before each turn.  Then, as you ride through it, notice if you both maintain this level.

The rhythm is the same.  Establish it beforehand and then work on maintaining it through the turn or bend.  However, keep in mind that, very often, the rhythm will have already established itself… Particularly in the trot.  In walk and canter, you may need to work on it.  Once you have a rhythm you are happy with, pay attention to how well you can maintain it throughout the turn or bend.

Outlining Your Track

The next piece is often the one that so many riders forget about!  Strange, because it would naturally appear to be one of the most important parts of riding a turn or a bend.  Knowing where you’re going to ride…!  And yet, riders leave this one up to chance.

Clearly map out your line or track.  If you struggle to visualize this in your mind, use actual physical markers to help you.  

As you ride through the track you have chosen for you and your horse, you will see how suitable it is for you both at this point in your training.  Sometimes it can be too ‘tight’ and the lack of suppleness in either or both of you will be highlighted as you struggle to maintain rhythm and relaxation.  Or, it might be too shallow a track to ask any real questions.

Only when you begin to actively ride specific tracks, can you begin using turns, bends, corners and circles in your training to move you both forward. 

Asking for the Turn

Now we are into the nitty-gritty.  This is often the first place riders begin when they make the decision to intentionally riding any bends, corners, or turns they meet.  However, hopefully, you can now see that this piece actually comes after a lot of other important things first.

Often, asking for the turn comes down to how well your position and posture are at that point in the ride.  If either of the above is lacking, your aids will not have the same meaning. 

You ask with a variety of aids.  Firstly, work on flexion.  This is like a ‘nod and a wink’ in the direction you’re planning on traveling. From here, think about how you can best communicate with your horse that you want an equal bend throughout his body as he rides through the turn.

Pay attention to your aids, position and posture as your horse begins to bend.  You may need to make adjustments. 

Allowing the Turn

As your horse begins to travel through the turn, your job now becomes simply allowing him to do this to the best of his natural abilities.  Yes, you can help and support him if he is very green.  However, it becomes exhausting very quickly if you are trying to control his every footfall.

Think of your aids as being a channel, funnelling the energy in the direction you want it to travel or move…

If you feel that the energy is falling out, or leaking somewhere, correct and go back to being the channel.  Correct and allow.  Don’t ‘hold and control’.  If you do this, your horse will never learn to take responsibility for his own actions.

Also, if you remain in the correct position, with good posture, you will be ready to ask for ‘more’ energy if necessary.  

This can often happen if the energy that was present before or while setting up the turn has leaked out somewhere, perhaps through an outside shoulder.  Being in the correct place will also help you to reinforce the channel if necessary.  This is often useful to remember when it comes to the hindquarters and your outside leg.

Straightening Out after the Turn

Once you and your horse have successfully navigated the turn, you then have to turn your attention to riding the next part of the track.  This is usually back onto a straight line.  The same care and attention should be given to successfully doing this, just like riding through the turn itself.

Pay attention to the rhythm and relaxation… If you compare them to what you entered the turn with, how do they measure up?

What was maintained through the turn, and what was lost or is not quite as good as what it was, to begin with?  These are areas you can begin working on in your training with your horse.

Every time you ride, you will be faced with a turn or bend.  My hope is that you can begin using each one as an opportunity to move the conversation forward for you and your horse.

Happy Riding

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