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Bending & Turning Aids, by Lynn Palm



LynnPalmandDogIn this article, we will discuss bending and turning aids. The goal  for both the bending and turning aids is to control  the horse’s body position and balance.

I  have received many requests to describe in  detail the role of these aids, and so I want to  review the nuts and bolts of this very important  issue in riding. I will start by explaining how the bending  aids work to control the horse’s body.

Besides being used for speed control, the leg aids  (along  with the  seat) control two-thirds of the horse, from the  withers to the dock. The right leg aids are the  right calf muscle and lower part of the right leg. They control the right side of the barrel, right  hip, and right hind leg. The left leg aids control  left side of the barrel, left hip, and left hind leg.

The rein aids control the remaining one-third of  the horse from the poll to the withers. The right  rein controls the right side of the horse’s head  and neck, right shoulder and right front leg. The left rein controls the corresponding parts  on the opposite side of the horse’s body. We call the inside leg the “bending aid.”

On  a curve, the rider applies inside leg aid pressure  slightly behind the girth. The horse,  through his training and instinct, moves away  from the pressure of the aid. This “curves” the  barrel by compressing the muscles on that  side as the spine curves in the direction of the  turn, giving what we call “bend.” When the rein  aids are applied, the horse gives to the rein  pressure and flexes his head inward. His neck  slightly bends, and the shoulder slightly moves  to the outside. This curves the spine from the  poll to the withers. Now you can see why they  are called the bending aids!

The outside leg and rein aids are also  important to support the bend. In order for the  bend to be balanced, the horse moves his  body toward the outside aids. There has to be  a slight pressure with the outside leg, slightly  further back from the girth than the inside leg. This supports the horse so his hips do not  swing outward, but rather stay slightly in. This  keeps his spine curved on the bend through the  hip to the top of the tail.

The outside rein is  against the neck. It has three functions””to  support the head so it does not flex too far  inward, to help keep the neck from bending too  much, and to make sure the shoulder does not  go out.

Now we will look more closely at the turning  aids and how they control the horse’s body. Instinctively, most riders (including me) want to  turn the horse with the inside rein. Many riders  do just that and pull their horse’s head toward  the direction they want to turn. If a horse is  turned only with the inside rein, however, it  puts all of his weight onto the inside front leg. His hips will swing out and away from the  direction of the turn. This method of turning  only leads to getting poor responses from the  horse. Typically, a horse that is turned this way  will begin pulling back against the inside rein,  resisting by putting his head up, and not turning  or turning too sharply to the inside, or turning  with an excessive amount of bend in his  neck.

None of these scenarios represents a  horse in balance. To turn correctly, you must  get the horse bending correctly first. The turning aids always start with the leg  because it controls more of the horse. Pressure from the outside leg aid is applied  behind the girth. This causes the horse to  move away from the pressure to turn. The outside  rein is used against the neck (called  “neck” or “indirect” rein) and acts as the horse moves away from the pressure of the rein. Apply this rein aid by “turning the key” with the  outside rein (neck/indirect) so it touches the  entire neck. Avoid crossing the rein over the  neck when applying this aid.

Use a pulsating  pressure with the hand that is turning the key  according to the gait that you are in. As you begin a turn, the turn must be  supported with the bending aids: the inside leg  gives a light supporting pressure right behind  the girth, and the inside rein supports so that  the horse’s head and neck stay flexed slightly  inward. As you look at the horse’s head on the  side you will be turning, you just want to see  his eye. The inside rein stays open to keep the  head and neck flexed. If you are using your aids correctly, the  inside rein should be the lightest and least  prominent aid given while turning. However, if  you turn with the inside rein, you will feel the  horse heavy and resistant.

For more  information on this and other Palm Partnership  Trainingâ„¢ products, or information on clinics,  go to

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 7.]


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