How To Do a Turn on the Forehand:
- Track to the right at a walk, riding a few feet off the rail.
- Halt your horse parallel to the rail. Bend him slightly to the left toward the rail, being careful not to overbend his neck.
- As shown in this photo, position your left leg slightly behind the girth. Your left hand asks for a slight bend to the left; your outside rein maintains a steady contact. With constant, rhythmic pressure from the left leg, ask you horse to step to the right with his hindquarters. Your left leg pushes him into the outside rein; the outside rein, with the wall as reinforcement, keeps him from moving forward.
- Continue asking your horse to move his hindquarters away from your leg. When this movement is done correctly, he will move his left hind leg underneath his body, stepping in front of the right hind.
- Four or five steps later, you will be facing in the opposite direction--180 degrees from where you started. Once you have made the turn, praise your horse. This exercise will help him understand that responding to your leg does not involve a response from his front legs.
- Finally, ride on at a trot to keep your horse thinking forward. Then repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
Learn more about dressage and dressage moves, with this FREE guide—Dressage Moves: The Turn on the Forehand, Half Halt and Leg Yield Dressage Movements.
The turn on the forehand is one of the first dressage exercises that you can teach your horse. In fact, if he is a trail horse, you already may have asked him for the basic elements of this movement when opening gates in your path. Just as heading through those gates allowed you to explore new vistas, you will find that once you've mastered the technique for turn on the forehand, the "doors" of dressage will begin to open up to you. The turn on the forehand is not found in any dressage test, but the skills involved are good preparation for future movement.
The purpose of the turn on the forehand is to teach your horse to move willingly from the inside leg into the outside rein, keeping the inside foreleg nearly stationary. This inside foreleg, while remaining in almost the same spot, will continue stepping up and down in rhythm as the hind legs move sideways, creating a semi-circle-with the inside hind leg crossing in front of the outside hind. Additionally, this movement is a preliminary strengthening and suppling exercise because it requires the horse to step with his inside hind leg under his mass weight and hold it as his outside hind stretches in the direction that the hindquarters are moving. Your goal, each time you ask your horse for another turn, is an unhesitating but unhurried response to your leg aid.
But, you ask, "If the forehand is stable, and the hindquarters mobile, isn't the weight on the forehand? Don't I want the weight of my horse on the hindquarters?" Yes and no: When learning this movement, many horses tend to shift their weight to the front. Eventually, however, when muscles increase and timing and coordination become second nature, horse and rider will be able to shift the weight and transfer the energy to the hindquarters. Then, and only then, will the outside rein contact communicate to the horse that he must carry more weight with the hindquarters and lighten the inside shoulder. The first step is to get your horse to go from the inside leg to the outside rein. This is what happens in the turn on the forehand.
This article first appeared in the January 1995 issue of Dressage Today magazine.