Test your and your horse’s coordination as well as boosting suppleness and engagement by riding walk pirouettes with dressage coach and rider Wade Barley.

Walk pirouettes are an advanced lateral movement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not for you and your horse to try. There are many benefits to riding this movement, even if you don’t intend to move up through the levels of dressage. Teaching and riding walk pirouettes will help to improve your horse’s suppleness and engagement. It also helps your horse understand collection, is good for controlling the position of the shoulders and gives you greater control over their body.

As with any new exercise, take your time and don’t expect your horse to understand what you’re asking them to do first time. Repetition is key: ask for just a few steps initially and build up from there.

What is a walk pirouette?

A walk pirouette is a movement in which your horse moves their forehand around their hindquarters, usually through 180° until they’re facing in the opposite direction.

This movement takes co-ordination from the rider; once you and your horse are confident riding shoulder-in and travers, as well as being able to collect the walk, then you can start riding walk pirouettes.

This is a required movement from medium-level dressage.

What it looks like

In this movement the front feet and the outside hind move around the inside hind. The inside hind leg moves on as small a circle as possible – about the size of a small dinner plate. It will take time to develop, so start off riding the pirouette a little larger and as your training progresses you can reduce the size.

Your horse’s hind feet should be lifted clear of the ground on every step – not losing activity or becoming stuck.

The walk should remain in the correct four-beat sequence (outside hind, outside fore, inside hind, inside fore) and in a consistent rhythm. Your horse’s forehand will need to move more quickly than their hindlegs to make the turn. There should be a subtle bend around your inside leg.

How to ride a walk pirouette

  1. Collect the walk a few steps before you want to make your turn and position your horse in shoulder-in. This gives you the correct bend and positions the shoulders to the inside, ready for the pirouette.
  2. Turn your shoulders in the direction you are turning. Put a little more weight into your inside seat bone and stirrup.
  3. Your inside leg maintains the bend to the inside and ensures your horse keeps moving forwards.
  4. You can help your horse to get the idea of what you’re asking by moving your hands towards the direction of the turn, bringing the outside rein against their neck to turn the shoulder, and opening the inside rein away from the neck to guide them round.
  5. Use your outside rein to control the amount of bend in the neck and to maintain the collected walk.
  6. Your outside leg is used a little behind the girth to control the hindquarters and stop them from swinging out.
  7. Once you have completed your turn, straighten your horse and ride forwards.

Top tip: Teach your horse the basics of a pirouette by riding a square. Ask your horse to make a quarter turn with their shoulders to form each corner of your square.

Meet the trainer: Wade Barley is a UKCC Level 2 dressage coach, British Dressage Youth Coach and assessor, and BHS accredited Professional Coach. He has ridden to Prix St Georges level and competed at three national championships. Wade is based in Stamford and runs a training and livery yard. 

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