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Western Dressage – Turn on the haunches. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 9, 2016

The turn on the haunches is a lateral movement performed at the walk. It is a collection exercise which engages the horse’s hindquarters and encourages flexion of the joints in the hind legs. Your horse’s hind legs should be stepping more underneath his body, making his body more compact and freeing up his forehand, creating more suppleness and mobility of the shoulders. It is also a stepping stone to the more advanced movement of pirouette.

The turn on haunches exercise can also be used as a training tool for horses that are having difficulty with lope transitions. The ability to be able to move the horse’s body around is very important in collection. To collect a horse you need to be able to maintain straightness. If you do not have control of the shoulders (turn on haunches and later shoulder-in) or hips (turn on forehand or later haunches-in) you will not be able to maintain straightness. The turn on the haunches is first seen in the Level 2 Tests where collected gaits are first introduced.

In Western Dressage there are two ways to perform a turn on the haunches; both methods are to be judged equally, but the horse must not switch between the two methods.

  1. The horse will maintain the 4-beat rhythm of the walk while stepping a small circle with the hind legs. The size of the circle can be up to 1 metre as measured by the inside hind leg. The forelegs and outside hind leg will step around the stepping inside hind leg on the circle maintaining the 4-beat rhythm.
  2. The horse will maintain a pivot foot while the forelegs and outside hind leg step around the pivot foot on a circle. The pivot foot can pick up and set down close to the same spot.

The forelegs in both methods will show the outside front leg crossing over the inside front leg.


Method 1. a stepping turn on the haunches. The horse’s inside hind leg is stepping in the rhythm of the walk.

The turn on the haunches is usually performed as a turn that is 180 degrees (half turn), but may also be performed as a quarter turn (90 degrees) or a full turn (360 degrees). However, when first teaching the movement, just as with the turn on the forehand, we only ask for a step at a time, gradually increasing the number of steps as the horse’s training progresses. If the rider asks for too much too soon, the horse likely will lose impulsion and rhythm. Quality of the exercise is more important than quantity of steps. Throughout the exercise, the horse should stay forward, relaxed, balanced, on the bit, while maintaining rhythm and correct bend.

For the rider, the turn on the haunches exercise teaches the rider co-ordination of driving and restraining aids.


Method 2, a turn on the haunches with the inside pivot foot.

To execute a turn on the haunches:

Begin in a working walk.

  1. Shorten your horse’s stride with your seat and rein aids while maintaining rhythm. Keep your legs on the horse in order to maintain the activity of the horse’s legs.
  2. Open the inside rein to flex the horse slightly into the direction of the turn. The outside rein limits the amount of bend in the neck while allowing the shoulders to move around the turn. Move both hands slightly in the direction of the turn to lead the forehand around the hindquarters. The inside rein is a leading or opening rein, while the outside rein is brought closer to the neck to guide the horse around the turn.
  3. Put weight on your inside seat bone and keep your inside leg on the girth to maintain bend and suppleness throughout the body and encourage engagement of the inside hind leg. In Method 1, the inside hind leg will continue to step on the circle. In Method 2, the inside hind leg will become the pivot point so you will need to use less inside leg. It will still be there to maintain bend and to prevent the horse from stepping back in the turn, which will be marked as a fault. The horse must remain forward in the pivot.
  4. Move your outside leg slightly behind the girth to help bend the horse around the inside leg and to prevent his hindquarters from swinging out. The upper inner thigh can help push the horse around the turn.
  5. Allow your outside hip to move forward slightly as you turn your body to match your horse’s turn. Keep the buttons on your shirt lined up with the horse’s mane and your eyes looking through your horse’s ears. Overturning with the head will create too big a shift in your body weight. Maintain a following seat, especially where you keep the walk rhythm.

The turn on the haunches is a fantastic training exercise. Perform the movement slowly making each step clear and precise. The horse will become softer to your leg aids and will be started on the road to developing collection. You can perform the movement in the corners of the arena or set up a square with pylons with a quarter turn at each corner of the square, progressing to 180 degree turns along the wall, then full 360 degree turns off the wall. Be creative, have fun, enjoy the journey!

In the next blog post, we will be discussing common problems while performing a turn on the haunches.

This article is the eighth 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.

Lisa Wieben is a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Chris Irwin Platinum Certified Trainer, and Equine Canada Western Competition Coach. She works with youth, adult amateurs and professionals as well as teaching a local 4H club at her facility near Bowden, AB. Western and English dressage has become her main focus, but many of her students compete in open competitions as well as obstacle challenges. Lisa has also added Somatics to help her students maintain and create further body awareness as it works to release muscle patterns in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and repetitive movements that can be work related. Getting riders in correct balance helps horses develop correct balance.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, mentorship programs, as well as student programs at Falling Star Ranch in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage.


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