Professional advice from Joanna Fisher, International Grand Prix Dressage Rider and Trainer : How Can I Teach My Horse Shoulder In?
This is an excellent question as well as an excellent exercise!
Let’s completely start from scratch and imagine you are a western rider.
Cowboys “rein” horses, so imagine moving your hands to the left and the horse’s shoulders move left and hands to the right, the horses shoulders move right!
Cowboys actually are superb horseman, with the smallest aids their horses dance. Dressage is technically no different, it’s all horsemanship and training.
So with this in mind.. here is how I would break it up.
Whichever way you look at it, shoulder in is making the horse travel in a straight line on three tracks.
Let’s focus on shoulder in left.
The horse’s right front and left hind are meant to be on the same track… so you can imagine it’s either left shoulder in OR right hind out… either way it ends up the same.
I would begin to train a horse this movement on a circle and never in walk. The walk is a very special pace and can easily be irreparably destroyed, so I always train in trot! For reference- the horse’s spine is our centre line… !
Begin in a nice calm trot, not forward, the faster you go the more difficult it will be.
Once on the circle I would ask a touch of inside bend with my left hand (keeping it on the left of the centre line) and then I would use inside leg and increase my outside rein bringing my right hand slightly crossing over the centre line towards my left hand(the horses spine is my centre line) as if I’m slightly reining. This will encourage the horse to bring its front end to your left and the inside leg will encourage bend and its hind legs to your right. At this moment you must let go of the left rein so the horse is literally completely on outside rein and inside leg.
It may only happen for two strides and he may then straighten up, but this doesn’t matter release the aids and repeat.
And repeat and repeat. Horses learn by calm quiet rewarded repetition.
You may start the exercise with two strides and finish with an entire circle, but you will be astonished how quickly they can pick this up and as you progress you can move him out of the circle into shoulder in on the straight line returning to the circle if you feel it’s necessary.
These simple aids make it simple for the horse to learn. Be patient, it’s definitely worth it!
Cover image credit: Hilary Rock
Joanna has written a collection of children’s books based on her horses over the years.
It has been published by award winning Candy Jar books and currently available in Waterstones and being read in schools. Click here to link to her website: www.stablegossip.com