Expert Exercise: Turns on the Square

Tune up equine performance at any level.


English rider riding a square

Both exercises in this month’s routine, the turn on forehand and the turn on haunches, improve muscular coordination, not to mention stability and proper joint position. These maneuvers not only help improve a horse’s use of his body but also serve as a tune-up for overall performance.

As stand-alone exercises, the turn on forehand and the turn on haunches are valuable and worthy of practice nearly every time you ride. When combined in a pattern like this month’s turns on a square routine, the horse’s coordination and relaxation are challenged even more.

For some horses, you’ll see rapid improvement to their balance and ability to carry more weight on the hindquarters. For others, it will mean releasing old, unhelpful patterns of using muscles that are interfering in other areas of their work.

Because it can help a green horse gain new skills or a seasoned horse to further refinement, turns on the square are suitable for horses of all levels. For riders, the turns require clear and precise cues in order to be successful.

You must carefully consider how and where you’re positioning your outside leg, being sure to differentiate your aids for each of the turns. In this way, the exercise requires rider refinement at the same time as it benefits the horse.

Much of the value in this exercise comes from keeping your horse aligned and organized in his body. For this reason, be absolutely sure you stick to your square pattern and don’t begin wandering around elsewhere. In other words, don’t become so fixated on the footwork at each corner that you lose the accuracy of your pattern.

How to do Turns on the Square

  1. Begin in a working walk around a 15-meter square. Use cones, blocks, or other objects to mark out four corners of your square. The quality of this exercise is always improved by using specific markers.
  2. At the first corner, halt and ride a quarter-turn on the forehand. Your horse should take three steps with his hind legs to make the turn.
  3. Now proceed straight ahead in a working walk to your next corner and halt.
  4. Ride a quarter turn on the haunches so you end up facing the next corner of your square.
  5. Keep repeating this sequence. At each corner, alternate riding a turn on the forehand and a turn on the haunches.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!


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