Shoulder-in is the basis of all lateral work and provides a foundation for a supple, strong and balanced horse. Throughout the exercise the horse should remain calm, any tension will negate the benefits of the exercise and create a tense horse.
For a full description of a correct shoulder-in please see my previous blog “Shoulder-in, correcting problems – loss of impulsion and travelling.”
Problems with the Bend
Horse bends neck only and moves down the side with shoulders and hips still against the wall.
This problem is often due to the rider not asking correctly, usually by pulling the inside rein back to create the angle. This blocks the horse’s inside hind leg and pulls their head inwards resulting in a stiff, twisted horse.
If this is the cause, ensure that you are sitting balanced across your seat bones and not leaning to the inside. Turn your body to the inside, so your shoulders are parallel to the horse’s shoulders and your hips are parallel to your horse’s hips. Then make a small half halt as your horse’s shoulders come off the track and lightly touch with your inside leg to move him to the side. During the movement close your upper body towards your outside elbow so that you go with his movement.
Another possible cause is that your horse may not be properly round your inside leg. To correct this, as with many things, you need to go back a level in the training. Work correctly on circles, establishing the bend round the inside leg. Rebalance your hand aids and use outside rein to the neck, not inside rein back, to direct the shoulders across as pulling the inside rein results in blocking the inside hind leg and will push your horse on to the outside shoulder.
All horses find it easier to bend on one side than the other, and training should correct this, making the horse equally supple on both sides. Shoulder-in should be ridden with the same angle on both sides so, initially, ride less angle on the easier side so you have control of the movement on both sides. As the work develops, the shoulder-in will become easy on both sides and then the angle can be gradually increased.
Riding a spiral is an easier exercise which can help your horse move from your inside leg and supple the inside hind. Begin riding a circle, spiral down to a smaller circle by closing your outside aids, (rein to the neck not backwards), and then move the horse away from your inside leg back out to the large circle. This helps the horse come round your inside leg and begins to teach them to move away from it.
Begin developing shoulder-in by asking a very shallow angle so you are in a shoulder fore position, and then increase the angle as your horse becomes more supple so he has the same angle on both sides.
Excessive neck bend.
Over bending your horse from the inside rein produces a shoulder-in that is out of balance which will negate the suppling benefits.
In this picture, the inside rein has pulled the head inwards and created an excessive neck bend. To remain in the movement the horse’s weight is being taken by the inside fore leg, and the balance is lost. The outside shoulder is pushed out of the movement twisting the horse and disengaging the inside hind.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer