What is a turn on the forehand, and how to ride it correctly

  • The turn on the forehand — and a similar moment called turn about the forehand — is often used as a first introduction to lateral work for horses, as they are fairly simple to understand and perform. Once the horse has learnt how to yield from the rider’s leg in order to accomplish these movements, there is a natural progression to move on to leg yield, then shoulder-in. But before you attempt to introduce turn on the forehand, you need to understand what it is and how to ride it.

    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 yield from the rider’s leg, be soft in their backs and increases their suppleness.

    What is a turn on the forehand?

    A turn on the forehand requires the horse to move his hindquarters around his front legs. For the movement to be successful, the horse’s front legs should describe a small circle, while his quarters will do a larger circle.

    A turn on the forehand is where the horse turns around in his own length, on the spot, using the inside foreleg as the pivot, for a quarter or half circle.

    The turn on the forehand should be ridden from halt, whereas the turn about the forehand is done from walk and all four legs should maintain the same rhythm before, during and after it.

    For a good quality turn on the forehand the back legs should circle around the front legs, with the inside hind crossing well over in front of the outside leg, moving away from the rider’s leg. The horse should pick up and put down the inside front leg in the same place (or as near as possible). For the horse to be able to cross his inside hind leg in front of his outside hind, he has to engage his core and lift his back, hence the supplying and strengthening effect of this exercise.

    For turn about the forehand, the forehand will do a tiny circle and the quarters will do a larger circle. The horse moves away from the bend – if the horse is bent to the left, the quarters move to the right.

    What are the benefits of a turn on the forehand?

    A turn on the forehand teaches the horse:

    • To move away from the leg
    • To be obedient to the aids while not moving forwards or backwards
    • Can be a good introduction to lateral work
    • Develops co-ordination and balance
    • Builds muscles and improves flexibility, especially in the back
    • Adds interest and variety to the training programme

    It also benefits the rider in many ways:

    • Teaches rider co-ordination and helps develop feel
    • The rider learns how to use different parts of the body at the same time for different effects
    • Emphasises using the leg to move the horse, rather than the hand
    • It is a slow movement so the rider has plenty of time to think it through
    • It can be another method of changing the rein, if ridden through 180 degrees
    • Useful for moving the horse around in a confined space, or out hacking when your horse tries to shy at something
    • It’s a useful technique for opening gates

    How do I teach my horse?

    To experience for yourself how this exercise works before sitting in the saddle, 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.

    You can teach the basic turn on the forehand from the ground. Doing so means you will have better control over the horse as well as increasing his joint flexibility. Standing by your horse’s shoulder facing their hind legs, place your hand on the horse’s side just behind where the girth would be and ask the horse to step the hindleg nearest to you over and in front of the outside hindleg. Make sure where you are training allows the horse enough room to move around without feeling restricted. If the horse tried to walk forward instead, apply a little pressure on your horse’s nose to discourage this reaction and ask again. Ask for a single step at a time, pausing and rewarding the horse when they react as desired.

    How to ride turn about the forehand

    A turn on the forehand requires the horse to move his hindquarters around his front legs in a small circle, while his quarters will make a larger circle

    International dressage rider and trainer Pammy Hutton explains how to ride a turn about the forehand:

    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.

    Common problems

    When introducing the turn on the forehand, you may face the following problems:

    • The horse walks forward
    • Or the horse steps backwards
    • The horse has too much head and neck bend, allowing him to fall out through his shoulder or walk a circle instead
    • The horse loses his outline, sticks his nose in the air and generally resists and evades your aids
    • The hindleg does not cross over in front of the other hindleg and your horse shuffles around in little steps
    • He runs away from the inside leg and spins around really quickly
    • Loss of impulsion or rhythm

    Training tips

    • Keep the horse thinking forward to avoid the inside hindleg stepping behind the outside hindleg
    • Keep the rein aids light — ask for a little flexion and then give 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, make a direct transition to walk, then ride an outward half-turn on the forehand. Go back into canter immediately on the other rein and repeat – this will makes him more supple through his body
    • You can use this exercise if the horse goes stiff and tense or threatens to rear. Putting them into turn on the forehand encourages them to relax both physically and mentally

    Is turn on the forehand in any British Dressage tests?

    The turn on the forehand is not found in any British Dressage tests at any level, but it is a useful training exercise to incorporate into schooling to aid with the execution of other movements.

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