teaching shoulder in (part one)

Before I begin this post, a disclaimer: most of the horses I’ve worked with were trained by others. My work with them was more about training out the bad, reinforcing the good, and refining the overall performance. With Z, that is a whole new ball of wax, since she is completely new to the entire idea of riding and working with people.

One of my favorite exercises is the shoulder-in. It’s a cure for alot of issues: such as overbending, getting crooked, shying or spooking and it improves the flexibility and strength of the horse, providing better canter departs and impulsion.

There are two primary types of shoulder-in: the three track or the four track. BTW the wiki drawing shows a three track (which is favored by the German method; Spanish schools may favor the fourth track) which means that the horses’ line of travel is along 3 paths: one fore and one hind travel the same track.

Depending on who you read and what they like, they will prefer one or the other and may want to conduct a duel with you to prove it! Belasik wrote in one of his books (if I remember him correctly) that he found that the four track was helpful with green horses and with one horse in particular, but that he also uses three track.

Some dressage trainers will also say that leg yielding is useless and you should move directly into shoulder in. Well, again do what you want, just know what and why you are doing it. I’m not going to go on about it – use what works for you, just know why you are using it and what you are doing! Sometimes dressage people get a bit too hung up on all the rights and wrongs….

What you have to be exceptionally careful about is that you don’t crank down the head to force the movement. In your excitement to contain (or collect) the energy to move forward and sideways, you may over-collect with the reins, which means your horse comes behind the bit and any impulsion forward is then false.

If you find yourself overcollecting, release and push the horse forward. Ask for a lot less, and for a short period of time (i.e. 2 strides, vs. one stride). Make sure your horse knows how to do it correctly from the ground before you do it under saddle.

Okay, so why I began writing this post is that I’m going to start teaching Z how to do the shoulder-in from the ground. I did teach Beautiful Boy the shoulder-in with groundwork, but he was an exceptional dancer and it took about one nanosecond to teach him something he already knew naturally! LOL!

Unfortunately, I have no video or photos of working BBoy because I did it when I was alone. Which is really a bummer because he was so light and easy to work with (on the ground anyway) so you’ll have to use your imagination on that one.

OTOH, Z is rather clunky. Getting her to move away from me is against her instincts; she would much rather bow into me and force me to move (her dominance showing) from MY position then move away! She doesn’t seem to be able to articulate well her shoulders – ribcage – and hindquarters which also makes her stiffer.

The first thing I’ve been doing (especially this last month) is to get her to lunge in a relaxed manner, maintaining rhythm and gait, arcing in the circle throughout the spine with her eye paying attention to me. Next ask for an outward spiral by enlarging the circle. I tap her with the whip on the ribcage or the HQ and use the word “out.”

During the spiral you don’t want her to overbend into the circle or for her to poke her nose out of the circle. It takes a light contact on the lunge, with a whip behind to aid in impulsion but also to keep her from moving HQ in or moving straight on a circle.

For example, if a horse is moving on a circle, they should have curvature to the spine if seen from the top view. When enlarging the circle I don’t want her to lead with her nose and just trail her HQ behind. I want her to move with the shoulders parallel to the HQ. This is more difficult then it may seem and just this last week I got some really good spiral outs and even a few steps of shoulder-in! woohoo!

I will continue more about this when I can get some pictures and diagrams to illustrate better what I’m talking about….

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