Being able to move the horse’s front feet around his hind-quarters is an important skill for the western rider (or handler) to perfect. For competitors who are preparing for showmanship the pivot (another term for turn on the haunches) is a vital manoeuvre in most patterns. In ridden competition this turn will be required in trail, horsemanship, pleasure and reining. You can’t get away from it!
From the ground: the basics
Stand facing your horse, just back from his poll.
Hold the lead rope about 6 inches from the halter.
Make a soft fist with your other hand and place it against the shoulder muscle - between the point of shoulder and the elbow.
Imagine your horse is rigid from poll to tail and press with your fist against his shoulder.
At the same time move your lead rope in the direction you want to go (away from you) so that the halter pushes on the side of his face.
You also need to make a strong movement towards his head with your body – you're asking your horse to move out of your space.
As soon as he moves away - even the slightest try - then release all pressure and praise him. Once again, teaching your horse is about pressure and release and good use of timing.
The pictures below show Lucy's first attempts at this with Indy. She did a good job!
Here Lucy asks Indy to take the first step to the left. She could be straighter - but it's a good effort!
This clearly shows Indy taking a step across with her left fore-leg, and a good head and neck position.
From the ground: next steps
Now your horse moves his front feet away from you, start to develop the number of steps and the quality of the movement. You'll find that very quickly you no longer need the cue on the shoulder and your horse will move from your body language and a small cue from the lead rope. Remember these few hints and tips....
Pay attention to your horse’s outside hind foot (the pivot foot). This is the foot he should move around - probably digging a small hole in the process!
If you find you horse is not pivoting but swinging his quarters you're probably not keeping your horse straight enough. Focus on pushing the shoulders around, not the head.
When asking for several steps, correct any tendency for your horse to move forwards, stepping out of the turn. Back him a little and start again to reinforce the turn.
Performing a pivot from the ground is a good test of your horse’s respect for you. It's always important that your horse is happy to move out of your space when you ask.
In the saddle: the basics
Turns on the haunches help to develop your horse's balance, engagement and suppleness. Try the following steps to begin teaching your horse how to turn correctly.
Stop your horse and rock him back onto his haunches. As you feel him take his weight backwards, step into your inside stirrup and draw your inside seat bone back.
Keep your outside leg near the cinch. Open your inside rein, tipping your horse’s nose to the inside.
Lay your outside rein against your horse’s neck (but do not tighten the rein) and keep your hand close to the withers. You'll feel your horse shift his weight to the inside and start to bring his shoulders around.
Press with your outside leg whilst still stepping into your inside stirrup. Once you feel your horse’s outside fore-leg come across, in front of the inside fore-leg, release the cue and praise him.
Walk forward a few steps, stop, rock back and start the turn to the same side. Repeat this several times until your horse starts to anticipate the turn.
Now do the same exercise on the other side.
These small turns (probably around 90 degrees) can become 180 degrees which become rollbacks. Being able to turn several revolutions at speed will become spins. Accurate, precise turns will win the trail class and smooth, polished pivots will always impress the showmanship judge.