I am getting ready to show in the 4th Level championship classes at NCDCTA Labor of Love in Raleigh, NC. I have shown 4-1 plenty of times, but this will be the first time to show 4-2, so there is self-pressure to be able to show that I do belong in the ring with the other competitors!
It is time to really pick apart the movements and fix the ones where I habitually get low scores. My walk pirouettes for one! It seems that every single test I have a pivot in at least one of them and sometimes both. In addition, I have been faulted for “no bend” or “not maintaining bend” and “too large". I know that it is preferably to be “too large” over pivot steps, so I focus on getting rid of the pivot steps.
I typically ride lots of square turns in my warm-up and those I can execute perfectly, which makes me wonder why when I have to do a full 180 degree turn, I get so messed up. I mean it is just two 90 degree turns. To execute the walk pirouette, I think of ½ pass in place, using my outside leg and outside rein, sitting back, looking at where I want to go, and maintaining a marching walk step. Which works some of the time when I am not riding a test and almost none of the time when I am riding a test!
To keep my horse from pivoting, I have used an active outside leg and sometimes added whip, which I believe has worked for me in the past. However, today, my instructor asked me to keep my inside leg active. My usual pivot turned into an actual walk pirouette. My instructor commented that my active inside leg kept my horse from pivoting on his inside hind leg.
And I was immediately struck with the realization, that for some unknown reason, I had been visualizing my horse’s outside hind leg as being the pivoting one, which is why I was banging him with my outside leg. As my daughter would say, “don’t judge!” Now, when I actually THINK about it, I know that, if my horse is doing a walk pirouette to the right, that his left hind leg has to cross underneath his body and his inside hind leg should be basically stepping in place, which means that it is physically impossible for the left hind leg to pivot and turn in place. Therefore, I have no idea why I was visualizing the outside hind leg as being the problem leg that needed reinforcing.
Now that was all straightened out in my feeble rider brain, it was time to move on using the correct aids with the correct timing to execute a walk pirouette in both directions. It is incredibly difficult for me to accomplish this movement; I seem to get a different variation of WRONG every time I do it. And if I get it RIGHT in one direction and try the same aids with the same timing in the next direction, it is inevitably WRONG.
So here is what I learned. Make sure that your horse is in collected walk straight and in front of your leg. Your pirouette won’t work if the haunches are trailing right or left or if the horse is cranked in through the neck. For me, I try to ride my pirouette the way I ride a square turn. Be definite with my aids. Sit back. Both legs active as needed. Inside leg at the girth and outside leg back to push the haunches over. Position or flex with my inside rein, but soften it to allow the turn and close or hold the outside rein. Use both legs alternating on and off in the walk rhythm that you had into the movement. It is difficult to keep an inside leg active and soft to receive at the same time when the horse is turning into the inside, but that is critical in so many movements, so you might as well get good at it!