This is a fairly misunderstood topic in my opinion and one that causes a great deal of confusion. Horses make two distinct and proper turns on the hind end. While they may look similar they are actually fairly different at the core.
First off, we’ll talk about the spin, also called a pivot turn when done at the walk. To properly execute a pivot turn, the horse would plant the inside hind leg and cross-over, every single step, with the front end. A horse would make this type of turn in the Western Pleasure ring, Showmanship, and several other events. The problem with this type of turn, for a cowhorse, is that it is initiated through forward momentum.
For those of you who’ve seen or heard me talk about the “purposeful circle” exercise, this circle, when drawn down as tight as it can be, becomes a spin. Making it purposeful is what would help to give the initial spin some momentum, forward momentum. This method is widely viewed as a very sound and basic way to begin training a horse to spin. I use it extensively to help get a horse pulling harder with the front end, but I don’t frequently screw it down into a spin unless the horse will be going into reining. There is a bit more to fixing that pivot leg than this, but I don’t want to get into the spin in too much depth. Suffice it to say that, other than making sale horses look slick, and competing in reining, this is not a very practical turn for anything that I do in the Real World. Never seen a cow run around me that fast, anyway. If you get your cowhorse to work by pivoting around the inside hind, you’re just plain going to lose a lot of cows.
What I’m calling a cowhorse turnaround is the type of turn that I want my horses to make almost all of the time. In this type of turn, the horse will properly begin by leaning back, so as to begin with backward momentum. Then it will place it’s weigh on the outside hind leg, and hold it’s inside shoulder up and off of the cow, keeping it’s center of gravity farther away from the cow, and placing horse and rider in position to leave the turn in the correct lead. The horse may very well also initiate the turn by crossing behind on the front end. The front end stays way back off of the cow, with the hind legs very deep under the horse. The main core difference here is that, unlike the spin, the turnaround is initiated with backward momentum. This is what gives the cowhorse that characteristic “draw”. The inside hind will still be on the ground, and, it may look like this leg is integral to the turn, but in reality it bears very little of the horse’s weight until the turn is through and it takes the next step.
Let’s now think about a horse leaving the Turnaround. If a horse were to turn left and leave the turnaround straight into the lope, it would properly depart on the left lead. The left lead begins with the right hind, which would have been the outside or weight bearing leg in the turn. This is why turning around this way is so practical. A horse leaving a spin into a lope will frequently have to jump their hip over to do so or would have to leave in an arc rather than a straight line. Turning on the outside hind allows the turn to be executed without moving forward, getting closer to the cow, keeping the horse in a much better position to control the cow. As I know this may all be very difficult to visualize, look for a video on this topic very soon on our Youtube page. If you haven’t yet subscribed to that page, please check it out. We feel it has some good information and tastes a bit like peppermint!