7 Easy steps to starting in hand work – Part 2 Turn on the Forehand

Once you have your start and stop controls established, (see Part 1 here), you can then start with sideways controls.

The first movement to teach is turn on the forehand, much as this would be the first sideways step taught under saddle.

Reasons to teach turn on the forehand are:

  • your horse will gain a greater understanding of the response you want from his hind leg when you touch it with the whip (to lift and move forward)
  • you  can start to gain the ability to influence his front end and hind end to do different things at the same time. Eventually this translates into the ability to both straighten him, and perform engaging lateral work
  • you can address stiffness in joints in the hind leg
  • you can address stiffness in his lower back
  • you can teach him to engage his core muscles and work on strengthening them
  • preparing a young or uneducated horse to learn this movement under saddle. A ground handler can apply the aids already learned, while the rider also applies the appropriate leg aid – a simple way to teach him to move sideways from the leg without stress or confusion

The equipment and basic techniques are the same as for start and stop, but now you will ask the front end to (almost) stop while asking the hind quarters to move.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: PATIENCE IS ESSENTIAL – rushing, or allowing anything to be rushed, will negate the learning experience.

What are the ingredients of turn on the forehand?

Once again, this can be done both productively, and non-productively. By this, I mean that only if it is done in a specific manner will it have training value, so you need to know what, precisely, it is that you want.

  1.  In a nutshell, the most important feature is that the horse must lift the inside hind leg, and cross it over in front of the outside hind.
  2. to achieve this for more than one step, you must allow the front end to move very slightly forward, on a tiny circle. As the hind leg crosses over, this shortens the horse’s base (distance between hind feet and front feet), and if you do not allow the front end to travel slightly, the base will become too short for the horse to balance, at which point he will either stop, or step backward, neither of which we want him to do.
  3. your first goal is to achieve a single step. He should take one step, and then allow you to stop him. This is where your start and stop controls can be applied.
  4. as he becomes more able, and with you in control of each individual step, you can increase this to two steps, then three, etc., but you should always know you can stop him at any point, whenever you choose, and that these steps should be measured, and not hurried
  5. One of the goals of this work is to increase his ability to carry weight on the hind legs – to do this, he must stay standing on the straddled (crossed over) hind leg for a small period of time – if he rushes off it, he is avoiding weight carriage. He may do this because he finds it uncomfortable (crossing the leg over tilts the pelvis, stretching the lower back) or he lacks the strength to support on a single leg under the centre of his body. Either way, you should encourage him to wait, even momentarily, with the weight on that leg before he moves on – this is what will stretch and strengthen in the long term.

Turn on the forehand

  1. standing around mid-neck position, reach down and touch the hind leg nearest to you with the whip. You will need to experiment – every horse has a different sensitive spot which could be anywhere between stifle and hoof. You will also need to discover how light a touch you can use and still get a response. ALWAYS REMEMBER YOUR HORSE CAN KICK FORWARD, so don’t stand within reach of that hoof!
  2. When the leg lifts into the air, either press the whip against the leg to push it sideways, or encourage your horse to take a tiny step forward around you, keeping the neck slightly bent towards you, or a combination of both.
  3. Once one step is made, use your body language (see part 1) and small half halts (vibrations on the rein) to halt again.
  4. You should be in total control of a single step before you start asking for more steps
  5. eventually, you can ask for as many steps as you like, but always be certain you could stop at any time you choose.

Case study #1

Dia has a strong but inflexible back. She finds it hard to cross the hind leg over as this stretches her back. As a result, she tries to avoid the effects of the exercise by stepping backward

Case study #2

Beam is 22 years old, and like most older horses, is certain she knows best! She tries to take over, and do the exercise in the manner that she believes it should be done, rather than listening and responding to Kirsty

The end result should be that you can keep the horse lifting the leg in response to the whip, and turning around the forehand in a steady, unhurried, but fluent fashion, with clear crossing of the inside hind in front of the outside hind. This can only be achieved if your horse engages their core, so is an excellent exercise for those that have little idea of how to use those core muscles that are so essential to supporting a rider’s weight in the saddle.

In general, taking it slowly, with plenty of reassurance, will sort out any confusion that might occur.

If you have a specific problems, use the comments below to ask me a question.

Coming next: step #3, Rein back

Author: Deborah Jay

Deborah Jay writes fantasy and urban fantasy featuring complex, quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read. Living mostly on the UK South coast, she has already invested in her ultimate retirement plan – a farmhouse in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands where she retreats to write when she can find the time. She has a dream of a day job, riding, training and judging competition dressage horses and riders, and also writes books and magazine features on the subject under the name Debby Lush. Her taste for the good things in life is kept in check by the expense of keeping too many horses, and her complete inability to cook. A lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, she started writing her first novel aged eight, and has never stopped. Her debut novel, epic fantasy THE PRINCE’S MAN, first in a trilogy and winner of a UK Arts Board award, is available from most ebook retailers, and her Urban Fantasy (first in a series), DESPRITE MEASURES, a tale of a Scottish water sprite trying to live as a human, is currently available on Amazon. Find out more about Deborah at www.deborahjay.wordpress.com or follow Deborah on twitter https://twitter.com/DeborahJay2 and facebook https://www.facebook.com/DeborahJay

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