How to teach your horse a Turn on the Forehand

Turn on the forehand

As part of my coronavirus riding program, I’m focusing on exercises we can practice at the walk, like the turn on the forehand. This relatively simple movement is a good way teach your horse to move away from your leg (sideways as opposed to forward), teaches obedience, improves suppleness, and frees up her shoulder for canter departs. On a completely practical level, teaching your horse to move sideways makes it much easier to open a gate when you’re out riding.  

What is a turn on the forehand? It’s an exercise where your horse moves its hindquarters around its front legs in an arc or a circle. In doing so, her hind legs cross over. You can perform the movement with the front legs staying relatively still, or in a more advanced variation, ask the front legs to

Performing a turn on the forehand in motion as part of a volte, is a more advanced version of the movement.It also builds the lateral and rotational pelvic control muscles, as well as engaging the abdominal muscles and lifting the spine. Image from Fran Griffith – Rider Biomechanics Coach.

Zelda and I are working hard on the obedience part of the equation. She’s been a trifle naughty this spring, as if she knows that I won’t push her that hard right now. Zelda likes me to believe that she’s not very athletic or coordinated. She claims that she can’t bend her body, or cross her hind legs. I know that’s not true. Out in the hunt field she’s nimble as can be and collects into a bouncing ball, her haunches tucked under her long body. So when she squeals, spooks or just plain ignores me, I’ve been breaking down the movement into simple steps.

What I’ve found is that it’s often easier to start training a new movement in hand. Standing at your horse’s head, facing heir rump and holding a whip, tap your horse lightly on the haunches to ask her to move sideways. Start with just a step or two. Zelda reminds me that you should praise your horse lavishly for any effort and carry plenty of treats. She’s happy to perform for a piece of an alfalfa cube; your horse may demand something more exotic.

Nuno Cavaco works a horse in hand. It’s a great way to introduce a movement without making the horse also carry a rider.

Once your horse has wrapped her mind around the idea of moving her haunches around her forehand, you are ready to try it under saddle. It’s easier if you’re working in an arena with a railing or a wall. We don’t have one, but we make do.

Start from an energetic walk and bring your horse to a square halt, slightly off the track. Your horse should be on the bit. From the halt, bend your horse slightly in the direction of the turn through the poll and jaw, then shift your weight slightly onto your inside seat bone. Make sure you don’t collapse your torso!

Move your leg slightly behind the girth and apply pressure to push your horse sideways around her inside front leg. You might find it helpful to carry a whip in your inside hand to reinforce the inside leg, but it should be used as a tap, not as a punishment. Your outside let is also positioned behind the girth and receives the movement, while at the same time preventing the haunches from rushing.

Use your outside rein to keep the neck straight at the withers and
prevent your horse from falling out through the outside shoulder. Zelda says you should be satisfied with a step or two at the beginning, because this is hard. Don’t forget the lavish praise and the treat. She suggests walking on a long rein after the exercise as a reward.

The video shows how to perform a turn on the forehand both in hand and under saddle. It’s not exactly how I do it, but it’s pretty close. Wait until I tell Zelda that the next movement we’re learning is a turn on the haunches!

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