Horses naturally want to be balanced and stay upright. Unbalanced horses stumble, slow down or race around turns. If you can help your horse to be balanced through turns, he will be more sure-footed, confident, and able to perform better. Use the following tips to help keep your horse balanced through turns:
You must be straight and balanced – The biggest factor affecting any horse’s balance is the rider. Imagine running an obstacle course while carrying someone on your shoulders. It would be far easier if the person was centred and supple, than if they were crooked, tipping forward, backward or sideways. To help your horse maintain his balance through turns, start with finding your centre of balance over your horse, being supple and sitting tall with a straight line from your ear-shoulder-hip-heel. Keep your shoulders square with your hips, your weight even in your seat bones and the space between your hip and bottom rib even on both sides (no collapsing at the waist). If your horse is safe and quiet, warm-up at the walk without stirrups to find your balance and straightness. Turn down the centre line and close your eyes for a few steps as you walk a straight line. If your horse drifts, you are not sitting square or centred.
Keep your horse straight – Your horse is straight when his nose is aligned with the centre of his chest, his poll is in line with the top of his tail and his shoulders and hips are square to each other (i.e. his hind feet track directly behind his front feet). Use your legs to direct his hips, barrel and shoulders and your reins as boundaries that only tell his nose and neck where not to go. For example, you are riding a turn on the right rein when your horse falls into the turn. His left hip swings out; his right shoulder pushes in; and, his nose tips to the left. To straighten him:
- Square your hands and shoulders making sure your reins are the same length. Open your outside rein, if necessary, without pulling his nose out of alignment.
- Put your left leg slightly behind the girth to push his left hip over.
- Close your right knee and thigh to push his right shoulder over.
Create the correct (true) bend – Your horse must bend through his body (not just his neck) and mirror the same arc as the turn. Maintain a steady, even contact on both reins while using your inside leg at the girth to push his barrel out. Timing your push with the natural swing of his barrel makes it easier for him to respond. As he bends, you should just be able to see the outside corner of his inside eye. Look in the direction you want to turn, but keep your navel aimed between your horse’s ears; your shoulders aligned with his shoulders; and your hips aligned with his hips.
Steer his body not his head – If you use your reins to turn your horse, you interfere with the natural balancing mechanism of his head and neck and cause him to lose his straightness and balance. You will help him to be balanced when you use your inside leg to bend him, your outside leg to turn him and your reins as boundaries that keep his nose centred and direct his energy.
Keep your hands square to each other as you turn your seat gently in the direction you want to go. This movement creates a subtle change in your leg and rein pressure without pulling your horse’s nose out of alignment. If your horse needs more help to make the turn, open the inside rein while keeping your hands in line with each other and on their own side of your horse’s neck. The inside rein creates an opening and the outside rein becomes a boundary to the neck.
Apply these tips as you practice riding large circles in each gait. As you and your horse become more supple and balanced, gradually decrease the size of the circles and then create patterns of turns over poles.