Maintain Your Horse's Turnaround

Maintain your horse's turnaround skills--without burning him out--using this training strategy from top reiner Mike Moser.
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Correct turnaround skills in reining and working cow horse require practice--and lots of it. A common error is to constantly practice at show speed. When you practice at full speed all the time, your horse will lose the footwork and rhythm that earns points in the show pen.

He'll likely also develop one of two problems: He'll start to dread the maneuver, tensing up and resisting your cues; or, he may try to go too fast, losing quality and correctness.

I've developed a way to avoid those problems by using a maintenance program that permits practice without burnout. Using it, you'll turn your horse around every day, but at 1/2 or 3/4 speed. That'll give you enough momentum that your horse can propel himself through the turn, but not so much that he's unable to practice--and perfect--the footwork and rhythm required for a plus-point maneuver.

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Here's how the strategy works:

1. Ask your horse for a turnaround to the left or right using your typical cues. But rather than asking him for showring speed, opt for 25 or 50 percent less. Turn him around eight, nine, or even 10 times, asking that he maintain the same rhythm throughout each turn without constant help from you. (He should keep turning on his own after you initiate the maneuver, and until you shut it down. If he lacks this skill, and you don't have the experience to teach him, consult a reputable trainer.)

I see a lot of riders consistently quit after four turns. Believe me, when you do that your horse will learn to count and will start to shut himself down on the third rotation. Asking for more turns not only eliminates this anticipation risk, but also gives him more time to practice--and to learn turnarounds are no big deal.

Note: I teach a reiner to turnaround--and keep turning around--when I lay my outside rein against his neck. (For a turnaround to the left, such as the one shown here, that would be my right rein.) I'll add outside leg only as needed to reinforce the neck-rein cue. For instance, if a horse starts to lean toward the right on a leftward turnaround, I'll apply right spur pressure to push his body back into alignment, releasing the pressure when it is. I've found that constant leg pressure invites a horse to lean, which disrupts his rhythm and footwork.

2. With repetition, your horse will lock into this "maintenance" speed, turning around comfortably as he hones his rhythm and footwork. Just look at how relaxed and confident my horse is here. His expression is soft and happy; he looks as though he could turn around all day. He's upright and centered between my legs and reins. I've laid my right rein on his neck, but haven't had to kick or pull him through the turn. He's turning on his own.

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And his footwork is beautiful. He's about to reach around with his left front leg, after crossing over with his right front as he steps through the turn. You can see in Photo 1 (and I can feel here) that he's planted his inside (left) hind leg; that's the pivot leg over which he'll balance. And he's helping push his body through the turn with his outside (right) hind leg. This is the correct footwork you're looking for.

This particular horse likes to look around his turns, so his nose is tipped slightly leftward. That's his style. He also has a plus-point turnaround, thanks in no small part to his natural ability--and my maintenance strategy.

Practice your maintenance turnaround in both directions daily. When your horse has developed consistent rhythm and footwork, plan to add speed (on page 2) two or so times a week (more if you have a show coming up).

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3A. Twice-weekly speed sessions provide a "show-systems" check: You make sure your horse can turn at showring speed without losing confidence, rhythm or footwork; and that he has the opportunity to practice his turnaround skills--honed by the maintenance strategy--at competition velocity so he remains comfortable at speed.

I ask for speed by adding a "cluck" to my cues. (See "Quick 'Cluck' Tip" below.) And this is where proper maintenance pays off. In this three-photo series, you'll see that my horse looks as relaxed and correct going fast as he did going slow. The only way you can tell he's put the pedal to the metal is by his flying forelock and my reins!

3B. Look at how important good form and footwork are to a turnaround. Most people focus only on the front end of a turning horse, but the power is actually generated from the hind end. My horse's front legs are separated, and he's reaching wide to pull himself around the turn with his left front leg. But look, too, at his right hind: He's about to step down and shove off with it to propel his body through the turn. A great hind end enables a speedy front end. (Fast fact: A horse like this, with a great turnaround, will generate as much power from his hindquarters during this maneuver as he does loping a fast circle. The maintenance work you do will enable your horse to practice using his hind end correctly.)

3C. Compare this shot with Photo 1 on page 1 and you'll see exactly what I mean about practice making perfect: The horse's position, footwork and expression are nearly identical--even though I've added top speed here. You'll get the same benefit when you add my maintenance strategy to your training program. And then you'll have the competitive edge.

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Quick "Cluck" Tip

I separate my maintenance-turnaround cues from my speed ones to keep from confusing my horse. To initiate a maintenance turnaround, I use only neck-rein and occasional outside leg cues (as reinforcement). I never cluck for this slowed-down maneuver.

To ask for speed, I use my neck-rein/leg initiation cues, but, after the first half or full turn, add a verbal cluck. I then cluck in rhythm with the turn. By only clucking when I ask for "plus-point" speed, my horse knows exactly when it's time to do the maintenance work--and when it's time to turn on the afterburners.

Tip: By waiting until your horse has established the turn to cluck, you'll eliminate the risk he'll jump out of it by mistaking your verbal cue for a request to go forward or roll back. Doing so will also help keep him soft and relaxed as he begins to turn, which will carry through the entire maneuver.

--Photos by Darrell Dodds

After earning five AQHA world championships in Western pleasure, Mike Moser trained his first reiner, Katsys Dynomite Lena, in 1998. Mike and the mare slid to reserve champion intermediate open honors at the 1999 All American Quarter Horse Congress Reining Futurity. That same year, Mike was seventh in senior reining at the AQHA World Show aboard Miss Oxbow Aledo; the pair also won numerous other reining titles. In 2003, he won the NRHA Derby intermediate open division aboard Country Bay Berry. Mike's shown here aboard Stardust, a 5-year-old stallion owned by Gerri Leigh Pratt of North Carolina.

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

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