Steering and Bending

Anyone who has ridden with Erik will know that these 2 innocent little words can cause a multitude of problems for us riders. Recently, while revisiting this area with one of my pupils, she came up with some interesting observations upon which I have built what I hope is a clearer picture.

1 Turning
To turn the horse you use your bulk body weight to direct the horse which way to go but your seat bones will be relatively even IF the horse and rider are relatively straight. Ie Weight to the right to turn right. You can turn with or without a bend (like a plank) or with a counter bend, (as in counter canter). You DO NOT need active leg aids to turn although they may be used as a separate aid for forward energy IF required . The turning aid should not cause any change in the flexion of the head and neck or bend, ie if you start with the horse in a right bend, the bend mustn't get greater or lesser as you turn. It follows that the reins must be used as a pair (see below in 2) to prevent the inadvertent drawing one hand back and giving the other forward which would automatically change the alignment of the head and neck, however in (good) practice, the hands play a very minor role.
However, to change direction you must, as one of my pupils so neatly put it, "Physically move your arse"!

1a The Andrew McLean turning aids using direct and indirect rein are completely in line with the above as the shift in the body makes the rein aids more clear. If the body is in the wrong place, the rein aids will be heavy and not very effective. Practising using direct and indirect rein aids for turning actually helps the rider use their weight correctly.

2 Moving the shoulders
As part of turning you may need to move the horse's shoulders to keep on the path you wish to follow/describe. To move the shoulders the hands are used as a pair and they move in the direction of the turn while remaining "even", that is parallel to the pommel and equidistant from the riders body (assuming that the rider is "square"). Ideally, the weight in the reins should be 50:50 but if the horse is crooked, the weight in the reins will NOT be 50:50 and may even be as different as 90:10. Again you do not need to use active leg aids to move the shoulders although they may be used as a separate aid for forward energy. The hands "nudge" the horse's shoulders around the turn; they do not hold or haul. The riders weight should go in the direction of the turn but the inside seat bone must not get heavier. The whip can be used as a motivator on the outside shoulder.

3 Moving the hindquarters
As part of turning you may need to move the hindquarters to keep on the path you wish to follow/describe. To move the hind quarters to the left, the right leg is used actively and to move the quarters to the right, the left leg is used actively. The opposite leg is passive and only comes into play when you wish to stop the sideways movement . If the horse confuses the aid with the aid to go more forwards, the horse should be asked to slow or stop and then the leg aid is repeated. The inside seat bone may also come into play to press the horse's body sideways (imagine sitting on a bar stool and turning it), but the rider must not lean to the inside or slip off to the outside. The leg and seat work together but must be neutralised immediately the horse moves in the desired direction. The whip as a motivator is used behind the riders leg

Please Note: There has deliberately been no mention of flexion or bend so far.

4 Flexion
In simple terms this is asking the horse to look to the right or to the left. It is achieved with the hands, as one hand asks, the other gives slightly and most horses will soften easier to one side than the other. The inside hand "asks" with an increased pressure and releases the pressure as soon as the horse flexes. In practice this is a series of "near invisible" aids, small vibrations, to achieve the desired amount of flexion rather than just one big pull: ask /release / ask / release - as much as necessary but as little as possible. Do not hold the flexion with the hand, always release/soften the contact after each aid. The "ideal" amount of flexion enables you to see the horse's inside eye and occurs in the top third of the horse's neck, NOT at the base of the withers. You do not need to involve the seat or the leg in this unless the horse deviates from the path you have chosen. In other words, the horse may "look in" slightly while travelling down the long side. In practice, the seat and legs will probably have to exert some influence to prevent crookedness in the horse's body and to keep him "in line and on line" but these aids are separate from the basic rein aid for flexion. NB only use either the legs or the hands actively at any one time.

(It is worth remembering that it is totally unnatural for a horse to look or bend to the inside of a turn. Naturally, they would carry their heads to the outside as this is the most efficient way for them to turn. However, it is not the most comfortable way for us riders)

5 Bend
Bend follows flexion and involves the whole horse, not just the head and neck. Bend is the first step towards collection as it enables the rider to supple the horse's hind quarters - hip, stifle, hock. It is also the first time we have asked the rider to sit in the bend (see above "Sit crooked to sit square") and the horse must be sufficiently fluid in its movement to enable it to follow a curved line without either its shoulders or hindquarters deviating from that line. In addition, the horse may be in true bend, (bent to the inside of a curve), or in counter bend, (bent to the outside of a curve) without either its shoulders or quarters deviating from that line. A more advanced horse will also be bent on straight lines, in "position left" or "in position right" without its shoulders or quarters deviating from that line. Eg canter down the centre line at the beginning of a test has a slight bend towards the leading legeven thought the hind legs follow the path of the front legs. To initiate a bend, the rider may put additional emphasis on the inside seat bone and/or leg together with the outside leg placed a little further back. The outside leg may be used actively if the horse swings his quarters out but, like any aid, once bent, the seat bones and legs return to neutral pressure or emphasis, 50:50 in the bent state.

Please Note: Flexing/bending is completely separate from turning/steering

Done correctly, whether turning or bending, the observer would not see any big change in the rider's position and the adjustments made by the rider, the changes to position or emphasis, would result in the smooth change of bend and/or direction of the horse. The observer would see the result, not the process.

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