A basic, but highly effective training exercise that should be in every rider’s toolbox is the turn on the forehand. The turn on the forehand is a stationary movement, meaning during the exercise, the horse learns to yield away from the rider’s inside leg at a standstill.
The horse’s forehand should not be moving forwards, sideways or backwards. Instead, the front legs move up and down on the spot, or in a very small circle, with the outside foreleg very slightly ahead of the inside foreleg, and the hind legs moving in a semicircle around the inside foreleg. While a turn on the fore is a simple manoeuvre, executing it in an accurate way can be challenging, depending on the horse’s response to the aids.
When first starting to teach the turn on the forehand exercise, it is a good idea to only ask for a few steps. Once you and your horse are more familiar with the exercise, you may progress to complete a full turn on the forehand, which is 180 degrees.
We prefer to start to teach the turn on the forehand exercise from the circle so that the horse learns to keep the legs stepping forward, before progressing to a straight line approach, as it would be in a test. In Western Dressage, the turn on the forehand is first introduced in Level 1 and is executed from a halt.
The horse is showing a nice, soft connection with the bit as he starts into the turn on the forehand. The rider should be looking up more to keep the lightness of the forehand. This horse is starting to compete in Level 1 this year. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben
Begin on a 10-metre circle in a working walk with soft, even, rein contact.
Spiral the circle down towards the centre. This will help create bend in the horse as well as keeping the horse stepping forward.
Shorten your horse’s steps with your seat and rein aids.
With the inside rein, ask your horse to flex at the poll so you can see his inside eye and nostril. The inside rein maintains proper bend.
The outside rein will slow the steps of the front legs and will prevent any further forward movement once in the turn on the forehand, as well as preventing over bending through the neck.
The rider’s inside leg comes back slightly behind the cinch to encourage the horse’s inside hind leg to cross over (the greener the horse, the further the leg may have to move back for the desired result). Apply rhythmic on-off pressure with your inside leg for each step of the turn on the forehand. At the same time, turn your body slightly in the direction of the turn. Ask for one step at a time. As soon as the horse starts to move off the leg, relax your aid slightly and allow the horse to finish the step before asking for another step in order to reward your horse. The timing of the leg will be as the barrel is swinging away from the pressing leg.
The rider’s outside leg should be directly under the rider’s body, receiving and regulating each step and preventing the horse from rushing. A good way to remember which leg gives what aid is “press with inside, ‘catch’ with the outside”.
While you want to sit equally on both seatbones, a little weight shift in the direction of movement can aid the horse over.
Remember to keep your eyes up in order to keep your horse’s weight ‘up’.
During the turn on the forehand, the horse’s front feet should march up and down in one place. His hind-end should swing smoothly, but unhurriedly around his front feet, with his inside leg crossing all the way over his outside hind leg, forming an “x” if viewed from behind. The horse should maintain a clear walk rhythm throughout the exercise.
When the turn on the forehand is complete, ride the horse forward.
At this stage of the turn you can clearly see the crossover step behind and the inside front picking up. The front legs continue to step in the walk rhythm while maintaining a shortened walk to allow the hind legs to cross over. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben
The turn on the forehand exercise has a lot of physical benefits. The turn on the forehand is a great way to get the horse to step further under his body, stretching the hind limbs, as well as creating lift in the back. The exercise also engages the horse’s abdominal muscle group, increasing the horse’s ability to move with good posture and form. Tension in the neck and jaw may also be released which encourages the horse to soften his topline.
A turn on the forehand introduces basic lateral concepts, from which more complicated lateral movements may be introduced.
For the rider, the turn on the forehand exercise improves both co-ordination and application of the aids.
A turn on the forehand is also a useful exercise for opening and closing gates without dismounting.
This article is the seventh in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.