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Shoulder-in is a valuable tool for suppling your horse and keeping him fit for his job, but it’s easy to forget how to do it. That’s why we’ve created this simple guide to give you a quick re-cap.
Shoulder-in is a useful lateral exercise that’s ridden on three tracks – this means that his inside hind will be in line with his outside fore (a diagonal pair). His outside hind and inside foreleg (another diagonal pair) move in their own line.
As your horse moves forwards, he bends slightly around your inside leg to bring his near fore onto the inner track.
The horse’s inside foreleg passes in front of the outside fore, while the inside hind steps underneath the horse’s body, in front of the outside hind. His inside hip should lower as he brings his leg underneath.
Shoulder-in helps supple the horse and enables the rider to take control of the forehand. It requires a degree of collection so you and your horse need to be able to understand the aids for half-halt.
A lesser angle of shoulder-in is known as ‘shoulder-fore’. Shoulder-fore can be used in counter-canter, by bringing the horse onto an inside track and asking for slight flexion over the leading outside canter leg and shoulder, so the horse remains balanced.
It helps the rider control the forehand and is used to help straightness in the horse.
How to ride shoulder-in
In walk first, turn to ride a 10-metre circle at the start of the long side of the school.
As you turn onto the start of the circle, maintain your slight bend and flexion to the inside but move your horse sideways with your inside leg. Keep your upper body turned to the inside of the school and drop your weight down through your hip and into your inside leg and foot. Your horse should now be on three tracks.
Maintaining the impulsion, ride forwards. Keep your inside leg on the girth to create the inside bend and impulsion. Position your outside leg slightly behind the girth and let your outside rein control the angle.
To start with, ride only a few steps of shoulder-in, then ride straight. Don’t let your horse’s position drift or wobble back into a straight line. You may need to ride some half-halts before asking for shoulder-in, to balance and prepare your horse.
Common faults of shoulder-in are the horse over-bending around the inside leg, only bending in the neck, pushing the hindquarters out and resisting. In a good shoulder-in you should feel your horse’s hindquarters and back swinging and inside hip drop as he brings his inside leg underneath his body.
A good walk is the foundation of any horse’s training, whatever discipline you’re doing. Dressage pro Hannah Biggs helps you achieve the perfect walk in four easy steps.
1. Walk like a panther
This exercise helps develop a good stretching extended walk, with your horse taking the maximum length of stride while maintaining a light consistent contact – it’s also a good way to start any schooling session. You horse will be stretching forwards into a contact and using his back - imagine he’s walking like a panther, stalking through the jungle.
To ride it:
Aim for big long strides, marching but not hurried, rather than short quick strides and avoid nagging with your legs every stride - your horse needs walk forwards himself, using every part of his body. Move your hands backwards and forwards, swinging from your shoulders, so that you follow your horse's head movement without restricting him. When you’ve got this powerful rhythm, imagine your reins are made of steel and they’re pushing your horse's nose forwards with every stride.
2. Baby steps
Asking your horse to take baby steps in walk will help improve his collection and improve engagement. Before you start your horse needs to be in front of your leg and balanced, otherwise he’ll simply stiffen his body against you.
To ride it:
To ask for baby steps you need to sit still in the saddle, so you’re almost against the movement of the walk with your seat (the opposite of the extended walk where you’re swinging with your hips to follow the bigger strides) and this ‘stilling’ of your seat shortens the walk steps. Watch your horse doesn’t tip onto his forehand, tighten his back, swing his quarters or grind to a halt. He needs to keep stepping forwards in a rhythmic walk without you constantly asking with your legs. Ask for just a few baby steps to begin with and then ask him to walk forwards normally again. Your contact should remain light and consistent and it should feel like your horse's shoulders are up in front of you, and that he’s picking his legs up quickly underneath him.
3. Think laterally
If you’re struggling to maintain the four-beat walk rhythm, lateral work can help. Riding shoulder-in down each long side of the arena is a good exercise to use, as it encourages a forward connection to the bridle, whilst encouraging your horse’s hind legs to step smartly under his body. Shoulder-in will also help with that all-important suppleness, as a stiff back is usually the cause of an irregular walk rhythm.
Forgotten the aids for shoulder-in? Don’t worry, just CLICK HERE for a re-cap.
4. Poles apart
If your horse is unwilling to stretch forwards in his walk, using poles on the ground can help. Pole work also helps your horse maintain a balanced, rhythmic walk with plenty of energy and encourages him to use his hindquarters. It also adds some variety to your horse’s training session and can help him concentrate, as it keeps him thinking.
To ride it:
Set out three poles in a straight line 2ft 6in apart as a starting point, then you can gradually widen the distance between the poles to help improve the length of stride or shorten the distance to collect the stride.
More about our expert
Hannah Biggs is one of Britain’s leading dressage riders, an international Grand Prix competitor and trainer of riders of all levels. In fact, Hannah’s happy to help any rider reach their dreams, however big or small. She trains at clinics around the country and from her base at Brook Farm in Dorset.
To find out more visit www.hannahbiggsdressage.co.uk