Lateral work is essential in developing suppleness, balance and collection in your horse, and includes shoulder-in, travers, half pass and renvers. A correct shoulder-in, creates a horse with a lowered hind quarter and raised forehand. In the beginning, use shoulder-in to build a strong supple horse, and later use it to correct problems with more advanced movements. Incorrectly ridden, it only creates a crooked, blocked horse with weight in the forehand.
The movement shoulder-in is described in the book ‘A General System of Horsemanship’ by William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle published in 1600’s, and was seen as an exercise to supple horses. The following century François de la Guérinière’s work lead him to a full understanding of the benefits of shoulder-in, he also developed it’s use on a straight line.
A shoulder-in is created by moving the horses shoulders off the line of travel, and the horse continues in a sideways movement with his hind legs on the original line of travel and his body evenly bent round the rider’s inside leg.
I prefer to start teaching shoulder-in by using quarters out on the circle. Other trainers favour the use of leg yield or turn on the forehand, which are perfectly acceptable methods, but I find that these exercises can put weight back onto the horse’s shoulder, whereas quarters out on the circle keeps the forward movement, prevents weight dropping into the shoulders, mobilises the quarters and maintains better balance.
Quarters out on the circle can be started as soon as the horse has reasonably good balance on the circle. It is ridden by using the inside leg to send the quarters slightly out of the circle. This aid is supported by the outside rein and a slight turning of the rider’s body to the inside of the circle with a balanced seat.
In shoulder-in it is important that the horse is bent throughout his body, the degree of angle will depend on the horse’s level of training and conformation. The exercise should be ridden slowly, and in walk the steps should not be too wide or the horse’s back will become hollow, and you should feel the horse’s weight remains on the inside hind, not the outside shoulder.
The rider should sit well balanced in the center of the saddle, it is very easy to allow your body to tip to the inside which will unbalance the horse. Move the horse’s shoulders over by a slight movement of the hands to the inside, don’t pull the inside rein as this will block the horse. Use light touches with the inside leg step the inside hind leg across and half halts to help the horse stay on line. Once the horse understands the movement, the rider should stay quiet in the saddle, moving with the horse, and be attentive to the steps ready to make a correction if needed.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer