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Turnarounds: Exercises

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - August 1st, 2013 - More with Les

48th in a series
Last issue, we looked in detail at leg and rein positions. Now we can put it to work with some exercises.

The exercises we’ll work on here are just the beginnings of the turnaround. Even if your horse really starts to get it, I don’t want you to even think about speed at this point. What you’re looking to establish is the turning cue, the basic footwork and smooth cadence. When he really learns the movement, adding the speed won’t be a problem; however, to try for speed before he’s confident with the movement can scare him, frustrate him and make him start to dread, rather than enjoy, his training.

Flexion – Turn – Flexion
To start with, you’ll want to just work on going from a lateral flexion (or a small circle) to a few turnaround steps and then back to the flexion again. Start to the left, in about a 10-foot diameter circle. Once you have the outline of your horse’s eye in sight, push him up a little bit with both legs to collect him, then feather in with your outside hand and release your inside leg. Your inside rein should really not change as it was already active in bending the horse in the circle, but you may have to use it to keep your horse from turning his head in response to the outside rein cue. You don’t want to have any more bend in the turnaround than you had in that circle; you just want to get the front legs stepping across instead of stepping forward. Most of the impulsion should come from your outside leg as it drives your horse forward into his bent frame.

Once you get a few turnaround steps, go back to the flexion by releasing your outside rein and changing legs. Also, make sure that the neck is good all the way through the exercise. It should have the same soft feel and same arc in both the turn and the flexion.

A goal of this exercise is to be able to go from the circle to the turn, and then back to the circle, without a significant change in cadence. That is, the beat of the walk should not really vary as you go from the turnaround to the circle. You want this whole exercise to become very smooth and fluid.

For the most part, your horse will try to make you happy. He’ll try to learn to turn around however you ask him. The only problem is, if the form isn’t correct, either he’s not going to be able to add speed without interfering with himself, or the incorrect form will become a habit and you’ll get him really confused when he has to “unlearn” it. The circle, turn, circle drill is a great one for helping you feel whether the horse’s energy is starting to pull back rather than flowing forward and around.

Using the Fence
Walk in a five- or 10-foot circle so that your stirrup is about one foot away when you’re closest to a fence. For orientation, let’s assume you’re walking around on a 10-foot clock, and that 12 o’clock is where your foot and stirrup are one foot from the fence. Now, as you walk the circle, I want you to stop at 2 o’clock – that will have you at about a 45-degree angle from the fence, and your horse’s tail should be about three feet away from it.

Start by tipping your horse’s head toward the fence, and then use your leg (the one that’s away from the fence) to push him toward it. If you can keep the correct bend, he should get a crossover step or two, and then the fence will hold him in place as he finishes the next few steps. Once he’s cleared the fence, let him keep walking in the circle until you’ve just passed the fence again, and then turn him the other direction at 10 o’clock. Since your circle is not going to be in the same arc as the bend you’ll need for the turnaround (you’re turning to the outside instead of the inside like you did in the first exercise), your fence-side hand will have to establish the bend, and your other hand may have to collect the horse just a bit to lock the back end down. And don’t forget your outside leg, but don’t use it until you’ve established the bend for the turn, otherwise you’ll be pushing his ribcage into the fence.

Horses are just like people; if it’s hard, they don’t want to do it, and if it’s easy, they’ll give it a shot. So it’s our job to make these things as easy for our horses as we can.

EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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