Bending and Turning: Riding Correct Corners, Circles, Voltes, and Serpentines
- by Dr. Thomas Ritter
©2007 All Rights Reserved
Every turn, every transition (up or down), and every lateral movement taxes the hind legs more than just travelling along on a straight line. The rider therefore has to preface each new demand by engaging the inside hind leg more underneath the body mass. For example, in the turn, the inside hind leg has to step more underneath the center of gravity, because it has the smaller track. If it doesn't step under enough, the horse will not bend. Instead, he will counterbend when going in the stiffer direction and fall onto the inside shoulder, into the turn. The circle or corner will consequently become smaller than the rider had intended. On the hollow side, the horse will drift out of the turn over the outside shoulder. The circle or corner will consequently become larger than intended.
For lateral movements, the same rules apply as for the turns. The engagement of the inside hind leg determines the quality of the shoulder-in, travers, renvers, or half pass, since two track movements require a greater muscular effort on the horse’s part than single track work. If the rider continued with the same energy level and engagement in a lateral movement as on a single track, the horse would actually lose impulsion and fall apart.
When you change the horse’s bend – for instance when you change direction, or when you change from shoulder-in to renvers and back - the new inside hind leg has to be addressed with a driving aid, before the bend changes. If the rider omits to engage the new inside hind leg, the horse will fall into the new turn, or he may lose his balance and invert.
These are extremely important, elementary principles, yet many riders do not obey them. It has to become second nature for the rider to engage the inside hind leg more before every new demand.
Another common factor that can make the horse lose his balance and fall into the turn with his shoulders is an excessive weight shift of the rider to the inside. This is almost automatically combined with too much pressure of the outside thigh. The horse then falls onto the inside shoulder and feels very stiff and hard on the inside rein, even trying to counterbend. Riders who make this mistake have to think of sitting more on their outside seatbone and stepping into the outside stirrup during the turn - just to compensate for their own crookedness. Excessive leaning into the turn is similar to the way a bicycle rider negotiates turns, since the bicycle cannot bend behind the rider. The horse, on the other hand, can bend in his lumbar spine. So, in order for the horse to remain upright in the turn, the rider has to turn himself, his own hips especially. The weight shift to the inside has to take place too, but not as much as some riders do it.
The best sequence of aids for a turn is
The difficulty is that all 5 steps have to be executed seamlessly within the space of one or two strides. In addition, it may be necessary to apply half halts to rebalance the horse or regulate tempo and stride length. With some practice, these things become so engrained that you do them without even thinking about them.
- stretch your legs down (outside leg back)
- drive with the inside calf
- sink down with the inside seatbone and knee (without excessive leaning or collapsing in the waist)
- rotate your own hips and shoulders into the turn (in a spiral seat, so the outside shoulder is a little ahead of the outside hip)
- if necessary, use your outside thigh, knee and rein to support the rotation of the hips and shoulders. The rider's knees help to control the shoulders. The calves help to control the haunches.