One of the most important parts of any ride is balancing your horse through a turn. When your horse rounds a corner, you can help make sure that he is balanced and strong. It might seem like a minor detail, but being balanced through a turn can mean the difference between a mediocre ride and a fantastic ride whether you are in your backyard or an arena of scrutinizing onlookers.
When your horse is balanced going around a bend, it will give a more powerful, steady ride. It may take a lot of help and support from you at first, but it will eventually become something your horse does naturally and will increase his strength and self-carriage through all aspects of your riding. Start off with this exercise at the walk and work up from there. Keep in mind that if this is something neither you nor your horse are used to doing, it will be a lot of work at the start, but if you work at it a little every time you ride, it will get easier before you know it!
To ride a balanced turn, you first have to find your center of balance over your horse. You don’t want to be leaning back too far or bent over his neck in front of the saddle. Your body should be upright and supple. Next, you need to get your horse to bend around the turn. I’m not talking about a huge movement here. Ideally, you want to see the outside corner of his eye as you are rounding the turn. Don’t over-bend him so he is curled in a ‘U’ around your leg because over-bending him will actually make it impossible to balance. By getting him slightly bent in the direction of the turn, you can push him in the direction you want to go with your legs and reins. In order to bend him, you need to have firm contact with the reins. You don’t have to be pulling his lips off his face, but you want to feel a nice line of connection from your hands, through the reins, to his mouth. You will be using an inside opening rein to cause his head to tilt inward and allow his front end to move into the turn. Be prepared with your inside leg to apply pressure at the girth to keep him from drifting into the center of the ring.
You want to push your horse around the turn, not pull him. What does that mean? That means, use your legs to push him as you round a bend and move him up into your hand. The weight (pressure) applied with your legs should be just a little stronger than the weight applied with your hands so that you help hold your horse together and balance him as he turns a corner. When most of us learn to ride, the easiest way to learn to steer is by using either a direct or leading rein to turn your horse in the direction you want to go. To ride a truly balanced turn, you need to add leg to the equation. Use your inside leg to push your horse’s hindquarters through the turn and your outside leg to keep the energy up through the turn. If your horse is very responsive to your legs, the pressure will be almost even, with a slightly greater weight on your inside leg. If your horse is not the most responsive your your leg, it might take a little bit of effort at first to help him push his hind end around the corner. Keep in mind though that you have to be aware of where his hindquarters are going. You don’t want to push so hard that they end up swinging around the turn and ending up on the outside so he is on an angle when you complete the turn. If this happens, use a little more pressure with your outside leg, slightly behind the girth. Be aware of the position you are in though. If you are walking or trotting, you are putting your legs into the position for cantering, so be prepared to add a little extra weight in your hand to keep your horse from changing gait!
If your horse tends to stumble or trip, especially around corners or circles, I’ll wager a bet that its because he’s not balanced. If you can help him balance himself as he rounds a bend, you will begin to notice a more sure-footed, energetic horse underneath you. No matter what your discipline, helping your horse learn to be balanced will make your ride much more enjoyable for everyone involved!
This seems like a big chore for something that seems so insignificant, but if you start thinking about a balanced corner every time you have to turn, you will find that it helps strengthen and support both your horse and yourself and it will create an easier ride every time.
Lynn Palm, the rider in the second picture also has a great article on this topic, found HERE.