Tag Archives: outside rein

Turning & circles problems: collapsing vs rotating

By Wiola Grabowska

Collapsing vs rotating issue
Spot the difference….

‘Creative’ use of upper body is one of the most common issues I see in riders during turns and circles. Collapsing through the waist or hips is the option many riders go for so today’s blog post is a chat about this poorly biomechanics.

If you observe the rider above you can see that on the photo on the left she has lost the horse’s shoulders to the outside of the circle and the horse is crossing her inside hind leg in order to cope with the turn. The mare is mildly jack-knifed and “falling out” with no boundaries  that she could otherwise be given via rider’s outside aids. Both the horse and rider have lost their balance to some extent: they are gently motorbiking too.

The rider’s spine is more of a ‘C’ shape creating a hollow on her inside side, her shoulders lost symmetry and her ribcage is now misaligned with her hips. This posture is very common in riders riding many crooked, stiff horses that are difficult to correct.

The photo on the right shows the same horse and rider later in the lesson. They are now aligned spine to spine, shoulders to shoulders. If the horse was to lose balance, the rider is much more likely to make effective adjustments to help the mare. She has control of the outside and inside of the horse.

If you too have a similar problem, here are something anyone can try: 

  • sit on a gym ball (or a stool) in front of a large mirror so you can see your whole body. Mark your mirror (with a cream or something easy to remove) with 3 dots: one directly in front of your belly button, one a couple of inches to the left of that dot and one a couple of inches to the right of that dot.
  • spread your arms so they form extension of your shoulders – check if they are level
  • take a deep breath out and drop the weight of your upper body comfortably down into your seat (i.e. don’t lift your shoulders or try to stretch upwards). Sit in neutral spine position.
Collapsing to turn = unbalanced turn
  • Slowly rotate your arms, your sternum and your belly button towards the dot on the left, hold it for the count of 10, come back to the middle, slowly rotate to the dot to your right (now please take a moment and leave a comment which way was easier for you if you did try this exercise 😉 )
  • you’ll now have a bit of a picture of your own “crookedness” – if you find it equally easy on both sides, lucky you! However, most riders will be a bit like horses in this respect, they will find easier to turn one way than the other.
  • repeat this exercise until you collect certain feel for holding rotation both ways. Collapse in your waist a few times too to feel the difference.
Rotating to turn = balanced turn

Back in the saddle: 

  • ride arena corners trying to replicate the same feel through your torso as you had in front of the mirror
  • you can also: visualise both sides of your upper body from armpit to the hip bone holding the same length as you turn
  • observe how “fast” your horse turns their shoulders and “wait” for them – many riders try to turn the head and rotates/collapses with it as the shoulders of the horse are not really turning

Correcting your upper body mechanics can transform your use and understanding of outside rein as turning well teaches you to ride “from outside – in” rather than pull on inside rein to turn.

If you found this helpful do give us a shout 🙂

Photo help from my super assistant Christine Dunnington

HOW TO : Do “more” outside rein, ride “straight” on circles and how NOT to lean in the corners – quick, visual imagery and awareness exercise

This imagery and an experiment/exercise described below might be useful for riders who:

– are often told to use “more” outside rein
– struggle with riding corners and cut them often
– have tendency to shorten or laterally overbend the horse through the neck when riding turns and/or circles
– lean forwards and/or lose neutral pelvis position before the turns
– lean to the side and/or collapse in the waist in corners and/or on circles

Let’s start!

Imagine…that from the wither all the way to the poll your horse’s forehand is alike a really long bonnet of a car. You sit in your “driver’s seat” and have a little bit of a car (the very important little bit – the engine) right behind you, in the same way you have your horse’s hindquarters behind you. Got the image? 

imagery turning in balance

Now, let’s turn that beast…

Imagine…as you approach the corner on your horse, just at the quarter marker, that you need to turn the forehand really well from outside-in. You need to “wait” in your “driver’s seat” for the forehand to do its necessary rotation while you keep everything behind you active, short and rhythmic. You can’t just turn one wheel (use one rein), you need to turn both sides well (with your seat and both reins/both shoulders).

At quarter marker, you indicate (i.e. ask for inside flexion at the poll) and continue straight for the next couple of steps. As you start turning you stay in your driver’s seat, you let the forehand do its job, you focus on turning the wheels (shoulders and neck of the horse) not the very bumper (horse’s head).

You stay quiet right bang in the centre of the saddle, right at the centre of the horse, in neutral pelvis position. The equine spinal column only moves in millimetres so you keep your own spine nice and quiet on top of the horse’s spine. You know that the bigger movements you feel come from the horse’s hips so you keep your own hip joints relaxed and supple (or as supple as you can). Like this, you make sure the horse’s spinal muscles don’t have to “catch you” as you wobble from one side of its spine to another but instead, they are focused on effective, forward propulsion.  

Many a time the instruction for “more” outside rein, “more” straight, less leaning etc are addressing the symptoms rather than cause. The cause is often down to the rider trying to sit on the bonnet to make the turn better…or trying to turn one wheel (pulling on the inside rein) or indicate more/faster (i.e. play with the reins, see-saw, squeeze-release many times etc distracting the horse) in order to turn better (straighter, with impulsion, rhythm etc).


Grab a yard broom and astride it like a witch 😉 Make sure the head of the broom and most of its length is in front of you. Now, eye up a square and walk around it taking your turns well. Notice how early you need to prepare your turn so your broom’s head doesn’t hit the wall of the square…notice how you need to direct your hips, upper body/shoulders and head for the turns to be fluid and accurate.

Next time you ride, keep your horse’s shoulders and neck right in front of your belly button and take your turns giving the forehand all the time it needs to turn well. Stay in your driver’s seat, feel the hindlegs of the horse through your seat bones and enjoy the feeling of your horse being “in front of you/in front of your leg”).

Happy experimenting! Let me know if you found it helpful.

All the best,