Until recently, the turn on the haunches (TOH) and walk pirouette were not well defined by the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) or Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) rule books. These two movements are both done at the walk, and the horse is asked to move his forehand in an arc around his hindquarters.
While the walk pirouette should be done more or less on the spot with the inside hind leg stepping up and down pretty much in place as the shoulders are turned, the TOH can be larger: The hind legs can describe an arc of up to one meter (3 feet, 3 inches). It has been very helpful to judges as well as riders and trainers to know the exact size that can be allowed in the TOH, but many riders make it too small and therefore fail.
The half-TOH (180 degrees) first appears in Second Level, Test 2, and it’s done from a medium walk. But the walk has to be shortened and activated in order to make the turn. Think of how difficult it is to turn a horse sharply if he is in a long, ground-covering walk. So in preparation for a TOH, the rider needs to shorten the horse’s base of support. It’s similar to the difference between turning a one-ton dually pulling a four-horse gooseneck and a sports car!
Walk pirouettes are done from a collected walk. You’ll find the first half walk pirouette in Fourth Level. There should be a position, or slight bend, in the direction of the turn, and the inside hind must step up and down more or less on the spot with the shoulders turning smoothly around the hind legs.
This movement used to be in the Grand Prix test but it was removed several test cycles ago, which is a shame in my opinion. If judges could see how well the walk pirouettes were executed, I think they could tell how well the piaffe was going to be performed. An active hind leg and quick response to the rider’s aids in the pirouette usually bode well for piaffe.
Remember that these two movements are non-brilliance movements. This means that the quality of the gait is not taken into consideration, just the rhythm. So, any horse with correct training can receive a 10 on these movements! This is a great place to pick up points, so don’t neglect your schooling. (To read more about how you don't need a fancy horse in order to score well on walk pirouettes, click here.)
How to Judge the Turn on the Haunches and Walk Pirouette
First, let me be clear: A correct TOH, covering one meter, can receive a 10. Many riders and trainers think that in order to receive an excellent score the rider must perform a pirouette in place of the TOH. This is not the case, and as judges we must remember this. However, if the rider demonstrates a correct pirouette instead of a TOH, it can also receive a 10. You cannot penalize an overachiever.
• Be sure to watch that the rider has the horse correctly positioned—slightly bent in the direction of the turn.
• The walk pirouette should be more or less on the spot with the inside hind leg stepping up and down in place. The inside hind leg should never go to the outside, but you may see a small step to the inside in the direction of the turn.
• In the TOH, the inside hind leg steps a bit forward under the body and a little sideways in the direction of the turn.
• I do not have a problem with a judge addressing a comment to the rider in this movement if the judge feels the rider is not preparing the horse correctly, is counter-bending the horse in this movement or is sitting against the direction of the turn. Remember that if you see rider issues, you should also address them in the rider score that talks about “correct and effective use of the aids.”
I find it very helpful for a judge to have a scale for the mechanics of either of the movements and then be able to add the modifiers quickly on top of this score. Here is the scale I use for TOH and pirouettes. (Modifiers are bend, ease of the turning of the shoulders, contact, line of travel, etc.)
• 7 to 10: Correct size, active
• 6: Large or one step against outside leg or trouble turning shoulders
• 5: Stuck one step
• 4: Stuck several steps
• 3 and below: Backward steps, haunches go in wrong direction, major resistance.
With this system, I can award a score for the mechanics of the movement (Did the horse keep the walk rhythm throughout the turn?) and quickly modify that score with the basics (contact, bend, etc.). This way, the judge treats all horses the same from show to show. Consistency is what makes a good judge. With this system you also have a quick and accurate comment that tells the rider where the basic problem lies with the performance of the movement.
Judges, please read the section on riding, regarding how to finish the movement. Do not tell riders to half pass back to the line.
How to Ride the Turn on the Haunches and Walk Pirouette
If you are performing the TOH along the rail, as it is in a few of the tests, you will find this is a more difficult placement. The correct way to start is to have a little bit of shoulder-fore (slight bend in the direction of the turn) to prepare. Be sure to shorten and activate the walk. You should finish approximately three feet off the rail, which would be slightly inside the quarterline. Be sure you go straight on this line for a step or two to show you have finished the exercise. Then ride a diagonal line back to the rail. Do not half pass back to the rail!
If you are doing the TOH off the rail and between H and M, the line will be a bit easier to ride. You will still finish the same way. Do not do those sideways half-pass steps to finish.
For a walk pirouette, be sure to put the hind legs on the line of travel (between H and M) and ride your shoulder-fore to prepare. Finish in a bit of renvers and then walk forward. At G, move the shoulder in the other direction and begin your preparation. Do the second pirouette and, again, finish in renvers and move forward to finish the turn. If you went from a shoulder-fore to shoulder-fore, it would be more than a half turn. You need to keep the horse’s body parallel to the line or parallel to the rail if you are doing a TOH (see diagram above).
The rider must be sure to sit in the direction of the turn. Many riders are leaning to the outside, trying to keep the haunches from falling out. This only causes the horse to lose balance and step wide, and then the shoulders cannot keep up with the hind legs and there will be a stuck step.
Think of a walking half pass, where the rider should be in the same position as half pass, and the horse should be in the same position as well with maybe not as much bend. Then the rider should be able to turn the horse around the inside hind leg a few steps without changing his position or the position of the horse.
These movements are technically a bit difficult to learn. However, they also will improve your horse’s training and his reaction to your aids if they are performed correctly. Engaging the hind legs and moving the shoulders are importance concepts in dressage. Work on these movements with your trainer and improve your scores. Remember they are worth 20 points in the test.
Janet Foy is an FEI 4* and USEF “S” and Sport Horse “R” breed judge. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation gold medalist. She is a member of the USEF International High Performance Dressage Committee and teaches judges’ training programs nationwide. Author of the book Dressage for the Not-So-Perfect Horse, she is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.