Written by: Lindsay Grice

Lindsay Grice explains how to execute an impressive spin or turn on the haunches.

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Peter Bruce Photo

Pivot, turnaround, spin. The turn on the haunches begins step-by-step around a hind “pivot” foot, building in speed from showmanship through horsemanship to reining classes.

A correct spin is essentially a horse walking his forehand around his haunches – body parts aligned fairly straight and a slight bend in the direction of travel.

Although not literally pivoting, the inside hind foot steps up and sets down in approximately the same spot, while the outside hind steps around it. The front outside limb steps (never hops) cleanly across the inside leg with cadence.

THE FOUNDATION

How you initiate a spin sets the tone for the entire manoeuvre.

Begin with forward “thought.” Many riders focus on rocking the horse back on the hindquarters, but it actually starts with moving forward.

With a solid understanding of lateral aids and flexibility in place, my horse is ready to begin his turn-around lesson by walking with cadence on a circle. Syncing my outside leg with his outside foreleg, I ask him to step across to the inside of the circle. Instead of taking a forward step to stay on the circle, he’ll cross over for the first step of a turn-around. I open my inside leg slightly to show him where to go (photo bottom left).

The crossover is the reward. When he steps over, I soften my leg and ride forward. Then, I establish another circle and do it again. And again. Adding a second step-over. And then a third.

Walking into and out of the turn builds a habit of “forward thought.”

When my horse stops turning or loses momentum, I’ll increase my leg cue, making the choice to turn pleasant – clearly contrasted with the choice to stall.

The ideal spin features a horse turning a quick 360 degrees on a stationary hind leg, with crossover in the forelegs combined with cadence, smoothness and speed. Flaws in your foundation can result in poor spins and lower scores. Here’s how to fix four of the most common problems.

FOUR COMMON SPIN PROBLEMS ARE:

1. Pinwheel turns: A horse that steps out with his outside hind leg rather than stepping forward and around his pivot leg revolves around his belly instead of his hind end.

As a judge, I mark this with a minus sign on my scoresheet.

Rushing or over-steering is usually the source of the pinwheel. Caught up in “competition rush,” the rider tries to accelerate past her horse’s training level, losing form and, thus manoeuvre scores. Over-steering the horse’s front end into the turn leads to fishtailing out in the opposite direction with that outside hind. The solution is to align the neck and ribcage, allowing only a slight arc in the direction of travel.

When a horse that is set in his pinwheeling ways comes for a training tune-up, I’ll rebuild the foundation – realigning his body parts and always stepping forward. By straightening, I restrict the lateral motion of the front end temporarily, while the back end catches up. Visualize walking an octagon shape, allowing the shoulders and front end to turn around each point (while walking slightly forward).

Straighten the neck as you feel the hind end starting of step sideways, walk forward and do another turn.

With the horse realigned habitually, I’ll allow him to tip his nose, arcing in the direction of travel, and boosting forward flow.

2. Crossing behind: Crossing the outside front leg behind his inside is backward motion and a major score reducer. It stems from a rider pulling back on the reins when initiating the turn. Think “forward.” Visualize turning around on a soft rein, your horse’s body stretching forward to the perimeter of an imaginary round pen. Only if he tries to step out of the “round pen” does he meet with resistance. If he starts to step backward, I’ll exit the turn straight at a brisk walk. When the choice to step back or leave the turn is more annoying than staying in the turn, the imaginary round pen becomes the happy place to be! You’ll soon become alert to the feeling of backward shifting before an actual step. Respond with a squeeze before it becomes a full step.

3. Sluggish turns: Do you feel physically tired after you’ve done a turn? Are you pressing hard for every step? Regardless of the speed, a horse must carry his own momentum around a turn. If he can feel a fly, he can feel your leg, so reset your expectations to using a “whispering” leg cue. Reward his every effort to hustle with a “yes” – your softened leg. To add speed I’ll simply cluck. A cluck is a learned response my horse recognizes as a warning before a correction – like the beep on a dog’s invisible fence. If the horse sticks, I’ll chase him by tapping with my spur or a dressage whip until he steps willingly, then resume a soft leg.

4. Counter bend: In a spin, pressing in with more neck rein doesn’t necessarily mean more speed. Over-reining often produces a reverse arc in a horse’s body, motivating him look to the outside, of the turn. Since horses instinctively lean or “sull” into pressure instead of away from it, over-using the rein as the gas pedal, may cause a two point freeze-up penalty.

So, is your horse crossing over in front? Light off your leg and rein signals? Forward motion and forward thinking – the keys to a great spin!