Steering a horse feels infinitely mysterious when you first start to learn to ride, but one day it just clicks, and you will forget all about how frustrating it all was at first. So don’t worry if it seems like there is a lot to think about: there is but you’ll nail it with practice and eventually you’ll find you just turn your horse without even thinking about it.
However, it’s important to get into good habits while you’re starting out because bad ones are horribly difficult to break.
When learning how to steer, one of your most important aides is your seat, which is determined by your seat bones, and your posture and position in the saddle. It takes core strength to develop your seat, and you should end up with some impressive muscles in new places if you’re doing it right!
To turn the horse correctly, you begin from a balanced position in the saddle centred around your seat bones, with your weight evenly placed on both your feet, and contact established through the bit. You will then use a combination of your seat, your legs and a little bit of your hands to aski him to turn.
The first thing to do is to turn your head to look towards where you want to go (it’s a good rule to always keep your chin up and look ahead to where you are going) and fix your eyes on that point, whether it’s a tree or a marker in an arena. This is already a movement your horse can feel because it shifts your weight, and your shoulders will turn slightly. You then increase this slight shift by rotating your hips towards the direction you’re headed in, while holding your position.
Gently squeeze your outside leg just behind the girth and apply a small amount of pressure from your inside leg just on the girth (your ‘outside’ leg is the one on the outside of the turn you’re about to do, and the ‘inside’ leg is the leg he is turning around. This also applies to your reins, so when turning left ,your inside rein is the left one and your outside rein is the one on the right).
By now your horse will be quite clear about what is intended, but whether he obliges is, of course, up to him. You may also need to pull back gently on the inside rein to slightly turn his head in the right direction. Don’t yank his mouth, or make this move without first employing your seat and your legs. Once he has turned, you need to make sure that you straighten him up properly out of the turn, sitting back squarely in the centre of the saddle, looking straight ahead, and walking him forward exerting firm, even pressure with your legs.
One caveat: do remember that some horses are more willing than others, which means one horse will indulge even amateurish attempts at commands as if you were Charlotte Dujardin, while others will pretend not to understand what you’re asking, even when you’re getting it right. Whenever possible, it really helps to learn on the same horse so you can get a consistent idea of how you’re improving.