How to Ride a Walk Pirouette
A walk pirouette is another name for ‘turn on the haunches’ and describes the movement in which a horse moves his forehand around his haunches, usually through 180 degrees until he is facing the opposite direction.
You can ride a 360-degree turn, or even more times around for training purposes if you choose.
What should a walk pirouette look like?
- The hind legs should describe a small circle – around the size of a dinner plate in a high scoring pirouette – with the hind feet lifting clear of the ground in every step, i.e. not losing activity or becoming ‘stuck’ to the ground.
- The clear 4 beat sequence of the walk must be maintained throughout, and the tempo of the walk should remain the same before and after the movement.
- The forehand must move faster than the haunches to accomplish the turn. Picture the horse’s body like the hand of a clock, with the head at the pointer end; that end turns considerably faster than the end in the center of the dial.
- There should be a small but clear bend around the rider’s inside leg, throughout the length of the horse’s body and neck.
How to ride a walk pirouette
Approach the turn in collected walk, not medium.
You must be able to achieve a degree of collection with ease before you will be able to produce a decent walk pirouette.
Put him into a mild shoulder fore, to the direction you will be turning. This both creates the required bend, and engages him over his inside hind before you arrive at the movement.
As you begin the movement, deepen your weight into your inside seat bone and stirrup to initiate the turn.
Press him with your outside leg, in a feeling of haunches in.
Push him round with your reins – both hands move towards the direction of the turn, bringing the outside rein against his neck to turn the shoulder, and the inside rein opens away from the neck to lead him round.
Ride pirouette with a feeling of emptying your hands of any weight – you may need to make small half-halts on either rein (inside to maintain the bend, outside to prevent him from stepping forward out of the movement) but any undue or consistent pressure on the reins will almost certainly result in him sticking behind.
If he is lazy, you should use your legs throughout the turn in alternating fashion, matching each of your legs to his hind legs, so that your left leg asks him to lift his left hind and vice versa.
The leg on the outside may need to be slightly stronger (and clearly further back) to maintain the movement of the hindquarters into the pattern and prevent them from swinging out.
As you arrive facing in the opposite direction, straighten out of the movement and ride away.
Walk pirouette, or turn on the haunches, can only be ridden once you can produce the following with reasonable ease:
- A degree of collection in the walk.
- The ability of the rider to feel the sequence of legs, and aid the horse with both leg and hand in the appropriate timing (a fairly advanced level of sophistication of the rider’s aiding).
- Shoulder fore.
- Haunches in.
Once you have these pre-requisites in place, it becomes relatively simple to combine them together to ride a pirouette.
Having said that, this movement requires more individual co-ordination on the rider’s part than any other movement in dressage.