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Western Dressage – Turn on the haunches – part 2. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

November 28, 2016

In the last blog post, we explained how to correctly execute a turn on the haunches. In this blog post, we would like to discuss common problems while performing a turn on the haunches.

As a review, there are two ways to perform a correct turn on the haunches for Western dressage. Both are to be judged equally. The first method is to keep the inside hind leg as the pivot foot. The horse is allowed to pick up and set down the pivot foot when needed to relieve stress on the leg. The front legs will cross over one another, outside over inside. The second method, the horse will walk a small circle with the hind legs, while the front legs cross over. The size of the circle of the hind legs can be one metre in diameter.


The horse is stepping back in the turn. The rider is holding too much with both reins.

Common faults:

  1. If the horse steps towards the inside of the turn with his inside hind leg, he is leg yielding away from the rider’s outside leg in an effort to try and avoid the bending of the joints of his hind legs. Try using less outside leg and turn the horse more from the outside upper inner thigh. You may also need more outside rein to prevent the horse from stepping in. Changing the position of the outside pushing leg may also be needed. Sometimes if the leg hasn’t been positioned back the horse will think side pass instead of turn. Moving the leg a little further back may be all that is needed. Also be aware of how your weight is placed. If your weight is too much to the outside of the turn this may push the horse sideways. Stay centered and turn from your center, like a barber shop pole.
  2. Incorrect turn, such as doing a turn on the forehand or a turn on the centre: this usually happens if the rider allows the horse’s hindquarters to swing out. The rider needs to apply more outside leg adjusted further back to block the hip from swinging. If the horse keeps swinging out with his outside hind leg, start the exercise in a corner and only ask for a quarter turn. The wall can act as a block on the outside. Again, check your position and make sure your body is turning with the horse.
  3. The horse is overbent in the neck/tilting the head: the horse should remain straight (correctly bent) throughout the turn, rather than overbent in the neck or tilting the head. If the horse overbends in the neck or pops out the outside shoulder, this is often caused by the rider pulling the horse through the turn using the inside rein, rather than using the outside aids as turning aids. The inside rein is only there to keep slight inside flexion. Pulling will result in overbend.
  4. Turn is too large: the outside rein defines the size of the turn. To make the turn tighter, bring the outside rein closer to the horse’s neck without crossing over. The outside rein may also have to hold to keep the horse from stepping too far forward. Use a deeper, holding seat to slow the steps of the horse.
  5. Backing up: if the horse steps backwards, the rider should turn his body more into the direction of the turn to engage the horse forward while applying more inside leg. The rider may also need to decrease the restraining aids. When applying the aids think outside leg to turn, then inside leg to maintain forward. Alternating between the two will keep the horse turning and forward.
  6. Loss of correct bend: the rider needs to maintain the bend with his inside leg and inside rein.

The rider is clearly sitting off to the right side. The horse is stepping sideways into the turn as shown by the hind legs stepping across rather than forward.


The horse is overbent into the turn. In this position, it is harder for the horse to step across while maintaining clear steps behind.



The horse is overbent into the turn with a slight head tilt. This is caused by the rider pulling with too much inside rein. The horse is dropping his outside shoulder, making it more difficult for him to do the cross-over step.


The horse is counterbent due to the rider pulling too much with the outside rein.


The rider is pulling too hard with the inside rein, causing the rider to be left behind and leaning to the outside. Also, the horse’s shoulder is being left behind in the turn.

Keep practicing and it will get better every time. Enjoy the ride!

This article is the ninth 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.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carla permalink
    November 29, 2016 11:22 am

    Hi there, I’m a student of Rachel’s from Saskatoon area. I have a pony that I would like to get finished and I’m too scared to send her to a regular trainer. (We do our best at following Chris Irwin) How much do you charge for training? She is just a pony 13hh (5yrs) with a solid build that we just adore. She’s green broke and fairly safe but needs a trainers touch to finish her and get more work ethic. We couldn’t afford to send her at this time but would work towards it.

    Kind Regards Carla Norman


    • November 29, 2016 7:48 pm

      Hi Carla,
      I remember seeing your name on Rachel’s FB page. I will send you an email.

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