The dressage rider and trainer favours an ‘old-fashioned’ exercise — turn on the forehand — to improve flexibility and suppleness
Some people think that turn on the forehand is an old-fashioned exercise, but it was recommended by the classical masters for a reason and is still used in the Spanish Riding School and the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain. It teaches horses to be soft in their backs and increases their suppleness.
To experience for yourself how this exercise works, stand up straight and lock your own ankle, knee and hip joints and put your hand in the small of your back. If you cross your legs and move sideways, you will feel your back muscles barely move. If you then relax and bend your joints before moving sideways, you will feel all the muscles in your back working. It’s the same for the horse.
It’s an exercise you can also teach from the ground — even in the stable with a headcollar on — and means you will have better control over the horse as well as increasing his joint flexibility.
1. In walk, start on a 20m circle on the right rein.
2. Away from the track, half-halt and sit a little bit to the right. Use the right rein gently to signal the direction and ask for a little bend and flexion. Your left rein controls the amount of neck bend, which should only be small.
3. Move your right leg a little behind the girth and ask the horse to move away from it. The left leg supports and prevents the horse from rushing.
4. Keep the horse moving forward throughout the exercise. The right hindleg should cross in front of the left. The front legs should not cross but should move sideways around a small circle.
5. Repeat four or five times, then do the same on the left rein.
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Tips and pitfalls
- Keep the horse thinking forward and don’t allow the inside hindleg to step behind the other one.
- Keep the rein aids light — ask for a little flexion and then give with the rein.
- Build the turn on the forehand into other exercises. For example, if the horse isn’t forward in canter, canter a 20m circle, come down into walk quite abruptly — as though you had got to the White Cliffs of Dover — make an outward half-turn on the forehand. Go back into canter immediately on the other rein and repeat after a couple of canter circles. This makes him more supple through his body.
- I use this exercise if the horse goes stiff and tense or threatens to rear. Putting them into turn on the forehand encourages them to soften and calm down.
- To stop the horse running in extended trot, extend down the long side and halt half a metre from the end, turn the horse’s head to the outside and do a half-turn on the forehand. Ride back down the track in extended trot and repeat the half-turn.
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