Stephen Clarke: Pull off the perfect shoulder-in


Shoulder-in is the foundation of all lateral work. When ridden correctly, it creates more suppleness, develops engagement and collection from behind.

World-renowned dressage judge Stephen Clarke says: “The basis comes from your horse learning to be reactive off your inside leg and accepting the contact on your outside rein.”

This exercise combines shoulder-in and small circles to help your horse become supple on both reins.

1.    Start in trot on the left rein (most horses are stiffer on the left rein), go large around the arena.

2.    Down the long side, ride just a hint of shoulder-in.

3.    As you position your horse in shoulder-in and he reacts to your inside leg and softens through his body, release your left rein.

4.    Interrupt the shoulder-in and ride a small circle.

5.    As you ride the circle, your outside rein says to your horse that he’s not allowed to bend his neck.

6.    Your left leg is saying he has to give through his ribcage and the reward for that is a lightening and releasing of your left rein contact.

7.    Complete your circle and then ride a little more shoulder-in.

8.    Repeat the exercise again.

Once you’ve ridden the sequence a few times, change the rein across the diagonal. Ride your horse forwards to freshen up the pace and check he’s dead straight, equal on both reins and on your aids. Then ride the exercise on the other rein.

Finish your training session by allowing your horse to stretch. Make sure your horse is on a contact and working freely forwards before you ask him to stretch.


Your horse should have a uniform bend from poll to tail. He should have no alternative but to step further underneath his body with his inside hindleg.


A correctly positioned shoulder-in is about 30 degrees from the track.

Read the full article in issue 447, available here.

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