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Working In Hand, by Lynn Palm




When you teach your horse certain maneuvers  on the ground, he will already be familiar  with them when you are in the saddle. To teach  these maneuvers, outfit your horse with leg  protection and a properly fitting halter with a  longe line attached to the lower side ring of the  halter on the side where you are standing.

Turn on the Forehand

In a turn on the forehand, the horse’s front  legs remain more or less on the same spot, while  his hind legs make a turn around the forehand.  When the turn is completed, the horse is facing in  the opposite direction.  To properly cue your horse for the turn on the  forehand, your hand must be in the same position  where you would give the cue with your leg when  in the saddle. This “target area” is located on the  lower half of the horse’s barrel, approximately 10  inches behind his heart girth. This is the area  where your lower leg contacts his lower barrel  when your foot is in the stirrup. Be consistent  where you apply this cue and use a cupped hand  with pulsating pressure, rather than poking with  your knuckles or fingers.

First, get your horse into position by asking  him to stand square. It may help to stand  between your horse and a fence line to help him  stay straight. Position yourself close to his left  side, with the excess longe line neatly coiled in  your right hand. Gently stroke him with your right  hand on his topline, gradually working down to  the target area. Avoid the temptation to immediately  go to the target area and give the cue. An  abrupt cue may cause him to swing his hips away  from you; or, if he does  not understand what  you are asking him to  do, he may lean into  you.  At the same time  you are giving the cue,  extend your left hand to  lightly grasp the chin  piece of the halter.  Slightly move the  horse’s head to the left  (toward you), which  positions him to move  his hindquarters to the  right as you use a pulsating pressure on the  target area.  If you need more response, give a “cluck” to  reinforce your request. Stay relaxed and move  with your horse as he moves his hindquarters.  Keep your left hand extended to maintain his  head in the proper position and do not bend his  neck too far towards you.  Do not hold the halter tightly or steer the  horse’s head from the halter.

Remember, this  maneuver is done by asking the horse to move  his hindquarters by moving off your right hand on  the target area, not by cranking his head around!  For the first lessons, only ask him to pivot a  few steps, then stop and praise him. Build up so  that he can perform the maneuver to 90 degrees  and then to a full 180 degrees or more. Teach the  forehand turn from both sides of your horse.

Turn on the Haunches

In this maneuver, the horse bends in the  direction of the turn and his forehand moves  around his hindquarters. His forefeet and his  outside hind foot move around his inside hind  foot, which is picked up and put down slightly in  front of the spot where it left the ground.

When  a turn on the haunches to the right is correctly  executed, the horse’s left foreleg crosses in front  of his right as he pivots around in a small circle  with his hind legs, and vice versa for a turn on  the haunches to the left. This maneuver, like the  forehand turn, teaches the horse to move away  from pressure and is the basis of lateral work.   Before teaching this lesson, be sure your  horse will consistently walk forward and halt on  your command.

We will start with a turn on the haunches to  the right. Position yourself between a wall or a  fence and the horse’s left side. The wall or fence  will help keep his body straight as you start the  turn, and block him from moving backward when  you execute the turn.  Walk your horse forward along the fence, and  ask him to stop, standing straight and square.  Stand close to the horse facing his left side  between his shoulder and neck. Hold the excess  longe line neatly coiled in your right hand. Place  this hand on the point of his left shoulder, which  is where you will give the cue for this command.  If your horse is sensitive to this touch, you may  need to gently stroke him from his withers down  to his shoulder to get him accustomed to the  contact.  With your left hand, lightly grasp the halter’s  side ring at the horse’s jaw, with just enough  contact to guide the head.  It is absolutely important to keep the horse’s  head and neck in straight alignment with his body  and hindquarters. His head must not bend left  while he is traveling to the right. He must stay  forward and stepping sideways as he executes  this maneuver. Use your eyes to read his body  language and be ready to react with your hands  and voice if he tries to evade the maneuver by  walking out of it or backing up instead of moving  sideways.

Once you are in position, give the horse the  cue for the turn on the haunches by using a light  pulsating pressure with your right hand on his  shoulder as your left hand gently guides his head  slightly to the right. At the same time give a  “cluck” to encourage him to move away from you  as you step towards him.  The cue and your position at his shoulder will  reinforce his reaction to move his forehand away  from pressure. Maintain the cue as you step with  him, guiding his forehand along a 180-degree  arc. Continue moving with him to avoid pulling  on his head and reinforce his response to move  away. Make sure his left fore leg is crossing in  front of his right fore leg and that his hind feet  are pivoting.

Do this maneuver slowly”¦ this is not an inhand  reining spin! Start with just a few steps to  get the feel of the maneuver and ask him to  “whoa.” Rub the point of the shoulder where you  cued him and praise him. Ask for a few more  steps. When you are able to complete a 180-  degree turn, stop giving the cues, and finish the  lesson by walking forward out of the maneuver  rather than stopping. Switch the end of the longe  line coil back to your left hand to resume a leading  position. This will reinforce to your horse that  is a forward maneuver.

The most common problem is the horse  moving backward or forward instead of sideways.  If this happens, evaluate your position first. Make  sure you are keeping the horse’s body straight  during this maneuver.  If your horse steps backward rather than  sideways when you cue him to move away from you, stop, walk out of the turn, and try again. If  he does not immediately move his forehand  when you give the cue again, “cluck” with more  authority. Keep your hand on the halter and try  a pulsating pressure to encourage him to move  forward and sideways. If he still balks, he is  telling you he does not understand. Go back and  re-teach the basic ground commands until he  can walk forward on cue.  If the horse walks forward rather than sideways  or moves his head to the left, use a pulsating  pressure with your left hand on the halter  and say, “easy” or “slow down.” This reinforces  the “move away from me” cue and redirects his  movement to the right.

Change the lead and do the maneuver from  the opposite side. Be sure to switch the longe  line over his nose to the opposite side.

For more step-by-step instruction on these  important lessons, check out my Longevity  Training book and the section of my Longevity  Training Visual Series, titled “Working in Hand.”  They are available at along  with other fine training products and information  about our courses.

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 1.]

Lynn Palm is a well-respected trainer and coach. Tell us if you applied the techniques above and how your horse responded!

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