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How to Turn Your Horse Without Pulling on the Inside Rein

How to Turn Your Horse Without Pulling on the Inside Rein Dressage


What would happen if you were to ride a circle by simply pulling the horse around by the inside rein? Well, the horse would slide out through his outside shoulder and fall out.

So, what’s the solution? How do you ride your circle?

In this article, we discuss how to turn your horse without pulling on the inside rein.

Using the inside rein in isolation

When we’re taught to ride, we’re usually told to turn the horse left by pulling on the left rein, and turn the horse right by pulling on the right rein, and some people never get out of the habit.

Unfortunately, using the inside rein in isolation has a number of negative effects:

  • You’ll have too much neck bend, and you will lose control of the outside of your horse.
  • On a circle, through a corner, or around a turn, tugging the horse round with the inside rein will result in his shoulder sliding away from you.
  • The horse’s quarters may swing out.
  • The horse may also tilt his head to escape the uncomfortable pressure of the bit.
  • If you neglect to use your outside aids when asking for a transition, the horse will fall out, fail to make the canter strike off that you wanted, and will undoubtedly lose his balance.

Loss of straightness

According to the dressage Scales of Training, the horse should remain straight, even when he is moving around a circle or through a turn.

Now, the word ‘straight’ can sometimes cause confusion, so instead, think of the word ‘alignment’.

The horse’s hind feet should follow on the same track as his front feet. Picture a train going around a bend with all the carriages aligned.

The only time that your horse’s legs should cross over is when you’re performing lateral exercises.

However, if you pull on the inside rein, you drag the horse’s neck, head, and nose too much to the inside. That causes the outside shoulder to slide out, the horse will no longer be straight (aligned) in his body, and your equine train will be derailed!

The aids

Your inside rein should always work in conjunction with your inside leg and outside aids.

When you pull on the inside rein without using your other aids, you are effectively disengaging the horse’s inside hind leg, preventing it from reaching underneath the horse’s body. That results in the horse losing connection through his back to the contact. So, the horse may lose his balance, and his outline may become inconsistent.

Using too much inside rein also prevents the horse from activating his hind leg and moving forward, robbing his strides of ground cover, lift, and elasticity.

So, we’ve established that to make a turn we cannot simply pull on the inside rein. Instead, we need to encourage our horse to evenly bend through the body, rather than just turning his head. To do this, each leg and each arm has a specific job to do.

What does your inside leg do?

Your inside leg is applied at the girth to encourage your horse to ‘bend’ around it.

This middle part of the horse is highly inflexible, and cannot in reality bend. However, by stimulating your horse’s intercostal muscles (the ones between the ribs) to contract (by applying your inside leg) your horse is able to pull the ribs on the inside of the curve closer together, and spread the ones on the outside further apart, creating what we call ‘bend in the body’.

What does your inside rein do?

When you ride a circle, a corner, or a turn, the horse should look slightly to the inside in the direction in which he is moving. That slight inside flexion means that you should just be able to see your horse’s inside eye, not the whole of his face.

The inside rein is used to maintain the flexion.

Related Read: What is the Difference Between Bend and Flexion?

What does your outside rein do?

The outside rein is there to initiate the turn, help to keep the horse in a good balance, and controls the horse’s shoulder to prevent it from sliding out.

Your outside rein also controls the degree of neck bend, helping to keep the horse on a single, straight track, and his body in alignment.

What does your outside leg do?

Your outside leg is positioned slightly behind the girth and is there to guard the horse’s quarters should they swing out through the turn.

How to ride a turn without pulling on the inside rein

The horse’s natural tendency when moving through a turn is to lean into it, carrying his neck to the inside and stiffening through his ribcage. That immediately puts the horse onto his forehand. So, it’s the rider’s job to prevent that from happening.

Keep both your hands facing the direction of travel over the horse’s withers so that you can use your outside rein to control the horse’s shoulder and stop him from drifting out. Your inside rein maintains the flexion, and your inside leg keeps the horse’s inside shoulder upright with a degree of bend through the ribcage.

If the horse tries to push his quarters out to evade bending, his ribcage will stiffen, and he will lean to the inside. Position your outside leg just behind the girth to control the horse’s quarters while your inside leg at the girth prevents the horse from stiffening and falling inward as you make the turn.

Rider position through the turn

Your body position can also be used to help guide the horse through a turn.

Here’s how:

Step 1

As you ride along on a straight line, keep your weight evenly into both stirrups, stretching your legs around the horse’s barrel. You will have your hip, shoulder, and hand symmetrically on each side of the horse.

Related Read: The Correct Position For Dressage

Step 2

Now, ride through a turn. What happens?

It’s most likely that one of your shoulders will come up and forward. You can prevent that from happening by sitting squarely on both seat bones in the center of the saddle.

Step 3

Imagine that there’s a pole running straight down your spine between your hips and the top of your head. So that you don’t collapse one side or drop your shoulder, keep your upper body straight, and move your shoulders around the imaginary pole to the right or left.

As you turn your shoulders, they remain perpendicular to the pole, while your hips pivot in the same direction, placing them in the correct position.

So, if you are making a turn to the right, your right hip should open, and your left hip will close toward your horse, helping to bring him around the turn.

Step 4

Try this exercise:

  • At the walk, put your reins into your outside hand.
  • Put your inside arm behind your back with your hand on the base of your spine or on your outside hip. You should feel your outside shoulder coming forward while your inside shoulder comes back.
  • Your outside hip closes, bringing your outside leg against the horse’s side.
  • Your inside leg from hip to knee comes onto the horse with your inside hip open.

As you negotiate the turn, keep your inside calf active to maintain the horse’s energy and keep the inside leg engaged.

In conclusion

Using your inside rein in isolation to turn your horse causes many problems and will not get you good scores in a dressage test! Learn to ride the turn properly by using a combination of all your aids to keep the horse connected, balanced, and aligned.

If you struggle to keep your body coordinated, practice riding through turns at the walk as described above, before you venture into a trot.

Let us know what you thought of this post, and if you found it helpful, in the comments below.

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  1. worse nonsense i’ve ever heard in my life.a horse should never make a turn with their body straight.they follow their nose.their head and neck should be bent in the same arc as the circle they are travelling. the hands control the head and neck.apply inside rein,use inside leg to keep his shoulder up,and outside leg to drive them forward.

    1. Hello Russ,

      We think you may have misunderstood the article.

      Yes, when making a turn the horse should bend uniformly through his body and follow the arc of the circle. This is described as being “straight” because the horse is moving on one track with the horse’s hind legs following in the footprint left by his front legs; he’s not traveling on multiple tracks, falling in, or falling out.

      The bend through the body is created by the rider’s inside leg, the outside leg comes behind the girth to control the hindquartes, the outside rein controls to the degree of neck bend and the horse’s outside shoulder, and the inside rein guides the horse and asks for a small amount of inside flexion, BUT the inside rein should not be used to turn or pull the horse’s head round. At most, the inside rein can be opened slightly to help guide a young or uneducated horse around the circle.

      When ridden correctly, the horse will be ‘in the outside rein’ which means that the rider should be able to yield their inside rein forward without interrupting the bend.

      We hope that helps explain more clearly.
      HTD x

  2. This is very helpful and precisely describes the correct turning process. Thank you for the excellent, insightful post. I recently started riding again after a number of years and have had the opportunity to buy a wonderful quarter horse. Correct turning and steering are issues we are working through. He was trained Western but we are riding English. Like many have said, I find it is true more often than not that if we are having a sticky issue, it’s my alignment or shortcoming that I need to focus on!

    1. Hello Mary,
      Great to hear that you find our content helpful.
      Yes, as you’ve said, rider alignment in the saddle is very important! Most horses will follow the rider’s weight and will turn simply by the rider turning their head and shoulders in the direction they want to go.
      Thank you very much for reading and commenting.
      HTD x

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