Western Dressage Exercise – Turns on the Square

In an earlier post, I described in detail the physical benefits of a Turn on the Forehand exercise for the horse. A short recap here: the motion of crossing over the horse’s hind legs elicits a suppling effect in the horse’s lower back by releasing tension around the lumbo-sacral joint. Tension builds up here as a natural result of strain on the pelvic/spinal junction when carrying a rider.

Sideways rotation of the hind legs in addition to deep flexing of the hind joints helps release these blockages. The movement also creates positive tension in the oblique muscles that assist in raising and supporting the back. In addition to physiological benefits, turns on the forehand help maintain the utmost responsiveness from our mounts. In fact, it is one of my go-to exercises for horses that are dull to the rider’s leg, requiring heavy or strong cues to move them sideways. By executing turns on the forehand, I am able to get the horse “tuned up” to the rider’s leg and then can use lighter cues for the rest of the session. This helps the horse do more of the effort of carrying himself in balance, rather than relying on such constant and straining aids from the rider.

Below is an exercise I particularly like because it blends the sideways crossing movement with forward energy. In between each corner of the square, you are able to refresh the horse’s energy by moving resolutely forward. The exercise also tests whether the rider can again ride nicely straight after the turn on the forehand maneuver, rather than getting over-bent, crooked, or disorganized.

Turns on the Square:

  1. Set up cones or markers on a 15-meter square.
  2. Begin in a working walk around the square.
  3. At each corner, come to a balanced halt.
  4. Then, ride a 1/4 turn on the forehand. Your horse should make the turn in 2-3 steps of his hind legs. At the corner, you should think and feel “cross, cross… now forward”
  5. Ride straight to the next corner.
  6. Repeat the 1/4 turn on the forehand at each corner. Remember to prepare by shifting your weight in to your bending (inside) seat-bone well ahead of the corner!
  7. Practice this exercise in both directions.
  8. Then, try it at a jog.

Western Dressage Exercise Turns On Square


Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

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