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In-hand work part 2. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 21, 2019

In the last blog post, we talked about the basics of in-hand leading, a groundwork exercise we can do with our horses even when the temperatures are cold.

Topics included timing of turns, use of whip, flexing for stretching, as well as halts.

Today we are looking at turns on forehand, turns on haunches, as well as in-hand work over/through obstacles.

Turns on forehand

Stand next to your horse at his shoulder with your core (belly button) facing his hip, your inside hip (the one closest to the horse’s head) will be open. Shift your weight onto your outside  foot. This allows the horse to bring his head towards you.

Keeping contact on the lead rope with your inside hand, send impulsive (pushing) energy from your hand or a whip towards your horse’s hip, asking him to take a step away from you. Depending on your horse you may also need to take a couple small steps towards your horse’s hip in order to increase the pushing energy from your core as well as the drawing energy from your inside hip. If your horse dose not yield his hindquarters give him a gentle tap with the whip.

Keep repeating these steps until your horse has completed a quarter circle, and eventually a half circle, rewarding at each step.

As always, pay attention to your horse’s body language. If he raises his head and braces, he is not only feeling physically tense, but also and mentally tense and stressed. Stop applying pressure to his hip and encourage him to lower his head with the figure eight flexing motion explained in last month’s article. Be sure that you are breathing and not holding any tension in your body. Reward your horse for the smallest try.

Turns on haunches


Turn on haunches: Dawn is using her outside shoulder to guide the turn, her inside hip is open, and her right hand is there to help guide if needed. – Photo credit Lisa Wieben

Stand about half a foot to a foot away from your horse, slightly ahead of his nose, with soft, slightly bent knees and core folded. With your hand closest to the horse’s head, hold the lead rope with contact.

Start applying pressure to his shoulder with your hand or a whip as you step in the direction you want him to go. Make sure your horse is straight or slightly bent in the direction of travel. This will make it easier for him to cross over with the front legs. Keep your body turning with the horse with your outside shoulder guiding the turn.

As soon as you feel your horse shift his weight away from your push, no matter how little, immediately stop applying pressure, reward, then ask for another step. A pushy or stoic horse is likely to push back into your push, so instead of using firmer, steady pressure, we find it is more effective to adjust the push by using our thumb or fingertips or even the whip handle and applying pressure in a rhythmic manner.

If your horse is still not shifting his weight away from you, tap him gently on the shoulder with the whip.

Make sure your horse stays in a level to low headed frame during the exercise. If he raises his head and tenses, stop applying pressure and encourage him to lower his head with the figure eight flexing motion.

Introducing obstacles

When starting to introduce obstacles that are stationary, such as a trail bridge, you can walk your horse past the object with your body positioned closest to the obstacle. This gives the horse confidence and allows him to bend away from the object without pushing into you. Keep him bending around both you and the obstacle. Do this in both directions, giving him the opportunity to see the obstacle from both sides. Once he is comfortable walking past the obstacle with you between him and the object then lead him past the obstacle with him being between you and the obstacle. Again do this in both directions.

Keep your body slightly ahead of him, with your hip closest to him open, allowing him to bend away from the obstacle if he gets worried. Reward every sign of relaxation and softness. As always maintain a low to level head throughout the exercise.

When introducing an object that you can move, pick it up (or drag it along the ground) and begin to back away from your horse and have him follow you. He will most likely become curious and want to move closer to touch or smell the object. For some horses this can take some time, for others curiosity will bring them in quickly. Once the horse is comfortable touching the object you can stand with him in a bend and bring it in closer to his body. Any sign of tensing up (for example inverting), pause and lower his head before proceeding further.

Maintaining calm and relaxation throughout these exercises will have your horse be a willing partner that will enjoy his time spent with you. Everything we do on the ground will translate to a willing partner under saddle as well.


Allowing the mare to follow a scary obstacle instead of bringing it to her builds confidence. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben


Curiosity has won and the horse is checking out the tarp. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben


Once the horse is comfortable touching the object Lisa keeps the horse bent around her and brings the tarp closer to her body. Any sign of tensing up, stop and lower the horse’s head before proceeding further. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben


Still holding her in bend, Lisa gently drapes the tarp over the mare’s back. – Photo credit Rebecca Wieben

Have fun!

This article is part of an ongoing series of articles that appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis. The articles are a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse.

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, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship 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, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage.

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