Shoulder-in is a lateral movement that requires you to bring your horse’s shoulders to the inside while bending him uniformly through his body.
Since it’s the first movement that requires riders to displace their horses’ shoulders, it’s often ridden incorrectly by those first attempting it.
So, in this article, we will look at exactly what shoulder-in is, the purpose of this movement, the aids you need to apply, and how to ride shoulder-in correctly.
What is shoulder-in?
As mentioned in the introduction, shoulder-in is a lateral school movement. It involves bringing your horse’s shoulders towards the inside while keeping his hindquarters on the outside track and maintaining a uniform bend throughout your horse’s body to the inside.
- Your horse’s outside foreleg and inside hindleg should travel on the same track, and your horse’s inside foreleg and outside hindleg should work on their own track. (Described as your horse working on three tracks.)
- Your horse should be evenly bent around your inside leg to create an angle of about 30 degrees.
- Your horse should be bent away from the direction in which he is traveling.
NOTE: Although modern-day dressage competitions require shoulder-in to be ridden on three tracks (as described above), some classical school versions of this movement require your horse’s shoulders to be displaced even further to the inside so that it is performed on four tracks; that this, with each of your horse’s legs traveling on its own track. When training at home, you can ride shoulder-in on four tracks, but for competition purposes, you must ride it on three tracks, or you will lose marks.
Why ride shoulder-in?
Most people want to be able to ride a good shoulder-in for the sole purpose of getting top scores during a dressage test where that movement is required. However, as with all school movements, shoulder-in has many benefits that will help to improve your horse’s overall way of going.
So, here are five reasons to ride shoulder-in.
Reason 1 – Improve engagement, balance, and lightness of the forehand
Shoulder-in encourages your horse to step further underneath himself with his inside hind leg and take more weight, thereby improving your horse’s engagement, balance, and relative elevation of the forehand.
So, if you have a horse that is heavy in your hand, shoulder-in will help correct that issue.
Reason 2 – Development of collection
The qualities in reason 1 (engagement, balance, and lightness of the forehand) help to strengthen your horse’s hindquarters and encourage him to work in a more uphill balance, thereby developing your horse’s collection.
Related Read: How to Collect Your Horse
Reason 3 – Improve suppleness
Shoulder-in will improve all areas of your horse’s suppleness.
- Lateral suppleness (side-to-side suppleness) because your horse is required to bend uniformly through his body.
- Longitudinal suppleness (topline suppleness) because your horse is required to step under and stretch over his topline towards the bit.
- Suppleness of the joints (range of motion that your horse can achieve through his joints) because your horse is required to flex his hocks, concertina his hind legs, and take more weight.
- Mental suppleness because your horse is being asked to do a new exercise, but one that is still within his capabilities.
- How to Improve Your Horse’s Lateral Suppleness
- How to Improve Your Horse’s Longitudinal Suppleness
- How to Improve ‘Suppleness of the Joints’ for Dressage
- How to Improve Mental Suppleness in Both Horse & Rider
Reason 4 – Improve straightness
Although this movement requires your horse to bend, shoulder-in is a very effective straightening tool.
First up, shoulder-in is a great exercise to help get your horse level in your hands because it encourages your horse to step from his inside hind leg and stretch through into your outside contact, therefore helping you to improve the contact by making it more consistent, even, elastic, and level.
Related Read: How to Use Your Outside Rein
Secondly, shoulder-in can help you to correct a crooked canter. Due to the natural sequence of the canter, horses are predisposed to bringing their quarters to the inside. By positioning your horse in shoulder-in, you bring his shoulders to meet his hindquarters, thereby straightening and improving the canter.
Reason 5 – Prepare your horse for other lateral movements
Shoulder-in is the gateway exercise to the more challenging lateral movements of travers, half-pass, and pirouettes.
During the teaching of shoulder-in, your horse learns that your legs can mean;
- go forwards,
- go sideways,
and do all those three things together.
Related Read: How to Introduce Lateral Work (And in What Order)
How to ride shoulder-in
In your horse’s education, shoulder-in typically follows on after leg-yielding and shoulder-fore. Therefore, we recommend that you can ride those movements to a satisfactory level first.
Once you and your horse can do that, here’s how to ride shoulder-in.
Shoulder-in can be ridden in all three paces; walk, trot, and canter. Although, for competition purposes, it’s usually asked for in the trot.
When learning this exercise for the first time, you can choose whether to start in walk or trot.
Starting in the walk will give you time to coordinate your aids and position your horse correctly. However, the trot provides additional forward energy that can make the movement easier.
It’s swings and roundabouts; you can choose the best starting point for you and your horse.
The aids for shoulder-in
- Your inside rein asks for flexion to the inside. (Note that your inside rein should not be used to pull your horse’s shoulders to the inside.)
- Your outside rein controls the amount of neck bend and prevents your horse from falling out through his shoulder while subtly leading your horse in the direction of the movement.
- Your inside leg should be at the grith to provide a pillar for your horse to bend around, activate your horse’s inside hind leg, and keep your horse moving down the track.
- Your outside leg should be behind the girth, preventing your horse’s hindquarters from escaping to the outside and keeping his outside hind leg active.
- Your weight should be in your inside seat bone.
- Your shoulders should match the angle of your horse’s shoulders.
- Your hips should match the angle of your horse’s hips.
- Your head should look down the track in the direction you want your horse to travel.
Three steps to ride shoulder-in
Start by riding a good 10-meter circle in a corner of the arena before the long side.
Related Read: How To (And Why) Ride Correct 10-Meter Circles
The circle allows you to establish the correct amount of bend that is required for shoulder-in, as well as allow you to get all your aids into the correct position.
As you come around the circle towards the long side of the area, half-halt down your outside rein, look down the outside track and use your inside leg to push your horse off the circle and down the long side, maintaining the shoulder-in positioning.
Think of your inside leg and seat encouraging your horse upwards and into your outside rein.
After a few good shoulder-in steps, straighten your horse by putting all of your aids back to neutral and riding him forwards.
NOTE: In the beginning, it’s best to ask for only a few steps; always aim for quality over quantity. Even at the start, you still want your horse to step under with his hind legs and take more of his body weight. Asking for more than what your horse is capable of can cause him to lose balance and fall towards his shoulders, thereby losing all benefits of the exercise.
Common problems and mistakes during shoulder-in
Here are five faults that are regularly seen during shoulder-in.
Fault 1 – Too much neck bend
This usually happens if you try to ask your horse for shoulder-in by simply pulling his shoulders around and holding them off the track with the inside rein.
Instead, you need to use less inside rein and focus on creating a uniform bend through your horse’s body using your other aids.
You may need to bring your horse back to walk and try and few steps of shoulder-in with a smaller angle and a straighter neck until you get the hang of it.
Fault 2 – Angle varying
Shoulder-in is required to be ridden at an angle of 30 degrees to the track. Angle varying means that your shoulder-in may be at 20 degrees one moment, 35 degrees the next moment, and 25 degrees the movement after that.
To help correct this issue, you need to use a quicker inside leg to encourage your horse to step under more to improve his balance and to put him more into your outside rein.
When your horse is sufficiently engaged, and your outside rein contact is secure, you will be able to position your horse more consistently.
Fault 3 – Tight back and uneven steps
When first riding shoulder-in, many riders tense up. Their seat, hands, and legs become rigid, and they stop following their horse’s movement, which results in their horse becoming tight through the back, losing rhythm and regularity in the steps.
Keep your body relaxed and allow your horse to move rhythmically forward through your inside seat and hip. This should allow your horse’s inside hind leg to come forward and under and for the energy to flow through your horse.
Fault 4 – Tempo (speed of the rhythm) is too fast
If the tempo starts to increase during the shoulder-in, your horse will struggle to keep his balance and will lose rhythm and regularity.
To help control the tempo, use half-halts down the outside rein and use your seat and leg aids rhythmically.
If need be, ride onto a 10-meter circle, re-establish the correct tempo, re-position your horse, and ride the shoulder-in again.
Fault 5 – Sitting crooked
When riding shoulder-in, it’s very easy to allow your inside seat and hip to collapse as you try to push your horse down the outside track.
Your crookedness will upset your horse’s balance and result in a deterioration of the quality of the movement.
Remember that it is your inside leg that pushes your horse down the track, not your seat. If your horse is not responding to your inside leg, back it up with a tap from your schooling whip. Do not resort to trying to shove your horse with your hips.
Shoulder-in is a beneficial schooling exercise that you can use to help improve your horse’s engagement, suppleness, and straightness.
It requires you to bring your horse’s shoulders to the inside so that he is on three tracks, at an angle of about 30 degrees, with a uniform bend away from the direction in which he is traveling.
Shoulder-in is one of the first lateral exercises you will teach your horse, and it will help prepare him for more advanced movements and develop his balance and collection abilities.