Home Horsemanship Basics Backing a Circle as Turnaround Preparation

Backing a Circle as Turnaround Preparation

With Richard Caldwell

There are many ways to prepare your horse for the maneuver known as the turnaround. In the last few issues we have already talked about some of them, and here is another exercise to help your horse with that maneuver. This exercise works as both a preparation and a correction. If you already have a horse that is turning around, but sometimes falls out of the turn in his hindquarters, this helps him get his weight back where it should be.

When I ask my horse to turn on a cow or in a turnaround, I want him to reach with his front quarters, and to know how to get his body out of the way so that he can come through himself easily. I want him to learn to reach his front quarters without moving his hindquarters around to do it.

When I’m working on this, I will back circles, or serpentines, depending on what the horse that I’m riding needs. I’ll start by walking a circle. Then when I’m ready I will stop, and drive my pelvis forward, and take my horse’s head to the outside of the circle I was just on. Then I start backing him. I will use my leg to encourage his front end to reach out and back, but what I am feeling for is that when I pick up my rein and direct his foot out and back, he follows that.

The most common mistake that people make when working at this is to go too fast. I don’t try to make this fast; I just try to have it be correct. Don’t feel like you have to back an entire circle. Get a few good steps and then change directions. If your horse gets stuck, just keep bumping with your rein, don’t hang. Feel for the reaching effect of the front leg, instead of the hind feet stepping. You should feel like he’s getting his weight farther back on his hocks, loading his hindquarters and engaging them rather than disengaging them.

Start with little baby steps, and once you start to feel him reaching really correctly, you can just use your outside leg and bring him around in a turn. Don’t go fast; get the movement correct and then you can speed it up. Keep feeling for that connection of that front leg to your rein, and work on being able to have that be the first step he takes when you lift that rein.

Reaching Left Front

Photo 1

Photo 1

1. I was walking a circle to the right. I've stopped and taken my horse's head to the outside of the circle, and started his left front reaching back with my left rein.

Photo 2

Photo 2

2.My left rein brings his left front leg out and back, just where I'd want him to reach in a turnaround.

Photo 3

Photo 3

3. If he got hung up, I could just bump a little with my left rein and keep that foot coming out and back.

Reaching Right Front

Photo 1

Photo 1

1.From a circle to the left, I'll stop and then back in those same tracks, first taking my horse's head to the right, and then asking the right front to reach.

Photo 2

Photo 2

2. My weight is up off of his right shoulder so he can have the ability to move that leg without me in the way.

Photo 3

Photo 3

3. Here you can really see how far out and back he's reached. This is great preparation for the turnaround.

Photo 4

Photo 4

4. Once you have your preparation, then you can ask for a turnaround. If it falls apart, go back to your backing and prepare again; correctness first, then speed.

This Article Originally Appeared in Eclectic Horseman Issue No.

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Richard Caldwell
Richard Caldwell believed there was a need to preserve and bring back the true Vaquero methods of horsemanship and horse training. He and his wife Nancy lived in Alturas, California and traveled the country conducting clinics. He enjoyed showing his horses and had an impressive record at National Reined Cow Horse events, The Snaffle Bit Futurity, The Californios Ranch Roping and Stock Horse Contest and other big loop roping events.