Why do we teach horses to perform turn around the forehand?
- It is usually taught as the first ‘sideways’ movement, as it’s a simple way to educate your horse into an understanding that the leg may mean ‘go sideways’ as well as ‘go forward’.
- It’s really useful when opening and closing gates.
Beyond that, in itself, it has no real value, but too many riders these days skip this stage and start with leg-yield when turn around the forehand is far simpler for the horse to understand.
What the horse should be doing in turn around the forehand
In a true turn on the forehand, the horse pivots around one front leg. His hind legs move sideways around his forehand until he is facing in the opposite direction.
Far more useful (and it does lead to other applications) is turn around the forehand, in which the horse’s front legs describe a very small half circle, and the hind legs are then able to continuously cross over each other (inside hind in front of the outside hind), never losing the forward momentum or the walk sequence.
This can result in more suppleness in the hind leg joints and an understanding of straddling the legs in preparation for more advanced lateral movements further on in his training.
The aids for turn around the forehand
Ride alongside a wall or fence, about 1 meter away from it (the inside track).
Let’s take as an example, turn around the forehand to the left.
Terminology check: the direction named, in this case left, is the direction in which you will move his hindquarters, so you will be walking on the left rein before you start.
With small aids on the right rein, start to turn his head towards the fence.
At the same time, aid him with your right leg, making sure your left leg hangs totally passive, away from his side.
As his quarters start to move to the left (i.e. into the arena, away from the fence), use small half-halts on your left rein to slow down his front leg steps; your right rein is still asking him to turn towards the fence.
You need to find a balance between the amounts of right and left rein to maintain the turning, yet not allow him to walk too much forward – this is why you start teaching the movement by turning him towards the fence, as this prevents too much stepping forward until he understands your aiding. It also helps you to not become too strong on either rein, which will cause stiffening and possibly panic.
Once he has completed the turn you walk away on the right rein.
You may wish to halt him after the turn, for discipline or to help keep things calm if he has become worried; that is up to you to respond to how he reacts.
Once he understands, you can do turn around the forehand anywhere you like, without the fence as a help, and you can go all the way around instead of only a half turn, is you so choose.
Turn on the forehand is a simple exercise designed to move the horse’s hind end around its front end.
Preferably ridden as turn around the forehand (i.e. without losing the walk sequence before you start), it teaches:
- An understanding of lateral displacement to a leg aid (i.e. moving sideways away from one leg).
- Control of one end of the horse relative to the other, particularly useful when maneuvering for specific positioning, e.g. opening/closing gates.
- An understanding of straddling the hind legs.
- By straddling the hind legs correctly (in the example above, at every step the right hind would cross in front of the left) it both bends the hind leg joints and mobilizes the pelvis (by tilting it) and as a consequence moves the lower back, all of which aid in increasing flexibility.
- A better understanding of the job of the two reins – the inside for bend/turn and the outside for speed control.