A comment that’s frequently seen on dressage test score sheets is, ‘falling in’.
This refers to the horse that loses his balance whilst negotiating circles and corners, although sometimes young and unbalanced horses also fall in along the long side of the arena.
So why does a horse ‘fall in’, and how can you correct this problem?
Read on to find out more.
Why does a horse ‘fall in’?
The usual cause of falling in is a lack of balance and suppleness.
Instead of engaging his inside hind leg to carry his weight and that of his rider through the movement, the horse stiffens against the rider’s inside leg and leans inwards.
To check if your horse is falling in, give and re-take the reins for a few strides as you negotiate the part of the circle across the center of the school, where there is no fence to hold him up.
If you suddenly notice that you’ve ridden an egg, rather than a circle, your horse has fallen in!
How to prevent a horse from falling in
There are a number of commonly-used incorrect methods employed by riders to try to prevent their horses from falling in:
- pushing the inside rein against the horse’s neck to try to hold him out on the circle
- crossing the hand over the horse’s neck in an attempt to ‘drag’ him out onto the circle
- pushing more and more with the inside leg to hold the horse up and stop him falling in
- leaning outwards on the circle whilst employing one or all of the aforementioned tactics
None of these methods work in the long term, and are really just the equivalent of putting a sticking plaster on a major wound!
The only way to train your horse not to fall in around circles and corners is by consistently riding him from your inside leg to your outside hand.
Insist that your horse stays upright and doesn’t lean on your leg as a prop.
If necessary, give him a sharp kick, or a tick with your schooling whip behind your inside leg to remind him that it’s there to be respected, and is not being provided specially for him to lean on!
Similarly, the horse should not be allowed to lean on your outside rein. Give and take the rein every few steps to make sure that the horse is not allowing you to carry him around the outside of the circle.
In the early days of correcting the fault, you’ll need to anticipate that your horse is going to attempt to fall in. Carry your hands as a pair, ride from your inside leg to your outside rein, and keep your horse moving forward in a good rhythm.
Make sure that you’re sitting straight in the saddle, not leaning inwards or outwards which would further unbalance your horse. Look up and around the circle, riding forwards.
A useful exercise is to leg yield your horse out from a small circle to a larger one, and then back in again. This teaches the horse to move away from your inside leg whilst helping to engage the horse’s inside hind leg so that he’s better balanced and more able to stay upright around the circle.
Another exercise to try is shoulder-in around the circle or through the corners of the arena. This works by insisting that the horse brings his inside hind leg more underneath him and bends around your inside leg. The exercise will not only help to engage the horse but will also make him suppler to the bend.
If your horse is inclined to fall in around circles and through corners, develop more engagement by riding him from your inside leg to your outside rein to establish a better balance.
This will take time and practice, especially if your horse is young or inexperienced, but once the basic foundation work is in place, the problem will be solved.