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With the New Year upon us, our thoughts should be turning to the training we will be doing over the next few months.

This is the time of year to think about consolidating the work we have done to date as well as progressing to the next level. However, with horses possibly spending more time stabled and the cold wet weather tightening the horse’s muscles and joints; keeping them supple can be a challenge and warming up can take longer. This is the time of year to think about consolidating the work we have done to date as well as progressing to the next level. However, with horses possibly spending more time stabled and the cold wet weather tightening the horse’s muscles and joints; keeping them supple can be a challenge and warming up can take longer.

Lateral work can really help with suppleness, there are a variety of different lateral movements, in this article we are going to focus on:

Leg-yield

Shoulder-in

Travers

You do not have to be competing at grand prix to ride these movements. These exercises are a good way to help improve your horse’s suppleness. I frequently visit new clients and ask what they do when working on their own at home in the school. I am often greeted with a rather blank expression, and this is not just the grass roots rider, it can even be the more experienced riders. It is important to have a plan to help you develop the horse’s suppleness. Sometimes this plan may have to change in a schooling session as the horse may have other ideas but any plan is better than no plan. Of course, a good pair of eyes on the ground is always important to assist you, and put you on the right path. 

In this article I am going to give a brief and simple explanation of the 3 movements, but nothing can replace those eyes on the ground. It is always important to find yourself a good coach! Below I have given you a generalisation of how to ride these movements. However, dressage is all about feel and timing. Take your time to teach these movement and enjoy the journey. Learn by your mistakes and continue having fun! 

Leg Yield 

LEG-YEILD 

Leg-yield is generally the easiest way to teach the horse to move sideways, away from the leg. 

The best place to start teaching the leg-yield is on the ¾ line close to the long side. This will exploit the horses natural tendency to fall back to the track. At first it is best to start to teach this in walk. To move your horse away from your inside leg (on the girth) apply pressure and ask the horse to step sideways back to the track. Flex the horse slightly away from the long side (away from the direction of travel), this will help to allow the shoulder over. The riders weight should be on the inside seat bone. This doesn’t mean leaning, but step more into your inside stirrup. The rider’s outside leg is slightly further back to stop the quarters overtaking the shoulder. The horse’s outside shoulder should always be slightly in front of the quarters (see picture). The riders outside rein open and closes the pressure to increase or decrease the angle. 

A mistake that often happens is having too much neck bend. If the horse is being slow to react to your inside leg, apply a little tap behind the leg to back up the leg aid. Leg-yield can also be performed on a circle, moving from a smaller circle to a bigger circle. Leg-yield can be performed in all 3 paces. In canter it can be performed towards or away from the leading leg.

Shoulder in

Shoulder-In

The objective of shoulder-in is to achieve a higher degree of collection and suppleness. 

Sometimes it is useful to begin shoulder-in on a circle as the horse is already bending around the rider’s leg. On a circle, indicate the inward direction and bend with the inside rein (keeping an elastic feeling). The rider’s outside rein stops the horse from over bending to the inside and losing the outside shoulder (drifting out). The rider’s inside leg stays forward. The inside leg maintains the bend and activates the horse’s hind leg to step under the horse’s body as well as keeping the horse travelling forward. The rider’s outside leg supports and stops the quarters swinging out. Once you are feeling confident on the circle it is time to move riding shoulder-in down the long side. 

At first it may be easier to prepare for shoulder-in on the long side by riding a 10m circle in the corner. Using the 10m circle helps create the bend and then you can take the bend down the long side. If you lose impulsion or bend/suppleness circle away 10m and start again. Do not worry about how many 10m circles you need to use, it is best to try and get the feeling and movement right from the start, instead of ploughing on. Always remember to finish by riding straight. 

travers

Travers

I like to teach travers or quarters in down the long side so the rider doesn’t have to worry about direction of travel. Travers can me performed in walk, trot, and canter.

Travers is ridden on 4 tracks. Ride straight onto the long side, then bring your outside leg back, then apply your outside leg and ask the horse’s quarters to step in off the track. The rider’s inside leg stays forward to activate the inside hind leg and keep the shoulders on the track. Your inside rein shows the correct flexion and the outside rein maintains it, be careful not to get too much neck bend. The best way to achieve this is to think if the horses face looking straight down the track. 

Once you are feeling confident with travers you can start half-pass. Effectively they are the same thing. If you place poles on the diagonal line and ride travers along them it becomes half-pass.

By Matt Cox, Grand Prix Rider and UKCC3 British Accredited Coach www.mattcoxdressage.co.uk