Teach Your Horse to Turn on the Forehand

Dressage European Championships
Turns on the forehand and haunches are stepping stones to more difficult lateral movements such as this. Bongarts/Getty Images / Getty Images

Why teach your horse to do a turn on the forehand? You will have more control over your horse if it learns to respond to leg aids. The more control you have, the more pleasurable your horse will be to ride and it will be safer to ride especially in groups.

The turn on the forehand can also be the first step to teaching your horse exercises like leg yields, renvers, travers, shoulders-in, haunches-in, half and side passes, and how to bend while turning, which all require the horse to obey your leg aids. 

There are different ways to teach your horse to do a turn on the forehand. In this method, when you cue your horse to move forward instead of using the pressure of both your legs equally to apply the aid, now you will be using your legs separately.

Your goal is to have your horse quietly swing its haunches in a circle, taking minimal steps with the front legs, so they almost stay in the same spot. The horse’s head should incline to the inside of the circle in the direction the haunches are traveling.

What You Need

  • Saddled and bridled horse
  • A safe working area such as a ring or arena
  • Helmet
  • Boots or safety stirrups
  • Optional: Use clicker training and treats

Steps How to Do It

  1. Ride your horse so that it is facing a fence—nose almost to the rail. A board fence is best. Never ride or work beside a wire fence. An arena wall or outside barn wall would also be suitable.
  2. Bring the horse to a halt so that it is standing square.
  3. Apply gentle tension on the reins as you cue with one leg slightly behind the girth or cinch area—choose right or left. The rein aids should just be enough to arrest forward motion. Tip the horse’s head into the center of the circle by applying slightly more rein to the side you are turning the haunches towards. Be careful not to pull back with both reins. Your hands should stay light.
  4. You may use the vocal cue "over." You may also use a whip (a long dressage whip works best) to tap on the corresponding haunch. Always use your legs first, using the whip only as a backup. Abandon the whip as soon as possible. 
  5. When your horse takes a tentative step in the direction you are cueing for, reward it and continue regular schooling or riding. As you continue training, ask for more steps. But, do not rush. It is important to do this exercise quietly and accurately so it does not step forward or back and describes a nice clean circle with the hind legs, stepping leg over leg.
  1. As the horse learns the cue for a turn on the forehand, move away from the wall or fence. Gradually work up to doing this exercise six or eight times per schooling session until the horse can step quietly with its haunches pivoting around its forehand in a complete circle.

The turn on the forehand is the first step towards teaching a horse to move away from your leg. It is also useful for a rider to learn the basics of using hands and legs independently. You might use a turn on the forehand in a trail class, opening a gate from the saddle, or to get out of a tight spot on the trail.

Tips

  • You may find your horse will catch on faster if you start teaching it to move away from your cue from the ground.
  • One or two good steps is better than shuffling around. Aim for small accurate movements until you can work up to a half circle.
  • Weight your inside seat bone slightly to influence your horse’s balance.
  • Do not expect your horse to swing all the way around after just one or two sessions. Review every so often, but keep training sessions short, take breaks, and keep the horse relaxed.