Monday, December 8, 2014

Dressage Milestone: Turn on the Haunches

I had one of my bimonthly lessons yesterday.  You may remember that during my last lesson, Nimo and I had some communication issues with him giving me a lot of canter when I thought I was asking for more trot. I attributed the miscommunication to my new saddle, but thought that it was most likely not due to poor saddle fit. Rather I thought it was due to the difference between riding in my endurance saddle and a dressage saddle. Based on this week's lesson, I think I was right. Nimo only gave me canter twice when I asked for more trot and otherwise performed his trot lengthenings as asked.

One of the main things we worked on was the turn on the haunches. For those of you not familiar with dressage, a turn on the haunches involves the horse maintaining a regular walking rhythm while slightly bending through his body and walking his front legs around while the hind legs move in a very small arc. It is first introduced at 2nd Level, Test 2 as a half-turn, although it can be done as a quarter turn or a full turn as well. It is the precursor to the walk pirouette, which is essentially the same movement, but performed in a more collected frame. The walk pirouette is a pre-requisite to the canter pirouette.

It is my belief that the canter pirouette will be the most challenging movement for Nimo to learn. I already know that he can perform the levade, which is not a competition movement, but is considered an "air above the ground." The levade involves the horse going into a controlled rear with maybe a 30 degree angle. Nimo performed a levade when he was 4 and we were riding around the farm I was boarding him at. One of the fields had a herd of maybe a dozen polo ponies and they came running when they saw us riding by. The levade requires an incredible amount of collection and it turns out that the inspiration of running horses combined with a rider really insisting that "thou shall not bolt across the road" is the perfect mix for a controlled rear.

I've also seen Nimo do piaffe under saddle at age 7 when a trainer I was working with rode him. The piaffe was actually an evasion to something else, and it wasn't perfect. But it was close enough so that I know Nimo can do it. Also, we've already started work on half-pass and my current instructor believes that Nimo will be able to do flying changes without too much trouble once he gets a little stronger in the canter.

So that just leaves the canter pirouette. I think it will be incredibly difficult for Nimo to maintain bend while cantering around a circle the size of a dinner plate. That said, there's no time like the present to get started on preparing for it. So I asked my instructor if we could work on the turn on the haunches during our lesson. I'd already introduced it to Nimo but noticed that his hindquarters were falling out so I wanted another pair of eyes to help me pinpoint the problem. So we did quite a few quarter turns in each direction and the vast majority were excellent and one was even so good there was nothing for my instructor to tell me to improve. So what was the problem? I was asking Nimo to do half-turns instead of quarter turns and he just wasn't strong enough yet. My homework is to keep working on the quarter turns for the next couple of weeks and then try the half-turns again.

I admit that the turn on the haunches is not a terribly exciting movement, but I find it to be complex in that there are a lot of aids going on. I've got to tell Nimo to keep walking in the same tempo, but shorten his steps, bend his body and do what is basically a tiny circle while in haunches in. I'm not the most coordinated person, so the fact that I was able to communicate well with Nimo during this movement made me pretty happy. And I'm excited that we're so close to mastering the movement! Oh, and we did it in a hackamore, not a bit:)

6 comments:

  1. I'm obsessed with this movement, and I work on it every ride. It started when I saw Buck Brannaman do this lovely movement - from the walk, he did a turn on the haunches 180 degrees in one direction, and then immediately a turn on the forehand 180 degrees in the opposite direction, so the horse ends up facing the same way as at the start, and then continue forward at a walk, never losing rhythm. That's my goal. Currently I'm at a quarter turn.

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    1. That sounds like a really cool way to use the turn on the haunches - now I kind of want to work on it too!:)

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  2. That sounds like so much fun! It's so great to have our instructors to help us pinpoint what we need to do different. Breaking it down to a quarter turn makes sense. Baby steps! It sounds like Nimo is going to ace it once he has the strength. :D So fun!

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    1. Yeah, I don't know why it never occurred to me to do just quarter turns:)

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  3. I continue to have some serious dressage trainer envy! ;) It is SO COOL that you have access to such a good trainer, and that you are able to make all of this progress with Nimo! Thank you for sharing what you learn in your lessons. I can't tell you how many times I've been inspired by them. Now I'm even more excited to get back on Lily! :)

    I have a feeling you two will be nailing the canter pirouette before you know it!

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    1. I'm so thankful that I found her - she's just so wonderful to work with. And when Nimo does a canter pirouette, I'm going to have to plan some sort of party!:)

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