Many riders struggle with how to effectively use their leg to turn a horse, often finding that their mount leans through or falls forward during their turn and loses balance as a result.
To prevent this from occurring, riders must ensure their horse stays through and in front of their leg by applying gentle pressure with their upper calf region of their outside leg. To do so, squeeze gently when using their outside leg as part of this method.
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The Inside Leg
When asking a horse to turn, the first step should always be preparation. This means using your inside leg to signal to its hindquarters that they should follow it and your outside rein to provide balance and absorb any pressure applied by your inside leg. Without preparation, horses may try evading their turn by swinging their hips or croup – placing it directly on its forehand as well as making controlling its direction more difficult due to tension in its muscles preventing you from using your hands effectively.
To prevent this from occurring, when walking to either side, apply slight pressure with your inside calf while simultaneously shifting weight forward – this creates an invisible wall around you so that the horse’s hip and shoulder won’t pivot away from your inside leg, forcing it instead to bend around it to remain on an even course.
Practice this exercise in any large arena, round pen or paddock. Walk along a rail with your horse, lifting one leg from knee to girth against him when they begin to wander away from it. If they remain tense after this pressure has been applied for an extended period, discontinue applying aid and request that he step backward. Repeat until your horse understands this concept before gradually adding leg and hand aids more directly and in controllable ways.
Step two is teaching your horse how to use its outside leg and rein to initiate turns, using an exercise called the “turn on the forehand”. This requires being able to perform a simple exercise called “turn on the forehand”, in which your horse learns to place its inside hind leg in front of its outside front leg using shoulder bending, croup bending, neck stretching as well as stretching onto an outside rein provided by rider.
The Outside Leg
To turn, riders must close their outside leg from hip to knee, which pushes the horse onto their desired track and balances them on outer legs during the turn. Unfortunately, it can be one of the hardest aspects for riders to master; often when told “put your outside leg back”, riders actually swing it from knee – most likely as an attempt at opening their inside shoulder whilst simultaneously applying pressure to their horse’s neck at once! However, this means they are not pushing through the turn themselves – they are simply pulling them in their direction instead!
As you prepare to turn, half halt your horse, then close off its right (outside) leg behind the girth. As you continue turning, move the inside leg into its proper place in front of the girth before using an outside rein to guide the horse into its desired bend – ensure this rein is light enough that both inside leg can be applied effectively while still having influence on your horse.
If you apply too much outside leg or bridle pressure, your horse could become stiff and resist the turn by swinging their quarters out, in an attempt to position their inside hind leg under their center of gravity and placing their quarters out when making turns. When this occurs, the rider could lose their seat bones in the saddle and eventually fall out.
To avoid this scenario, it is crucial that your horse bends around its inside leg. This can be accomplished by setting up a wall outside their body that they cannot push away from and encouraging bending through their inside leg. Once this has taken place and they have an established connection to the outside rein, riders can then ask for turns.
As important to keep in mind, your inside leg should only ever serve as an influence and support leg when using it at the girth. After you have established solid flexion, then ask your horse to turn.
The Inside Rein
Your inside rein is used to prevent your horse from moving away from you and into a better position, and is therefore a key connection point when starting up speed. Shifting weight in your seat when picking up pace on a bicycle mirrors this process – any mismatch could cause one side to tip over, just like with horses!
Many people think of an inside rein as “pulling,” when its true purpose should be directing and supporting your horse and leg pressure from within. Pulling back with even just minimal force usually has enough of an impact to move the horse back into his proper frame and prevent him from wandering outside on turns or circles.
An effective trainer will prioritize inside rein work during the initial stages of dressage riding. Their goal should be to develop a light yet connected inside rein that will support the horse’s head and neck movement, eventually becoming an integrated part of rider positioning in turns and circles for more balanced and consistent performances.
When using an inside rein to assist your horse with turning, make sure you also shift your weight and look in the desired direction. Relying solely on an inside rein may result in an unstable horse; using only it may result in unbalanced results.
Practice correct use of the inside rein by riding through simple circles at a walk, trotting and cantering through them, and once comfortable doing this you can move onto more intricate patterns or tests in dressage – just be sure to practice with your trainer first before trying a full test in front of an audience!
The Outside Rein
When turning, mastering how to properly use the outside rein is essential for successful horsemanship. This part of the rein connects with the inside leg in a circle of aids; without it your horse won’t bend correctly and could drift out their outside shoulder or jack-knife around the circle. An outside rein should help prevent over-bending by moderating neck flexion created with your inside leg and helping create an appropriate circle of aids.
Note that when making contact between your inside leg and neck to create a circle of aids, do so using very light pressure – too much contact may push the horse into an unbending resistance pattern and not allow enough flex for them to bend effectively.
Riders often struggle with finding their ideal relationship. Pulling on the inside rein to turn their horse and failing to allow enough flex through that contact causes the horse to either buck or lunge – and hence not follow the feel of their inside leg.
The Outside Rein Connects With the Inside Leg To Focus Energy Where It Needs To Go
One way of visualizing this is to visualize your body as a river and your legs, seat and outside rein as its various tributaries. Your Inside leg should serve as the river flowing towards your goal while Outside leg acts as its channel while Outside rein holds back its flow of energy. Remembering all parts of your body – seat, outside leg and inside rein – need to work in concert for maximum effect: they all work best when helping create correct bending in a circle and redirect its energy as desired.