Training Tip Tuesday: Walk Pirouettes and Turn on the Haunches


"The Bills" USEF dressage judges Bill Warren and Bill McMullin

If you have ever wondered why you received a certain score on your walk pirouettes or turns on the haunches, we hope to clarify for you and break down the many components that go into coming up with that score. And with winter fast approaching, this could be a good time to work on perfecting these movements for next season, or brush up now for the upcoming Florida show season.

Let’s start with the definition of a PIROUETTE as described in the USEF Rule Book…..The pirouette (half pirouette) is a circle (half circle) executed on two tracks with a radius equal to the length of the horse, the forehand moving round the haunches. The forefeet and the outside hind foot move round the inside hind foot which forms the pivot and should return to the same spot, or slightly in front of it, each time it leaves the ground.

The horse should be slightly bent in the direction in which he is turning and remain on the bit with light contact, turn smoothly and maintain the four beat rhythm of the walk. The poll stays the highest point. The HALF WALK PIROUETTE is performed from the collected walk beginning in Fourth Level. By comparison, the requirements for the TURN ON THE HAUNCHES are the same EXCEPT that it can be executed on a larger diameter (approximately one meter) than the pirouette.

The HALF TURN ON THE HAUNCHES is performed out of medium walk prepared by half-halts to shorten the steps a little just prior to the turn in Second and Third Level tests. If a TURN ON THE HAUCHES is ridden smaller, like a regular sized half pirouette, and it is done well, then full credit can be given. In thinking about riding these movements, as with any movements (!), we need to always keep the TRAINING SCALE in mind. In judging any movement, we are first and foremost concerned with the quality of the gait. In this case, of course the regularity of the walk is what we are looking for.

A clear four beat rhythm must be maintained before, during and after the turns. We then not only have to look for activity within this rhythm to be maintained, we are also then looking at engagement, or the ability to bend the joints of the hindquarters, e.g. taking weight behind. Additionally we need to make sure the flexion and the bend is maintained in the direction of the turn from beginning to end.

In a half pirouette, the horse should end up on nearly the same line it started on while the turn on the haunches, can end up one meter away from the line it started on. In this case, the horse should Be asked to gradually go back to the line it was on without going sideways. At the top of the TRAINING SCALE is COLLECTION….these movements are paramount in developing better collection as we move up the levels.

TROUBLE SHOOTING……. A number of components of these turns can go wrong….beginning with the quality of the walk. If the walk loses it’s clear 4 beat rhythm, i.e. that is takes on a lateral tendency or becomes lateral (nearly or clearly pacing or 2 beat), it is difficult even if other elements are correct, to give a high score for the turn. Losing the flexion and/or the bend will also bring the score down and of course having the wrong flexion and/or bend is a serious fault in these movements.

Stepping out even one step with the outside hind leg is also a fault as is crossing of the hind legs during the turn. The bottom line is that these are very difficult movements to ride correctly but they are so important in the training of the horse and crucial movements in many tests. In most of these cases, it would be likely that the score would be below 6.0, and often substantially below, especially if there is any combination of these faults present.

Keep in mind the ramifications of having low scores in these movements…. It not only affects the PIROUETTE (or TOH) box, but it can (and in most cases should) ‘trickle down’ to affect your collective marks at the end of the test, including but not limited to: IMPULSION (engagement….collection), SUBMISSION (maintaining flexion/bend and overall obedience to the aids) and of course RIDER scores (effect of the aids). Of course, when they are done well, it should have a positive effect on all of those scores!

At Second and Third Level the TURNS ON THE HAUNCHES often counted as a coefficient of 2X, as are the HALF WALK PIROUETTES at Fourth Level. At Prix St. Georges, the last time they are asked for, they are counted as a coefficient of 1X. The attention to these details lays the foundation for correct canter pirouettes (and working pirouettes) and that will be our subject for next month’s article!

See you on the Centerline!




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