How to Ride Shoulder-In
Shoulder-in is a very useful schooling exercise that first appears in British Dressage tests at medium level.
Shoulder-in is used to improve the horse’s balance, engagement, and lateral suppleness.
The exercise also forms a useful introduction to more challenging work such as travers and then half-pass.
What is shoulder-in?
Shoulder-in is an exercise that is performed on three tracks, and would normally follow on in the horse’s education after the leg yielding.
Related Read: How To Leg Yield
It can be ridden in walk, trot, and canter and is an excellent suppling and engaging exercise through which the horse will learn to flex and bend, and shorten and heighten the steps.
The horse should have a slight but even bend around the rider’s inside leg to create an angle of about 30 degrees.
The horse’s outside foreleg and inside hindleg should work on the same track. The inside foreleg and the outside hindleg should work on their own track.
The horse should have bend away from the direction in which he is moving.
Benefits of riding shoulder-in
Its purpose is to enable the hind legs to step under and elevate the forehand.
The exercise also mobilises and frees the shoulders, which enables the rider to place the forehand and engage the hind legs, thus building collection and compression in the way of going.
Shoulder-in is an effective straightening tool, in both trot and canter, and can be ridden on lines next to the arena boundary or on unsupported lines in the middle of the arena, for example on the centre line.
Providing that the horse has been well prepared in the leg yielding steps, controlling the placement of the shoulders should not be too difficult.
Ideally start on short straight lines next to the arena fence out of a well-ridden corner or off a small circle.
When riding shoulder-in to the left, the horse is bent around the rider’s left leg and the outside (right) leg is just behind the girth. The left leg moves the horse sideways; the expansion of the horse’s right (outside) is supported by the rider’s right leg and right rein which subtly leads the horse in the direction of the movement. The rider’s inside leg and seat need to make the horse react quickly and also step up into the inside rein.
The rider’s outside leg is responsible for keeping the engagement of the right hind leg forwards and under the body weight. This then encourages the horse to bring the inside hind further under the body, thus developing engaging hind legs. The croup will lower, and shoulders become freer to allow the forehand to elevate. The rider’s shoulders and hips should be parallel to those of the horse.
It is advisable to keep the initial distances short, so as not to let the horse become out of balance and hence more onto the shoulders. Even at the start, the horse must be inclined to step under with the hind legs and take more of his own body weight.
Common problems and mistakes in shoulder-in
Too much neck bend: The rider bends the neck which blocks off any bend through the body. The horse may need to come back to walk and try a few steps with a straight neck and small angle until the outside foreleg steps in off the track. The rider should avoid using too much inside rein.
Angle varying: The horse is too much on the forehand and is not sufficiently helped by the outside rein. The rider could have a quicker inside leg and allow the horse to take shorter, more active steps until better balance is achieved.
Tight back and uneven steps: The rider should allow the horse to move through their inside seat and hip to enable the inside hind leg to come forward and under and thus the movement to come through the whole horse.
Tempo (speed of the rhythm) too fast: The horse becomes out of rhythm and sometimes loses regularity in the steps as he is unable to keep his balance.
Rider sitting crooked: If the seat becomes displaced to the outside with a collapse of the inside hip and core, the horse’s load distribution and balance is upset, resulting in deterioration of the quality of the movement.
Although shoulder-in is not demanded of horses until medium level in BD dressage tests, it is a very useful schooling exercise that can be used to improve a horse’s engagement and suppleness, as soon as leg yielding has been mastered.
It’s also a very useful straightening exercise for horses that are inclined to be crooked; just position your horse’s shoulders slightly in from the track and he will immediately become straighter!
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