Five Tips for a Proper Forehand Turn

In Part 2 of this series, uncover five more ways to improve this essential horse-training tool.

In last week’s post, we covered the common rider errors that lead to forehand-turn confusion, and the first step in fixing your turns. Review Part 1, and then let’s continue with more essentials:

1. Understand the aids. Let’s say we’re doing a left forehand turn with two reins: The horse’s nose revolves left as his haunches move to the right.

First, you must stay centered on the horse, keeping your balance in line with the horse’s balance. You’re going to use both legs and both hands, but your left leg and right hand are more prominent aids.

Both legs stay close on the horse, with the left leg stronger, pushing the haunches. Your left leg is not pushing the hips to the right, it’s really asking the horse to step up with the left hind leg toward your right hand. You must use some right leg for balance and to keep the horse forward.

You use both hands to keep the front end still, the left hand creating slight flexion in the head, the right hand holding the frame of the turn, keeping the shoulder from going sideways. Your hands must be there to block the front end from going forward or onto the right front leg. If you use your hands too much, your horse will back up.

Do not pull your horse’s head to the left to achieve a left forehand turn. You push the horse from your left leg toward your right hand, stopping the motion of the front end and allowing the haunches to rotate around and to the left. If you merely pull the head to the left, your horse will flounder in a circle to the left.

“When I start working with any horse on the ground, I want to make sure that the horse develops a respect for who I am and sees me as qualified and trustworthy to lead in the relationship,” AQHA Professional Horseman Ken McNabb says in AQHA’s FREE Horse Training Fundamentals report. Download the report today to ensure that you have all the essential elements instilled in your horse.

There’s a definite balance you have to find between your aids. You must have enough leg and consistent enough hands that your horse can actually step forward and pivot around that inside front foot. Your legs are saying, “Go forward, forward,” and your hands say, “Not too far forward,” and that combined action causes the rotation.

I like for my horse to respond to my cue with my leg in the correct position. An equitation or horsemanship rider is supposed to hold correct position - your feet and legs stay still, and you maneuver your horse from there.

If I sit square and balanced and put my left leg on, I expect my horse to move his hips to the right. Some people like to use their leg slightly back for the cue to move the hips.

2. Don’t collapse. In the forehand turn, riders often tend to collapse away from the turn.

Riders tend to want to dig in, so, in a left forehand turn if you push hard with your left leg, you naturally collapse on that left side. The horse will not make the turn balanced, with forward, even steps. It also weakens your right leg, and without the right leg there to encourage forward motion, your horse will back up.

To offset that tendency to collapse, you really have to think about keeping weight in the right stirrup while applying the cue with your left leg. You also need to understand that you don’t have to push that hard with your left leg.

3. Responding to leg pressure. If your horse resists your leg, you have to go back through the process of working on getting him to move away from leg pressure. You must put your leg on and use your crop or a little spur just to get your horse to move away from leg pressure, and then repeat that process until when you put a little leg on, he moves away from you.

You can also go back to groundwork, using your hand against his side, asking him to move away from pressure.

Remember, there could be other reasons why your horse is not responding. You might be squeezing too much, using only your spur or you are not balanced in the saddle.

4. Forehand turn exercise. Work on the forehand turn first from a stop, to coordinate your aids. Sometimes it helps if you try it parallel to a fence or arena rail, moving the hips away from the rail in a 90-degree turn and working up to a 180-degree turn.

So you’ve mastered the forehand turn. Now you’re probably wondering what you should work on next. Luckily, AQHA offers the FREE Horse Training Fundamentals report! Download the report so you can continue building the perfect relationship with your equine companion.

Then try starting a forehand turn from a walk. Walk in a straight line down the long center of the arena. Fix your eyes on a point straight ahead.

Draw back with both hands and use one leg, say the left, to get the hips to come slightly to the right, while the front feet stay on that center line. You are displacing the back end, or moving it over to the side. Then release your hands and continue walking straight, allowing the hips to come back in line behind the front feet.

Try it again, but this time, stop the motion of the front end while your left leg keeps the back end in motion. Do a quarter turn, then walk forward straight again.

Make sure you walk out of it on that straight line, allowing the hips to drop back to the left to line up with the front end. You don’t want the horse’s front end to fade to the right as you come out of it.

If you begin a forehand turn from the walk, it helps you to maintain the forward motion, so that you don’t inadvertently make the horse go backward immediately with your hands.

5. Watch Videos. Videos are great tools for schooling especially for people without trainers. Have someone video you and let you see what you’re doing, how you’re not staying in the center, etc. That way, you can at least know where you’re supposed to be going.

Things don’t always feel the same as they look and vice versa. A video lets you see what was actually going on while remembering how it felt on the horse’s back.