The Reverse Turn

Previously, on Equinerds…

Last time we spoke about the how I began training with Andrew, and introduced a concept that he has developed – the Portal Techniques. The Turn and Release changed how I view the fundamentals of training horses, and we hope you’ve had a chance to try it out, but the fun doesn’t stop there. This time we’ll look at another important technique; the Reverse Turn.

The what?

In its most basic form, the Reverse Turn is counter bending the horse while changing the rein, although it can also be done on the circle, and then resolving the bend once the horse is on the new rein. This can include lateral steps (or not) and can be done in all three paces.

The goal is to upright the horse, improve throughness, focus the rider on their position, and promote using the seat and leg, rather than the rein, for bending. It is also a useful aid to collection.

Clear as mud? Read on.

I’ve got two examples of the reverse turn, which end in the same place, but begin very differently. For the first one, I’ll take you back to that freezing indoor school, once upon a time in Surrey…

There is Andrew, hat pulled down to his eyes and scarf pulled up over his nose, and there is me, sitting on Norman the champion carriage driving horse, navigating my first attempts at the turn and release.

We were at the point where things were getting better, so naturally it was time to change

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A very early picture of Finn performing a Reverse Turn – be a love and ignore my raised left heel.

the rein, and we all know how dangerous that can be. I mentioned in the last post that I used to be a fervent left rein merchant and never sat correctly in a right rein configuration, and so when I changed the rein this time, the whole thing went completely to pot. Suddenly Norman’s neck was made of rubber, his back disappeared, and he shot off like a cat in a thunderstorm. I could have cried.

A word from the wise – if you need to correct your upper body position, don’t just wedge your shoulder back or whatever it is; start from your seat. If you just change the symptom, then the cause goes unchanged. My crookedness manifested itself in my shoulders, but the problem actually was that I was sitting to the left all the time. Once I’d sorted that out, the upper body took care of itself.

Anyway, once I’d got everything back under control, more or less. Andrew began talking about the Reverse Turn. He spoke about the necessity of aligning the horse, and also made a point that has stuck with me – horses do not fall in or out, they are pushed in or out. Controlling the horse’s body using the reverse turn is actually mainly a way of controlling how the rider navigates the horse through the change of direction. I thought it sounded a bit like witch craft, but then I was in no position to argue.

This is how you do it:

As you begin to go off in the new direction, keep the horse connected to what is now the outside rein, and maintain a counter position with your body. The rider then begins to bring the horse around from the outside leg, which adds a lateral feel – this is when you will feel the horse begin to upright; most horses will slow down and upright at this point, because the Reverse Turn is also an active half halt. The rider then smoothly, over as many strides as necessary, resolves their position so that they are now sitting correctly for inside positioning, which rolls the horse under the seat so that it is now bent to the inside. Easy, right?

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Actually, once you’ve got your head around the coordination, it is easy. The first one is a little strange, but then trying something for the first time always is.

I found that Norman took to it incredibly well, and it seems to make sense to most horses. The first feeling was that he connected a little more strongly to the outside rein, and then he flexed to the outside, almost gratefully, and I felt his back come up. He slowed down, which is the active part of the half halt, and I took that opportunity to get my legs on. This time when I changed my position to the inside there was no chance of anything going awry, and because the Reverse Turn had made me more conscious of my position, the Turn and Release then came more easily as well.

So what I ended up with was a horse that was properly aligned, balanced, and started to collect. Luckily Norman is unavailable for comment as to how the Reverse Turn improved my riding.

The second story about the Reverse Turn begins a few years later, shortly after Finn joined the Murphy clan, in the summer of 2016. For those who don’t know him, Finn is a former professional dressage horse who competed up to Intermediaire II before suffering an injury, after this he went to a series of very loving loan homes before rocking up at chez nous. Those of you have been fortunate enough to learn from schoolmasters will know that they can be incredibly strange to ride. He was an odd mix between an advanced horse and a remount – obviously educated and capable, but also insecure about the aids, having not been properly through for some time.

What this caused was what we can only describe as a ‘bounce’. Because he was no lover of the contact, he tried to exist in the middle of the aids, as far away from potential impact as possible. When changing the rein, or doing anything that wasn’t going large, he would connect to one rein, dislike it, and ‘bounce’ off. This caused him to hollow and take one large passage type step, disconnect the hind leg, and retract his neck with viper-like speed. The whole process was as unpleasant as it sounds, for everyone involved.

The Reverse Turn was how we started to get around this issue. In the early days Finn felt like an awful lot of horse; he’s 16.3hh, not exactly a monster, but I am not a tall person. One thing that is not obvious from pictures of him is that his neck is three miles long. He also has rather bombastic movement, so I had some trouble keeping him lined up, as most of my energy was spent maintaining some semblance of an adhesive seat.

Finn’s first reaction to the Reverse Turn was not entirely positive, and there was some enthusiastic pogo-ing during the first couple of attempts. Then I managed to keep him lined up so he didn’t jump up in the air and retract his neck, but was so surprised that I managed it that I forgot to apply a leg aid and he walked. Andrew laughed. I didn’t.

Then the magic started. This time I was ready to pick up his outside ribcage when he flexed onto the outside rein, which introduced a lateral aspect to the movement and allowed me to use his education to my advantage. He took slower, more measured steps, which were more collected but felt more ridable because I finally had the horse connected, and, gloriously, when he resolved the bend to the inside the hind leg stayed engaged; he reached over his back and took the contact evenly forward, and the muscles at the base of his neck filled out. All this lasted for about another half a circle, but that didn’t matter because the good thing about Reverse Turns is that you can do as many as you like. Each time the good effects lasted a bit longer, and what was noticeable is that each time I rode the horse the benefits were more and more noticeable.

These days Finn is ultimately through, round, light and available, and the Reverse Turn has been a big part of that. This technique is such a vital tool because of how flexible it is – you can do one so mildly that no one watching will know, and it’s just a balancing tool, or you can make it very exaggerated with lateral steps if you are riding a horse that needs a lot of help.

Enjoy, and let us know how you get on!

Ps. In the last post I did say that we would hear from an Equinerd, and talk about the Number Six Stretch – that is all still true, but it made the post incredibly long, so I’ve split it up and will release those sections a few days apart.




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