Q: My horse doesn’t step across correctly with his front foot when I ask him to spin or move his front end around his rear. He crosses behind or steps on his other foot. I’ve gone back to the ground and practiced yielding his front end, and he crosses over just fine, but he won’t do it under saddle. What can I do to help him figure it out?
Since you mentioned that your horse steps correctly when you ask him to yield his front end from the ground, I’d suggest enlisting the help of friend to sit on him as a passenger while you practice moving him from the ground. It will help your horse get comfortable stepping correctly while having a rider on his back. Your friend will strictly be a passenger and shouldn’t cue your horse or interfere in any way. Once your horse is moving his front end around his hindquarters and is stepping correctly, you can get back in the saddle. Keep the following points in mind to help him step correctly.
- Adjust the position of your leg to help your horse understand what you’re asking him to do. Normally, you would place your outside leg just behind the girth to push his shoulders around the turn. However, since your horse has a tendency to step backward, I’d recommend placing your outside leg a little further back on his ribcage to encourage him to move his front end through the turn.
- Make sure you’re not pulling on the reins and causing your horse to back up. Your inside rein should be opened out to the side, telling him where to go, while you hold the outside rein against his neck. The outside rein controls the radius of the turn, so you’ll use it on an as-needed basis. How much pressure you apply with the outside rein will depend on what your horse needs at any one time. If he starts walking forward out of the turn, you’ll pull the rein straight back to your hip to sit your horse back on his hindquarters. If he steps backward, you’ll just hold the rein against his neck without pulling it back toward your hip; otherwise, he will suck back too much and won’t be able to step across.
- Each time your horse takes one correct step across, put him on a loose rein and trot him out of the yield to encourage forward motion. If you were asking him to move to the right, trot him off in a big circle to the right. Then spiral him down and practice the exercise again. Spiraling him in and out of the maneuver will help him maintain forward motion, which will encourage him to step correctly. As your horse becomes consistent at taking one correct step, start building on the exercise by asking for two steps, then three steps, until he can eventually move his front end 360 degrees around his rear.
- Additionally, the better your horse can sidepass, the easier it will be for him to move his ribcage and step correctly. Horses that have a tendency to step behind are often stiff throughout their body and don’t want to move their ribcage. The better you can get your horse to sidepass, the easier it will be for him to move his front end around his rear and step correctly.
This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.