Forehand Turn Logo

To hone your basic gate-opening skills (see “Open a Gate,” Horsemanship & Maneuvers, The Trail Rider, January/February ’10), master a turn on the forehand. In this maneuver, your horse obediently and slowly swings his hips and back legs around his anchored front legs, moving in a complete circle.
Turning on the forehand is crucial as you ask your horse to pivot around the end of the gate while you work the gate’s latch.
Note that it’s a common misconception that you should practice sidepassing before opening a gate. Sidepassing shouldn’t be part of the gate-opening process unless you need to sidepass toward the gate instead of walking up alongside it before you start the opening procedure. In reality, you’ll master the gate when you and your horse know how to turn on the forehand.

Step-by-Step Technique
Here’s how to teach your horse to turn on the forehand. (First, tack up your horse, and head to an enclosed work area with good footing. Then warm him up for at least 20 minutes so he’s mentally and physically prepared for the exercise.)
Step 1. Block forward motion. Halt your horse, then “close the front door” to forward movement. To do so, apply rein pressure, and sit up tall so you don’t’ inadvertently prompt him to go forward or back with a seat or weight shift.
Step 2. Move his hips over. Start by moving your horse’s hips to the right. Reach back with your left leg, and apply pulsating leg pressure just behind the cinch/girth. At the same time, lift up, in, and back with your left rein while keeping your right rein close to your horse’s neck. Your leg and rein aids tell him that the only open door is to the right, not forward, back, or to the left. You’re blocking both forward and sideways movement.
Step 3. Release and repeat. As soon as your horse takes a step over with his hip, release the cue, and repeat Steps 1 and 2 to ask for another step. Maintain rein contact to keep his shoulders and front end in place.
Step 4. Reverse direction. When your horse learns to take one step to the right, reverse the cues and ask for one step to the left. Practice the one-step/release procedure to the left several times, then the one step/release procedure to the right the same number of times. Then reward your horse by ending the session, and giving him rubs and praise. Always end a training session on a good note.
Step 5. Ask for more steps. When your horse readily takes one step to the right and left in response to your cues, request more than one step before releasing your cues. Work up to a quarter turn and ultimately a full circle. To make sure he isn’t inching forward, align his body with an arena marker so you’ll have a visual aid.

Other Applications
The turn on the forehand is a great skill to have on the trail, whether or not you’re working a gate. Practicing the maneuver will help you control your horse’s every step, which will help you negotiate around obstacles in tight places.
You’ll also become more aware of how your well your horse can feel your subtle posture changes. Just by changing the location of your leg pressure and shifting your weight, you’re telling your horse which legs to move, how much, and when. That’s true horsemanship: You’re learning a classic skill that will help you better communicate with your horse.

Riding Skills: Lead Changes Logo

Question Category: Riding Skills

Question: Julie,

Hope all is going well for you. I’m continuing to enjoy teaching kids riding lessons. My question this time: What’s the best way to teach advance kids how to do flying lead changes? I’ve tried the use of the pole method (in the center of the adjoining circles) and I’ve tried using an “x” at the trot, getting shorter and shorter to give the horse the idea of the pattern, and the switching of leads. When I was a kid, we were taught to “crank” the horse over in tight circles, changing directions. This method I know is neither safe, nor good training for the horse. What would you suggest?

Best wishes

Answer: Katherine,

Flying lead changes, Sheesh! Everyone wants to do them but no one wants to put in the time and gain the skills needed to execute proper lead changes. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest disservices we do to the sport– to let kids that are no where close to having the necessary skills compete in classes like Western Riding, where flying lead changes are required.

In our instant gratification society, everyone wants to be able to do everything right now. This leads to short-cut methods and poor execution. Before a rider and horse can properly execute the flying lead change, the following skills must be solid:

1) Thorough understanding of leads and the footfalls of the canter
2) Smooth canter departures from the walk and halt, getting the correct lead 100% of the time
3) Rider being able to feel which lead the horse is on (no looking)
4) Flawless simple lead changes with only one stride of trot, on a straight line
5) Total control of the horse’s haunches; able to walk and trot haunches-in in both directions
6) Able to leg-yield or two-track at walk and trot in both directions
7) Able to sit the canter/lope in a balanced seat and have independent hands and legs
8) Horse can maintain collected canter/lope in frame, going straight

There are probably more things required but these are just off the top of my head. The horse begins the canter/lope with the outside hind leg. Thus, when his haunches are to the right, most of his weight comes on the left hind and he strikes off with the right lead. A flying lead change is done by moving the horse’s haunches during the moment of suspension so that he can switch hind legs and change to the other lead.

The rough (but commonly used) method you describe of jerking the head to the new direction throws the horse onto his forehand and may cause a change of the front lead, leaving the horse in a cross-canter (one lead in front, other lead behind). To execute a flying lead change properly, the horse must change from behind first. Thus, the need to have total control of the horse’s haunches.

As you may have noticed by now, this is a pet-peeve of mine 😉 No one wants to do all the hard work to prepare for such an advanced skill; they just want to know it now. It may help to have a list of necessary skills for the riders to work on first, such as the ones listed above. When they can do all these things, they are ready to work on lead changes. Then the exercises you describe above may work. Loping over a pole in the middle of a figure eight is a useful and commonly used exercise, but will only work when the rider has adequate skills.

An age-old piece of wisdom says that the best way to improve the canter/lope is to improve the trot. So, as usual, go back to basics. Work on position, use of the aids (more seat-less hands), transitions, haunches-in and knowledge. There are no quick fixes. Good luck!


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