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.
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.
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.
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?