08 Jul 14. Shoulder in
Last time, we discussed the reasons for teaching a horse to leg yield (to promote suppleness, loosen its muscles and improve its balance) and how to achieve it. Now we will consider shoulder in, which is typically the next lateral movement taught to a horse, providing similar physical benefits but also requiring the development of stronger muscles to engage the hindquarters – the inside hind leg must stretch and reach under the body – so good preparation for collection exercises.
But first, what is shoulder in? Unlike leg yielding, which requires your horse to move forwards and sideways at the same time with its spine parallel to the track, shoulder in requires it to bend through its ribcage while moving on a straight line. It is a lateral movement in which the horse moves on three tracks, with its shoulders in from the track. Observed head on, you would see the inside front foot on one track, the outside front foot and inside hind foot on a middle track and the outside hind foot on a third track.
Perhaps the easiest way to begin shoulder in is to start as if you are intending to ride a 10 metre circle which will ensure that your horse has the correct bend (about a 30 degree angle to the arena track/wall). Then, keeping that bend and with your weight more on your inside seat bone, you encourage your horse to move forward in a straight line, using your inside leg on the girth, while your outside leg can be slightly back in order to prevent the haunches from falling out. Your body and shoulders should be parallel to your horse’s shoulders, so you need to open your inside shoulder while a long, relaxed inside leg will enable an open and supple hip, allowing your horse to move across. The movement should be controlled by a firm outside rein, while your inside hand should be soft – you will keep the bend by driving with the inside leg into the outside rein, not by pulling your horse’s head round with your inside hand – ideally, you should be able to give with the inside rein and still keep the correct angle. You should aim to maintain the same rhythm – an energetic, forward pace – before, during and after the movement.
There are plenty of pitfalls in learning to ride shoulder in, with many riders using the inside rein to bend the head and neck rather than positioning the shoulders correctly, or bringing their inside leg up as they apply it and consequently shifting their weight to the outside seat bone, allowing the horse’s energy to escape to the outside.
PRACTISE THIS ON THE EQUICISE SIMULATOR
And while it is fairly easy to tell if your horse is performing leg yield – you can feel the crossing over – it is typically more difficult for a rider to recognise a correct shoulder in so some assistance may be required early on. You can ask your instructor to talk you through the movement or try riding in an arena with mirrors which will provide visual aids to help you develop a better feel, while practising on an equine simulator will enable you to learn the appropriate aids.
Next time: turn on and turn about the forehand