Shoulder In Without The Inside Rein

Recently a friend and I were discussing the Intermediate Teaching Test, guinea pig lessons, and different approaches to teaching lateral work. And perhaps more importantly, we broached the subject of balancing the aids in lateral work. 

How much does the leg create the bend versus  the rein inviting the horse to bend?

I won’t go through it now, but I think the majority of my readers know what shoulder in is, and the guideline aids for it. Yet, we all know that every horse is different and whilst a gentle squeeze with the inside leg may be enough to send one horse skedaddling across the arena in an extravagant leg yield, another horse may need more of a sharp nudge of the inside leg in a repetitive pushing action in order to get the same effect.

When teaching a horse shoulder in, you go through a few different stages, and the balance of the aids changes.

Matt is a slow learner when it comes to lateral work, but he is eventually getting the idea of leg yielding, and moves away from a series of short, sharp nudges from my inside leg. So over the last couple of weeks I’ve started playing about with shoulder in with him.

Just briefly, to ask for shoulder in the rider wants to turn their shoulders towards the centre of the school, letting the weight drop into the inside seat bone. The outside leg is behind the girth and pushes the shoulders onto the inner track. The inside leg keeps the horse travelling along the track. The outside rein maintains the slight neck flexion and helps keep the horse on three tracks. The inside rein opens to give the inside shoulder room to move across.

When I first introduced Matt to shoulder in, I positioned my body and asked with the legs. Which we ideally want to be the instigators of the movement. However, Matt was clueless as to what I wanted, so I had to introduce the indicators – the reins. It’s important not to lose the outside rein as this stabilises and supports the horse as they find their balance, but I found I had to use a “big” inside rein aid in order for Matt to understand that his shoulders needed to move without the rest of his body following. Now it’s not a pulling action, it’s opening the rein wide and keeping the weight in the hand so that he paid attention to the indicator. 

The other aids aren’t less than they need to be, but the inside rein just needed to speak a little louder and clearer to Matt for a few tries. 

Once Matt was positioning himself into a weak shoulder in, which is as much to do with his suppleness and balance as his understanding, I softened the inside rein slightly. I don’t want to drop him in the deep end, but he needs to learn that the inside rein is a secondary aid, not the primary. 

After a few sessions of practising shoulder in, Matt was going into shoulder in from the leg and seat more than the rein, and I could totally give away the inside rein during the walk shoulder in. This proved that he was understanding the correct aids and balancing himself in the shoulder in position.

Isn’t one-handed shoulder in classified as a trickier dressage movement than usual shoulder in? That’s because you have fewer cues for the horse and rely on the seat more.  

I think it’s important to remember the ideal way to ask for lateral movements, but you shouldn’t be afraid of bending the rules to help get your message across to the horse because, after all, they are all individuals. Once they understand your language you can begin to use synonyms so that they are speaking the universal language which means any rider can successfully communicate and ride these lateral movements.

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