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How to Ride Shoulder-in on a Circle

shoulder-in on a circle dressage


Shoulder-in is a lateral exercise that’s included in some dressage tests from British Dressage Elementary level.

This exercise is usually ridden down the long side of the arena but riding it on a circle is also be beneficial in improving your horse’s way of going.

In this post, we’re going to look at how you go about riding shoulder in on a circle.

What is shoulder-in?

Shoulder-in is a lateral movement that’s performed on three tracks. 

The horse’s shoulder is brought to the inside to an angle of around 30 degrees. The inside hind leg and outside foreleg move along the same track. The outside hind stays on one track, moving along the fence. Meanwhile, the inside foreleg also remains on one track.

When the shoulder-in is ridden correctly, the horse is uniformly bent around the rider’s inside leg away from the direction in which he is traveling. 

Although shoulder-in can be ridden in the walk, trot, and canter, it’s best ridden in a forward trot with an active tempo.

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What are the benefits of riding shoulder-in?

When it’s ridden correctly, the shoulder-in can help to make your horse more supple longitudinally and laterally, as well as enabling him to take more weight onto his hocks and hindquarters. This lightens the forehand and helps the horse to achieve higher levels of collection.

But above all, the biggest benefit of shoulder-in is to improve the horse’s straightness and to get the horse level in your hands.

From the rider’s perspective, shoulder-in positioning teaches you how to control the horse’s shoulders independently of his hindquarters, giving you a greater ability to influence the horse’s way of going.

Riding shoulder-in on a circle

Although shoulder-in is more commonly ridden down the long side of the arena, some horses can actually find it easier to be introduced to shoulder-in on a circle. This is because the horse is already bent around the rider’s inside leg.

However, this exercise can be more challenging for the rider because not only do you need to maintain the angle and correct bend of the shoulder-in, but you also need to maintain the accuracy of the circle and not allow the horse to drift or spiral inwards.

How to ride shoulder-in on a circle

TIP: You can begin riding the exercise in the walk, as the slower pace gives you and your horse more time to understand what’s required and improve your coordination. Once you’re both confident and you can ride the exercise accurately, you’re ready to move on to riding the movement in trot.

Step 1

In working trot, ride onto a 20-meter circle.

Ensure that the trot has a brisk and active tempo.

Step 2

Whilst you are on the circle, turn your upper body and bring both of your hands to the inside to guide your horse’s shoulders inwards.

This should open your inside rein to create inside flexion whilst simultaneously closing your outside rein to prevent too much neck bend and the horse falling out through his outside shoulder.

Step 3

Your inside leg should remain at the girth to give your horse something to bend around. It’s also there to encourage the horse’s inside hind leg to step forward under the horse’s center of gravity and to keep the horse moving forward.

Your outside leg stays slightly behind the girth to prevent the horse’s hindquarters from drifting to the outside. 

Throughout the exercise, you should keep your upper body turned to the inside with your inside seat bone and hip a little more weighted than the outside.

Step 4

To keep your horse following the line of the circle, look up and ahead of you and visualize the circle’s circumference in your mind.

Throughout the exercise, the trot should maintain the same rhythm, tempo, connection, frame, and impulsion as if you were riding a regular circle.

Step 5

In the beginning, this can be a very challenging exercise for both you and your horse, so don’t feel as though you must ride one full circle revolution.

Instead, focus on the quality of steps over quantity of steps.

To complete the exercise, turn your upper body back to it’s neutral position and put the horse’s shoulders back onto one track and ride forwards and away.

Always remember to finish off the movement.

In conclusion

Shoulder-in is a very valuable training exercise for straightening, supplying, and developing collection.

Riding shoulder-in on a circle does require more coordination and control on the part of the rider, but it can be an easier introduction to the horse since he is already bent around the rider’s inside leg.

Have a go and let us know how you get on!

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