In the show arena, you may be familiar with watching events where horses are required to turn at different rates of speed. But having a precise turnaround isn’t only essential when you’re in the show pen. Teaching your horse to turn also allows you to have more steering ability and control anytime you’re in the saddle.
Here I’ll show you my steps to starting a young horse in a turnaround. As you begin to teach your young horse how to turn for the first time, ride in a snaffle bit, using two hands. Two-handed riding gives you more control and allows you to steer your horse in the direction he needs to go—aka direct reining. As your horse’s guide improves, and he becomes more comfortable moving his feet in the pivot, you can progress to riding one-handed in a shanked bit.
Before I ask my young horse to turn, I warm up and check to see that she’s supple on both sides of her body by having her counter-arc at a trot in both directions. To do that, I take my horse’s head to the outside and use my outside leg to cross her outside front foot over her inside front foot and move her ribcage in. This helps her soften up in her ribcage, neck, and shoulders so she can successfully move them over when I eventually ask for her to pivot.
When I feel that my horse is supple enough in her ribcage and shoulders, I go back to the walk and put her on a small circle. Here I’m guiding her in a 15-foot circle, with some slack in my reins so she can carry her head and neck where she’s comfortable while she figures out how to move her shoulders over and cross her legs over one another. I’ll work my horse in both directions, and as she becomes more relaxed moving her body in each direction, I’ll ask for more collection in her face.
As I continue to walk in a tight circle, I use both my hands and my right leg to gently move my horse’s head and shoulders over to the left, allowing her right front foot to cross over her left front foot. I also release my inside leg so I’m not blocking my horse from being able to move her body to the left. The forward motion from the walk encourages her to cross her outside foot over her inside foot and avoid clipping herself with her feet or crossing over behind. As I ask my horse to cross her front legs, I want her hip and back legs to remain in the same spot, so she learns to keep her hip still when she turns.
After a few minutes of walking, my horse becomes more familiar with crossing her front legs as we circle. I then challenge her by making my circle smaller, eventually asking her to hold her hip still during our turn. As I ask my horse to turn, I use both hands and my outside leg to guide her neck and shoulders to the left. Once my circle is small enough, she should keep her hip still and perform a true pivot. I don’t expect her to know how to turn more than two or three steps at the beginning. After we’ve turned a couple steps, I walk her out of the turn and go back to my circle to start the process over again.
I resume walking in a tight circle for a few strides, and gradually ask my horse to walk in a smaller circle. This time my horse starts her turn by sucking back, and her right foot crosses behind her left. This is incorrect. Because I’ve lost all forward motion in my turnaround, my horse has nowhere to go but backward.
I don’t want my horse to get in the habit of crossing her outside leg behind her inside leg, so I immediately take her out of the turn and ask her to trot so we can get our forward motion back. I continue to stay on my circle and use my feet to push her forward while I keep steady contact with my hands so she can drive through the bridle. Just as I did at the walk, I use more outside leg and steer with my reins so she can cross her outside leg over her inside leg.
Once I’m done trotting, I immediately go back to my turnaround. This time when I ask my horse to turn, she crosses her outside foot over her inside foot, and keeps her hip in the same spot for a few strides. Because she did what I asked her to do, I’ll end my ride there so she knows that’s the correct answer.
Wes Wetherell, Purcell, Oklahoma, trains Western pleasure, all-around, and young show prospects. He’s been training horses professionally for over 33 years and has produced multiple world and Congress champions in several breed associations. Learn more at weswetherellquarterhorses.com.