Continuing education is vital to ensure that one does not get stale or stuck in daily training. This summer has been busy with horse shows, horse shopping, teaching, training, and fun activities with friends and family. This constant activity makes it challenging for me to maintain my own regular lesson schedule. Last week, I went for a lesson with my horse, Reggie, and worked on some old and new exercises to improve my riding in the FEI Intermediate I test.
One exercise that we worked on was a halt, then a step of turn on the forehand off one leg, say off the rider's left leg. Then, after the one step off the left leg, the horse will trot off from the rider's right leg. So, the sequence is: one step turn on the forehand off the left leg, halt, then trot the right hind leg forward. This exercise is repeated both directions on the quarterline in an effort to make sure the rider's left calf moves the horse's left hind leg and the rider's right calf moves the horse's right hind leg. In addition, the rider's left rein controls the left shoulder, and the rider's right rein controls the right shoulder. This exercise is tricky even though it is basic, since it forces the rider not only to repeat the same sequence of aids numerous times in one direction before changing the rein, but also to focus on isolating one part of their body to affect one part of the horse's body. The rider has to slow their mind down and take time to make sure the horse receives clear aids.
The turn on the forehand was also used in a lesson after mine to help improve the rein back for a second level horse and rider pair. The rider was asked to halt and attempt a few steps of rein back. If the horse rein backed straight away, the horse was rewarded and the rider would walk or trot on. When the horse did not rein back immediately, the rider was asked to do a turn on the forehand from the left or right leg. After a step or two of rein back, the rider attempted the rein back again. Once the horse rein backed the rider would cover ground forward.
This exercise is helpful, as horses can feel stuck in the rein back. The rider can get to the halt and realize they don't have the horse properly set up to rein back. This exercise reminds your horse that they must continue to yield your legs even when reining back. The next time you try a halt and rein back, try this exercise. If your horse feels stuck, you yield them off a leg through a step of turn on the forehand. Then, you try to move the horse backward from your legs. If that is successful, move forward. If the horse is still stuck in their body, repeat the turn on the forehand again then try to rein back.
Both these exercises require either mirrors or good eyes on the ground, so the rider is aware that the horse is moving the corresponding hind leg to the rider's leg aid in the turn on the forehand. That is, if the rider's left leg comes on at the girth, the horse moves their left hind leg forward and sideways . If the rider's right leg comes on at the girth, the horse moves their right hind leg forward and sideways. If the horse understands the turn on the forehand, the rider will have a great tool for improving other exercises, such as rein back.
You can see a short clip from my lesson and a demonstration of the halt, turn on the forehand and trot off off the right rein here.