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Photo Credit: NBanaszak Photography

I’m sure you've seen it before – there are many situations where a horse turns too abruptly, unbalancing himself and also the rider. Most often, the rider hangs on but other times, she might be unseated, losing balance, stirrups and/or seat.

It happens when the horse turns too soon, cutting the arc of the circle so small that he has to catch himself with his front legs in order to avoid a fall. It can happen in the hunter/jumper ring especially after a jump, on a dressage 20m circle, on a reining or horsemanship pattern or on a trail that winds its way through the forest.



Regardless of the situation, there are several ways to help the horse through the turn. By being an active rider, you can:

1. predict the lean into the turn

2. support before the horse loses balance

3. teach the horse to reach straight through the turn

4. release (lighten contact and follow the horse with your seat) as soon as possible.

Let's take a closer look at each step.

Predict the Lean

You know it's coming! So instead of waiting for it to happen and THEN trying to do something about it after the horse is off balance, prepare several strides ahead of time. Shorten your reins if they've become too long (but keep the bend in your elbows). Sit tall in the saddle. Use your inside leg more actively before the lean. Keep the horse's neck straight (although the head can slightly flex in the direction of the turn).

Support

Use an active seat, leg and reins to lightly carry the horse several strides past the point where he wanted to lean. Your legs and seat can act as a wall that prevents your horse's rib cage from leaning. You might need a stronger inside rein if the horse is travelling with his head and neck flexed to the outside. You might need a stronger outside rein if the horse is swinging his head to the inside. In any case, keep your horse's neck aligned with his body.

Half-halt once, twice, or several times, at the right time, in order to help rebalance the horse's weight to the hind end. For the horse that rushes, slow his leg speed. For the horse that slows down, ask for more from the hind end.

Straighten

Even though you are on a turn, the horse does not have to feel like he has to scramble through it with a tight, tense body. Break down your turn into a number of straight strides, and ask your horse to go straight longer, and turn for less strides. Imagine that your turn or circle is a hexagon, with many short straight lines attached together.

Find all the straight lines in the circle. Then ride the turn that way.

Make sure you are not leaning into the turn yourself. We often lean without even knowing it. Stay tall, stay straight with your own seat and shoulders, and follow the arc of the turn at the right moment.

Take as many strides as needed to make a better balanced, more controlled turn when you finally ask for it.

Release

Well, this doesn't mean throw the reins away. It does mean that you can stop resisting through your body and flow with the horse. You can lighten the rein contact and encourage the horse to reach forward with a bold stride or two. It also means that he can find his balance once again in preparation for the next turn or movement.

Helping a horse through a turn might take many repetitions before the horse can more easily maintain better balance. It is often more tempting to give in to gravity than to carry one's weight with strength and agility. But it can be done.

Once the horse has better understanding, you will notice that he becomes less tense as he nears a turn. You might feel that he begins to swing through the back better, become bouncier in his gait and maybe even take bolder steps with his hind legs coming further underneath the body. He might snort, soften through the poll and ears, and generally give you a feel-good message.

You will also have an easier time because you can maintain better balance and prepare for the next movement up ahead.

And the onlooker will see a horse that calmly but boldly negotiates a smooth, easy turn without fuss or scramble, appearing to be so athletic that he could turn on a dime - if he wanted to!

Do you help your horse through a turn? If so, how? Please comment below.

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If you enjoyed the above article, here are a few others:

Riding Straight Through the Turn: Although it sounds like an oxymoron, travelling straight through a turn is essential in maintaining the balance of the horse.

Too Good to be True? Finding Your Horse’s “Happy Place”: Did you know that through riding, you can help your horse achieve a happy, content outlook on life? Sounds ridiculously far-fetched? Too good to be true?

Stepping “Forward” in Horse Riding: The term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.

Why You Should Ride the Left Side of Your Horse Going Right: In order to help straighten the horse (and elongate the muscles on the right, and help the horse bear more weight on the left hind leg), we need to work on the left side going right.

Drawing A Circle (In Sand): Regardless of where you position the circle in the arena, it should be evenly spaced and round.

21 Comments

  1. Good tips for a common problem. Horses become unbalanced through turns when the rider’s outside shoulder comes too far forward. This causes over flexion in the neck and the horse’s nose is really being pulled to the inside. The rider often feels like she has a supporting outside rein because there is tension on it. A simple way to correct this is to keep your hands over your horse’s shoulders (even lock your thumbs together for a few strides).

  2. Thank you for posting this. I don’t know if I can do it, but I have more tools to try with. My horse’s physio has just recommended the same thing about straight lines in the circle, but I understand it better in the context of this post than I did in the abstract.

  3. Everything you say here (thank you for that) can be used as a basis for almost any transition and preparation for the lateral moves like shoulder-in. If you can ride a good turn, there are so many other things you can ride well! I love your blog.

  4. I like to keep my inside hand a little in front of my outside hand and lifted slightly higher to remind myself not to drop my shoulder and leaning in on the turn or while circling. Thanks for such great tips!

  5. Interesting analogy about riding many straight lines on the circle. Another thing worth noting is that we tend to forget that the horse’s base of support is narrower in the front than in the rear and that the rail acts like a shoulder magnet. The longer we travel on the rail, the greater the tendency to allow the horse’s shoulder to migrate to the rail, which puts the horse at a disadvantage when it comes time to turn. If the horse is straight to begin with, the turn will be easier to accomplish for both horse and rider.

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