turn position

Inside leg at the girth! Outside leg behind the girth! Shoulders to the turn! Outside rein... inside rein... lean... collapse... head!

There are so many components to a turn that sometimes we feel like we have to become a pretzel before we are finally in the correct position! There HAS to be an easier way.

Forget all the well-intentioned instructions. Although focusing on specific body parts is useful during the fine-tuning process of the riding position, it can become confusing and sometimes downright difficult during the initial learning process.

Instead of focusing on each and every body part and aid component, morph yourself into one whole. Do everything all at once, let your body respond accordingly, and simplify the aids not only for yourself but also for your horse.

Here's How

Try this off the horse.

Stand with your weight evenly balanced on both feet. Your knees and toes point straight ahead. Your hips are parallel to the front of the room and your torso is in line with your hips. Hold your forearms as if you are holding the reins, with your elbows at your sides, slightly bent into a soft "L" bend.

Turn Right

Now, turn right, but don't let your feet slide out of position. However, your toes can slightly point in the direction of the turn. The depth of the turn determines the size of the circle you ride. So, do a slight turn for a larger circle. Do a deeper turn for a smaller circle. Then take a look at what happened to your body.

Your hips (and seat bones) open to the right. Your weight will naturally be on the right (inside) seat bone. Your torso will point in the direction of the turn, and because your arms are on your sides and acting in tandem with your body, the reins will move exactly according to "textbook" requirements. The inside rein will open slightly while the outside rein will sit on the neck, creating an outside indirect, or "neck" rein.

Now take a look at your leg. The right leg will end up being positioned a little ahead of the left leg. The right knee will open and point slightly to the right. This will serve exactly as it should in saddle: right (inside) leg at the girth, and left (outside) leg behind the girth. Soft, inviting knee on the right, and firm, supporting outside leg on the left. Everything is just as it should be.

And all this happened simply because you turned your torso, from the hips up, in the direction of the turn.

Left Turn

Now try the exact same thing to the left. Feel how your left leg is now at the girth. Your outside leg is slightly behind the girth. Your left rein opens off the neck and your right rein sits on the neck.

Now Teach Your Horse

Positioning yourself while riding is one part of the overall picture. I'm sure you've seen horses run through the rider's aids - it happens all the time. Even if the rider can position herself accurately and set up her balance, it is very possible for her horse to not understand, ignore, or contradict her aids. And so it comes down to the rider to teach her horse how to respond to the body aids.

Be ready to reinforce your aids - maybe you need a stronger outside rein for a few strides. Maybe you should use your inside leg to help create a bend in your horse's body. Perhaps a half-halt is required before the turn to help balance the horse going into a circle.

What we really need most of all is practice. Position yourself into the desired turn and give it a try. Practice some more.

Make sure that your whole body gives just one message: "turn here." Then wait for your horse to respond.

Even if you don't get the desired response right away, don't worry. Be patient enough to repeat many times over, wait for your horse to do his "homework" (back in the stall or the field) and one day, it will all come together.

Do you have a method you like to use to simplify the turn aids? Comment below.

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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also like:

4 Steps to Help Your Horse Through A Turn: There are many situations where a horse turns too abruptly, unbalancing himself and also the rider.

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.

Secrets to a Great Turn (a.k.a. Shift Out to Turn In): If you “listen” carefully, can you feel your horse’s subtle weight shifts when you begin a turn?

Here’s How (and Why) You Should Ride With Bent Elbows: Have you ever watched riders going around the ring with straight, stiff arms?

Why You Don’t Want to Pull on the Inside Rein – and What To Do Instead: We think that by pulling on the horse from the inside, the horse must obviously turn his nose and then follow it. Right?

24 Comments

  1. A good way to have someone understand why this makes sense from the horse’s point of view is to have the student get on her hands and knees and “be the horse.” Swing your leg over her back so you are astride her as though riding her. With your legs, torso and hands straight, to be in harmony with the rider, the horse will go straight. If the “horse” tries to turn without being asked, it will run into its rider’s leg on that side. If the rider turns her body as you describe, it is almost impossible for the horse not to turn with the rider. The opening leg creates a space for the horse to flow into and the rider’s hip and supporting leg supports that turn. I prefer to have my students think about pointing in the desired direction with index finger and toe and only using pressure if the horse ignores that intuitive body language. Horses certainly give to pressure, but they flow with your opening hand, hip and leg. When you no longer need to support with pressure on rein or leg, you can ride the horse bridle-less.

  2. This is perfect for one of my clients, I’ll be sending her the link. She can ride but is very stiff so we’re focusing on controlling the horse with her seat and body in a subtle way, rather than pull-kick.
    Thanks

  3. This was so helpful, sometimes I get so frustrated with thinking heels down, inside leg, outside leg and I get discouraged. There’s a lot to riding even though I’ve been riding for 10+ years I’m still learning new things! This was a great way to describe it!

  4. This is exactly how I teach it. I figured it out on my own, after deciding that there MUST be a better way than the complicated way of breaking down each component. Thank you so very much for validating this, as many students are not convinced it could actually be this simple!!!!!

  5. This is a good article. Last year I had a lot of trouble with over riding my turns. One coach told me that a horse is going to take the easy way out. When you turn your body even the greenest horse will turn because it’s more convienent to do so.

  6. Absolutely! It also works with forward motion and whoa. You lean slightly forward to move off and sit back to stop. No simpler way to ride than to look to where you want the horse to go using your body as the guide. You said it well!!!

  7. In turns and circles, I actually pressure from the inside leg (on the girth) more than pressure from the outside leg. The idea is simple. The horse moves away from pressure, yes? In standard dressage, you don’t indicate direction with your legs. Hands indicate direction, legs create the correct bend. So your inside hand turns the horse’s head towards the inside and his whole body follows, but if you don’t bend him properly with your legs, his body will flop along any old how and he’ll fall out or fall in and generally mess up his circle. We want him to bend around the inside leg. Now you can do this by using the outside leg well behind the girth to push the hindquarters in (the way you do in half-pass), but a method that the horse understands a lot better is to use your inside leg to push the middle part of his body “out”, causing him to flex around that pressure from the inside leg and curve his spine properly. This also makes a shoulder-in ridiculously easy to teach, as you come off a circle with the horse bent around your inside leg, go onto a straight line and just open your outside hand and apply a little more pressure slightly in front of the girth with your inside leg and he will automatically wander sideways.

  8. turn your hips as well as torso in the direction you want to go. the horse will feel the shift in your seat bones and follow them and yes they certainly can feel the seat bones through all the saddle stuff be careful not to drop your shoulder into the turn there should never be any “C” shapes in your upper body

  9. this was such a timely post for me! i’m still a relatively beginner rider but i’ve been working on bending and turning and my instructor is always going through the various items we should be moving and coordinating. i love how you were able to take it out of the saddle to try and get the impression of what’s happening for those who are too busy just trying to stay on the horse

  10. I have simplified my riding to “do in my body what I want my horse to do in his body.” I also think of the horses energy as being a river with my legs and hands the river banks that direct the flow of his energy. Most of what you recommend tallies quite nicely with that approach. The exception is that you do not walk a circle to the right with your right foot and calf trailing behind. Instead of using leg pressure on the inside at the girth and having the outside leg slightly behind the girth line to hold the hind end from swinging out I open my inside toe and swing my outside leg an inch forward, closing that toe and calf like the river bank if and only if the horse is not turning smoothly in the desired arch. As long as the human does not lean to the inside of the circle, the horse’s shoulder will not fall in and its hind end will not fall out.

    Moreover, you do not need to train this approach. Horses intuitively respond to it because it is clear, simple to understand body language. All they have to do is mirror the feel on top of them and there is no pressure on them at all. This approach is what allows me to ride bridleless so easily. The horse just flows with changes in body language. When I do use your described leg positions, my horses will do the turn, but they pin their ears slightly in protest. Try it and see what you horse tells you.

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