First Master the Walk Pirouette
I begin by teaching my horse to do travers, or haunches-in, on a circle. Then, I ask him to turn in the travers to make a pirouette in walk. Here’s how I begin: I control my horse’s shoulders with the position of my hands. If I want the shoulders to move left, I take both hands to the left. If I want them to go right I take both hands right. It’s similar to western neck reining. By making my horse’s shoulders mobile, my goal is to be able to center those shoulders exactly over the inside hind leg, and that inside hind must keep stepping forward rather than going to the side.
In pirouette left, for example, I want my horse to bend left and turn left. If I want to make the pirouette bigger, I move the shoulders out with my inside (left) rein. Then I turn from the outside (right) leg and rein, but mostly the rein. Remember, you don’t want your horse’s hindquarters to go in, so you won’t use too much leg for that reason. When I have this control over the shoulders, then I can bend left and control the turning. So I ride a large walk pirouette like this:
1. Maintaining the left bend, I turn him left with the right hand using very little leg.
2. As soon as my horse turns in pirouette, I ask him to go out again from the inside leg and rein. I always want this control of the shoulders, so from the inside rein, I neck rein the shoulders out while keeping the left bend.
3. When I confirm that control with the inside rein, I turn again with the outside rein.
I confirm these aids to be sure he responds immediately: He goes out from inside rein and leg and in from mostly the outside rein. He turns left as soon as I bring my right hand left, and he moves out as soon as I take my left hand to the right.
As you review the pirouette in walk, do it bigger and smaller, quicker and slower. Those are all the corrections you will need to make later in canter. You’ll need to sometimes do it larger, sometimes smaller, sometimes quicker and sometimes slower. When you can make those adjustments in size and speed in the walk, then you will be able to do the same in canter. When my horse understands the concepts of turning with bend in the walk, he will understand it in canter, too.