Execute the Pivot

Teaching your horse to pivot takes time and patience.

Teaching your horse to pivot takes time and patience.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

The pivot is an important part of a horsemanship pattern.
The pivot is an important part of a horsemanship pattern.

Western horsemanship is one of the most popular events in AQHA youth and amateur competition. It consists of rail work and a pattern full of challenging maneuvers that riders must perform precisely — almost perfectly. Horsemanship is defined by detail. Virtually every horsemanship pattern calls for one or more pivots. AQHA Professional Horsewoman Bonnie Minor of Dennison, Minnesota, gets down to the basics for perfecting your pivots.

“A pivot is a forward-motion maneuver where the horse plants one leg and walks around that leg,” she explains. “If you’re doing a pivot to the right, your horse would plant its right hind leg and walk its left leg around. Its shoulders should move around, and its left hindquarter walks around its right quarter, and vice versa. If we’re going to the left, the left foot stays planted and the right foot walks around it so the shoulders have to do a big sweeping circle.”

Beginning Horseman: How do I cue my horse to pivot to the right or left?

Minor: When you cue your horse for a pivot to the left, move your hand slightly to the left — just enough to tell the horse that there is going to be a movement to the left. Move your right calf in, with a slight touch of your heel or spur. Move your right foot forward a hair so the horse knows that you want his shoulder to move left — not his whole body, because then you would get a sidepass instead.

Beginning Horseman: What if the horse starts moving his hip instead? Is that why you put your leg a little forward, to let him know to move the shoulder?

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Minor: There are many ways you can work on a horse so you teach it to keep that foot planted. If you feel your horse starting to move its pivot foot, or if he’s backing up, slightly put both calves in so your horse moves forward. If he’s going forward, you need to pull back slightly with your reins just so he knows that foot shouldn’t have moved forward. You need to stop that foot.

Beginning Horseman: How do I fix a mistake on my horse?

Minor: When you ask your horse for a pivot, and something’s wrong, look at which part of his body is going the wrong direction or which door he is trying to go out of that he shouldn’t. Add some leg so you know how to stop him from going out the door that he’s not supposed to be going out of. You have to pick things apart to figure out what the problem is. It’s like a puzzle; you have to put all of the pieces together to correct the maneuver.

Beginning Horseman: Where should my heel be when I cue my horse for a pivot?

Minor: Keep your heels down. You shouldn’t lift your heel way up to touch your horse. If you can’t get it done, wear some spurs with a longer shank so you can reach without moving your heel way out.

Beginning Horseman: After I pivot in my pattern, should I immediately walk forward?

Minor: When a pivot is called for during competition, pivot, then move on right away. Don’t stop the forward motion if the maneuver wasn’t called for. Just make sure you don’t punch your horse into the next maneuver — that can make him very jittery and very anxious about doing patterns.

Beginning Horseman: Should I practice my pattern a lot before I go in the ring?

Minor: Always mix up how you practice patterns. Some horses need to practice the specific pattern that you will perform at the show. Some horses only have to do the pattern twice before they start anticipating moves. Practice parts of the pattern, but probably not in order, over and over. It all depends on the personality of your horse. If you don’t practice, walking in the ring cold is asking for a disaster.

Beginning Horseman: What do I do when my horse’s head is pointed left, but I’m turning right?

Your horse has a killer pivot, and you’re ready to go show it off to the world. Make sure you have a safe place to hang his feed while he’s at his home away from home. Check out our FREE Tie It Right report to ensure that your horse’s haynet is tied properly in his stall.

Minor: Bump your right rein across your horse’s right shoulder blade. This teaches your horse to move away from the rein sooner.


It is a slow procedure to build maneuvers in your horse that are correct. Minor says that everything takes time.”You just have to wait and teach them to learn instead of intimidate them,” she says.

Correct horsemanship pivots can help ensure your pattern is a winner. Take the time to develop the cues with your horse, and you’ll be winning in no time.

Want to learn more about horsemanship and other classes offered at AQHA shows? Check out our “AQHA Class Descriptions” DVD to help you decide what event is right for you and your horse. You might also want to check out the “Show Me” DVD, which is specifically geared toward people unfamiliar with showing. You’ll learn things like what to expect at a show and how to get involved in showing. Both DVDs are great resources that you should be sure to have in your DVD library!

7 thoughts on “Execute the Pivot”

  1. I would like to know how to teach the pivot for showmanship as well since I’m having trouble getting my horse to do it correctly.

  2. I need to teach side-pass and a pivot. Which should I do first- and should I start on the ground next to her or in saddle? thanks !!

  3. My horse yeilds very well in both directions with her hips and shoulders. However when I ask for the pivot her back feet keep taking baby stps. Essentialy shes “half pivoting” just, instead of planting one foot shes making a very tiny circle using both back feet (almost a shuffle). How can I get her to plant one foot?

  4. Kelly,
    When we teach turns, I first work a horse on squares.
    Walk squares using outside aids, keep shoulder and neck straight, move RIBCAGE over then forward.
    I have found horses that won’t turn on the correct hind leg is because of not moving the rib cage over.
    Also, stop horse, move a few steps side ways, then turn a quarter turn and go forward.
    Work squares at walk, jog and lope, get horse correctly on aids and off leg and rein to turn corner of square.
    Stop, try quarter turn if horse leans, sideways a few steps then trun, move rib cage.
    Let me know, hope it helps!

    Carla Wennberg, AQHA Professional Horseman

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