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Published: 2017-01-30 20:53:32 Categories: Uncategorized Rss feed

dressage training

You might sometimes hear to "bend your horse to straighten him." But what does it mean? Horses are naturally straight and more or less proportional, but the additional weight of the rider on their back is a challenge. Most of them (since they take a rider on their back for the first time until the very advanced training later on) learn how to deal with the rider's weight, not to lose balance and how to optimally move with the rider on their back for all their lives. Thus we have this whole collecting thing, which means to achieve the most optimal position, in which the horse unburdens his front body, engages his croup and builds necessary back muscles, so the rider's weight doesn't have negative effects on the horse's body. We need this whole dressage so our horses' lives with us on their backs would be so much better ;)

If a horse is ridden by an inexperienced person, the horse will learn many improper habits. What might they be? We sometimes say that the horse walks with a reversely bent back, "falls in" or "falls out" with a limb, usually while taking a turn that are the most difficult for horses, especially when they have a rider on their back. Horses fall in/out with their croups or shoulder blades because they do not distribute their weight evenly on all four legs and they've learnt to manage otherwise.

A good comparison would be this: imagine a child, who carries a huge backpack. His/her body is not adapted to carrying such a load and kids, instead of strengthening their back muscles by straightening up, usually go the other way and crouch. Horses act similarly - they try to find their own way to deal with the "new problem" (namely the rider on their back) and their way is not always the correct one. Now we as riders have to act. Since we give the horse an issue, putting our weight on him, we are bound to help him how to deal with it.

How do we teach the horse? Through proper exercises that will help him develop necessary muscles and find balance.

One of such exercises is definitely shoulder blade to the inside.

Shoulder-in - what is it and what are the benefits

Shoulder-in is an excellent exercise for straightening the horse and evening contact on both reins. What is more, it helps the horse to unburden his front body and encourages him to take a bigger load on his rear limb, which increases his flexibility.

While performing this exercise, the horse's shoulder blades goes in the second trace and the front limbs stay on the first trace. What does it mean? It means that the horse's body does not move in one straight line, but in two.

In traditional shoulder-in your horses legs should make three traces: 1st trace - inner front leg, 2nd trace - outer front leg and inner rear leg, 3rd trace - outer rear leg.

(Note: your horse's inner legs are the one in which direction you are currently moving. For example: if you ride to the left, and the fence is on your right side, it means that your horse's left legs are the inner ones, and right legs are the outer ones).

Trivia: In dressage competitions it is acceptable to perform shoulder-in on four traces, but only if the rider can keep the same angle on both reins. However, that requires even better training, bend, and balance than riding on three traces.

Fig. 1: Shoulder-in on three traces, phot.

Shoulder-in: step by step

Shoulder-in is the easiest to perform then you're in an active trot, in which you can tend to even rhythm and tempo. However, before you start to ride at a trot, you should try to ride at a walk.

 Fig. 2: Shoulder-in: step by step.

1. Start riding in the direction in which your horse goes easier. Preferably start at a circle of 10 meters diameter in a corner by a long wall. While finishing the circle and approaching the long wall, try to keep your horse in the position and bent he had in the circle (like presented on figure number 2 above). While trying to maintain this alignment, move on two traces by the wall. Remember to watch your horse so he is not too bent to the inside! It's enough for him to be bent over the rider's inner calf at about 30° (this angle is between the direction line and the line of the horse's withers - occiput).

2. Work stronger with your calf in order to keep the movement along the long wall of the manege. Watch the constant bent angle (30°). The manege's wall will help you with that.

3. If you have any difficulties while performing this exercise and your horse stiffens or if you lose the proper bent, enter the 10m circle once more, starting in a particular spot of the long manege's wall that you are, finishing the circle on the wall. Try to maintain the proper bent again.

4. Remember to give your horse a reward even after a few steps at the beginning: 2-3 in the correct formation and to immediately return to riding straight by the wall. Then make a volte and begin the exercise once again. In practice, you can take 2-3 steps of shoulder-in on each of the manege's wall (depending on its size, you can fit in more repetitions). The horse will be encouraged by the positive reward and soon he will get what you want from him. Also remember that while performing shoulder-in, the horse has to engage stronger not only his outer rear leg, but his whole body, including croup and back muscles, which may not have been working so hard up until this point. So don't demand your horse to straightaway ride the whole wall in shoulder-in. Stick to the rule of step by step until you reach your goal :)

5. After a couple of tries and repetitions in one direction intertwined with straightening your horse, go at an energetic trot and move freely on the whole manege. This will help your horse to relax for a while when facing all the new challenges. Next: change the direction of riding and before a corner of a long wall shift into a walk. Begin practicing shoulder-in to the other side at a walk. Just as you did in the other direction, start from 10m voltes. Keep in mind that this side is your horse's "worse" side. Don't exhaust him more in this direction. Make the same number of repetitions as you did in the first direction, but remember that they will not be of the same quality as the ones into his "better" side. 

6. When your horse learn to perform shoulder-in at a walk (of course that won't happen during one ride, you will need a couple or even a dozen of trainings), you can try to perform this exercise at a trot also by a wall.

7. In the next phase, try to perform shoulder-in at a trot without the aid of a wall, for example from a quarter line, so moving at straight lines parallel to the walls, but at a particular distance from them (for example: 2-3 meters) :)

How should the rider's body work during shoulder-in?

Fig. 2: rider's aid action

1.  The rider "plays" with the inner rein, tightening and loosening it so the horse cannot lean on it, due to which he will keep proper position.

2. The rider gives his/her inner calf on the girth level, due to which he/she helps maintaining the horse's bent in ribs and move forwards.

3. The rider loads the inner ischial bone (ischial bones are the ones we sit at, they are below are bottom), pressing the inner stirrup stronger. However, the rider has to watch him/herself and not shift the body weight to the outside and not to "break" in the hips.

4. The rider's shoulders and hips are parallel to the horse's shoulders and hips, but the rider's head is facing in the direction of movement.

5. The outer rein provides and maintains the proper angle (30°) of the horse's body from the trace, preventing too much of a bent and positioning the horse to the inside. It also prevents the horse from falling out with his outer shoulder blade.

6. The outer calf is beyond the girth at the same time preventing the horse from falling out with his croup.

Problems during the exercises

Too much of a bent

Issue: Extensive bent happens when the rider uses the inner rein to strongly and additionally his/her inner reins is too weak. The horse has to lean on the outer rein and the inner rein should only correct his bent. If the bent is too big, the horse's rear legs follow the trace of the front legs, instead of moving on their own trace. What is more, the horse's neck is bent too much and his head is too much to the inside. It's not really a bent.

Solution: You should tighten the outer rein more, so you would give the proper angle of movement and loosen up the inner rein a little. What is more, to bend the horse more in the body, not only in the neck, you should give him your calf a little stronger. 


Shortening the lunge

Issue: The horse's steps become short and fracted if he stiffened up or if he lacks the proper impulse from the rider.

Solution: You should straighten the horse and actively ride forwards. Next, you can try to repeat the exercise shoulder-in for a few steps and approach the circle once more. It will help you encourage your horse to keep the impulse.

Falling out with the croup on the wall

Issue: It happens when the rider hasn't moved the front limbs of the horse to the second trace.

Solution: It's good to enter the circle and allow your horse's front to go off the first trace as if he was still walking on the circle, and only then ask him to side move along the manege's fence. Try to place the horse's inner front leg on the inner side of the trace. Such exercise will allow his rear legs to stay on the first trace.

Falling out with the shoulder blade

Issue: It is definitely the most common mistake. It usually happens when the rider bends the horse's neck too much with the help of the inner rein and leans his posture too little with his/her inner calf. Another cause is lack of contact or too little contact on the outer rein.

Solution: It's good to lessen the angle of the horse's positioning to the inside by straightening him a little, until the horse corrects his balance on the inner rein, and then bend him, increasing the inner calf and outer rein action. It is important for you to keep even position for the whole exercise.

Exercise not only for dressage riders

Shoulder-in is a side movement.

It doesn't matter if your horse is the future master of the dressage arena, parkour, cross, or riding fields. Introducing this exercise will prove extremely useful. Every horse, both sport and recreational needs balance and proper-working muscles so he can cooperate with his rider. Why is it worth introducing this exercise to your training? Because:

• It increases your horse's flexibility and his freedom of movements from the shoulder blades to the croup.

• It strengthens him and increases his engagement, allowing him to unload the front body slightly and to shift the weight to the back (croup), which is better adapted to carrying heavy burdens.

• It straightens him and improves his discipline, so he will obey you more.

• It prepares him not only to other side walks, but is also the very basis to pirouettes at canter or taking narrow turns on parkour.

• It will help you a lot in situations in which your horse will get scared in the field and won't be willing to approach the thing. If the thing is difficult to go around, the exercise shoulder-in might save you :) Without a problem you will go pass the "scary thing" so that your horse can keep an eye on it, at the same time you will remain in complete control, closing your horse within the "frame" of your calves and arms.

• It also proves useful when you are on the back of a young horse, who has a bad day. If you close him in the "frame" of shoulder-in position, he won't even have the chance to try to prance. The same thing applies when a horse tries to prance in the field.