Last Saturday’s post talked about how important it is to have an open mind.

So I’m going to ask you to have an open mind about Turn on the Forehand and its distant cousin, the Pirouette Renversee, which also requires the horse to move its haunches around its forehand.

You’ve probably read that the Turn on the Forehand should only be taught to the beginner rider or used for the young horse, primarily to teach the leg aid or responsiveness to that leg aid for lateral work.  You may even have heard someone point out that there’s a reason it’s called turn on the forehand — and that the last thing you want is your horse on the forehand, so the sooner you abandon the exercise, the better.

I say, “Yes but…”

One Grand Prix dressage horse I’ve ridden has an owner/trainer who told me, with a sly smile, that one of her secrets is Turn on the Forehand.  She feels it is useful as a suppling exercise, and she has no doubts about her ability to balance her horse.  Her horse is light and lovely and “hot” off the aids.

The nice thing is, even if you’ve never ridden or trained to Grand Prix and even if your horse is on the forehand, you can teach him to get off his forehand by moving his hindquarters around his forehand with the Pirouette Renversee, as part of this suppling exercise:

Trot a twenty meter circle on the right rein.

At a given point on the circle, bend your horse’s neck to the left (counterbend).

Put your right leg back and move the haunches around the forehand, which will remain on the line of the circle (this is the pirouette renversee part).

Trot off immediately on the left rein.

Do the same in the other direction.

There are no doubt people who disagree with this post, and who will think that it is heresy to introduce the pirouette, renversee or not, in this way before the horse is ready.  And while it’s true that there’s a correct and incorrect way to perform the pirouette renversee, I think horses are capable of a lot more than we think they are, and you can always refine the movement later (as we do all movements).

I don’t think you have to wait until you’re schooling Second Level dressage to work on walk-canter and canter-walk transitions…or wait to introduce walk pirouettes.  That’s one place where I think hunter riders have it all over dressage riders these days…and they learn to balance themselves in two-point on top of it!  Did I mention the fact that this exercise is good for hunters, jumpers and dressage horses?

I think that waiting to work on things that come naturally to horses keeps both riders and horses from progressing in their abilities.  Horses do everything from walk pirouettes to passage and piaffe in turnout.  The problem isn’t that they can’t perform these movements.  It’s that they can’t perform these movements with us on their backs.

So it’s never too soon to start practicing how to coordinate your aids and keep yourself stable in the saddle, while avoiding the possibility of fixating on “inside leg to outside rein” in the 20 meter circle equivalent of a perpetual motion machine (not that I think that’s what any of my readers are doing, but how often have you seen it?).  Do more, try more, have high standards for yourself and your horse, and chances are you’ll become a better rider sooner and make schooling more interesting for your horse in the process.

Before you go grab your bridle, there are just a few more things that are important to mention.  It’s best not to repeat the exercise at the same point on the circle.  If you do it when you’re three-quarters of the way around the circle — or one and a quarter revolutions around the circle — you’ll naturally be repeating the exercise at different points along the circle.

Interestingly, in February’s Dressage Today, Anja Beran discusses the pirouette renversee in the always-fascinating-to-me series “My Toughest Training Challenge.”  (Kudos to DT for the idea).  Ms. Beran doesn’t go into detail, but the walk pirouette is generally performed at a collected walk (and the walk is the last of the gaits to be collected in order not to destroy its purity), the legs do not pivot but retain the true four-beats of the walk, the hind quarters (for pirouette) or front quarters (for pirouette renversee) remain in place (on the size of a dinner plate) during the movement.

Don’t let all of that scare you.

What should you have in place before attempting this exercise?

1.  A good turn on the forehand which will confirm basic responsiveness to your leg.  It’s best to school Turn on the Forehand initially from walk and allow it be larger than you will eventually want it to be…only then from halt.

2.  The ability to flex your horse’s neck without pulling on the inside rein. This means you need to use your outside rein, also without pulling back, to move the shoulder.  If you’ve never ridden any gaits counterbent, it can be easier to get the feeling at trot and canter, where you have more impulsion.

3.  The ability to insist on forward and get it from your horse.

What I have presented is a training exercise; it’s not about test-riding, so I don’t think you need a collected walk to start practicing.  (Plus, once you do it well, your horse will gain more of the suppleness he needs for collection).

The key to the success of this exercise is not how perfectly you perform the pirouette renversee.  The key to the exercise is how smooth the entire sequence is, how forward the horse remains, and how quickly the horse responds to your aids.  You want your horse to feel like a dancer — able to shift from one movement to the next without hesitation or loss of balance. Every step of the trot (remember, there’s trot before and after the pirouette renversee) should be the same and the horse should feel light in front. Repeat this exercise over the coming month, and there’s a really good chance that your horse will feel lighter.

If at any point you feel as if you’re a little mired in molasses, get out of the exercise, go forward and come back later when you’ve worked on getting your horse more responsive to your aids.  But don’t wait too long…because asking your horse to pirouette around his forehand will make him light in his forehand.  And that will make everything you do easier and more beautiful.

Try it and let me know how it works for you.