Shoulder-In, Haunches-In, Leg-Yield, Turn on the Hindquarters & Forehand
One of the most critical things one needs to know before commencing with the
lateral movements is that the horse is not made to travel sideways for any
lengthy period of time. The horse is made for straight forward propulsion. That
doesn't mean that it can't move sideways, or that it can't turn, but merely
that the natural way of traveling is to move in the direction the body is
Because all the joints in the horse's frontlegs are mobile in the longitudal
direction. The same goes for the joints in the hindlegs from the tarsus and
down. Try it the next time you pick your horse's hooves clean. The joints are
like door hinges, very steady moving in only one direction. The surfaces of the
joints permit only smooth gliding of the articular surfaces in that direction.
Extremely strong ligaments and sheeths reinforce this, stabilize the joint from
sideways movement, even accidental ones.
But as we all can see in our every day riding, the horse can move sideways. So
how does that happen?
In the frontlegs, there is possible sideways movement in the shoulderblade and
its connection to the thorax. Remember, there is no joint here, only muscles
and ligaments, and these can permit the legs to deviate from their alignment by
letting the shoulderblade rotate or sink/lift in relation to the thorax.
The muscles performing this task are really mainly meant for other things, so
they are not entirely trained and fit to do it very much from the start.
The hindlegs are a little more suited for moving away from the midline or in
and across the midline. That is so because of the ball and socket joint of the
hip, which is reasonably mobile in all directions. I say reasonably, because
the range of movement in the forward/backward direction is far greater than
that in the lateral directions.
This is not only so because of the joint, but also because of the muscle mass
and their points of insertion and applied force/resistance on the bones. Since
the horse never holds his hindleg horizontally out to the side, he cannot
stretch the other muscles to let this happen, any more than he can use his
muscles to somehow actually hold the leg out. In horses who are thoroughly
stretched by professionals, the ability greatly improves compared to a
non-stretched horse. This because the resistance in the muscular tonus of the
surrounding muscles has been dealt with. The horse still does not actively put
the leg there, the physiotherapist does that for him.
To begin to actively move the legs sideways, crossing over the midline of the
body (pulling the leg in under the belly/in front of the chest) and then
landing and supporting the load in this unusual position, demands practice and
gentle strengthening of the unaccustomed muscles. Pushing the legs back and out
away from the body to complete the sideways movement also requires
strengthening and limbering, so sideways movement, especially with a rider on,
should be only a few steps and not so steeply angled at first, to let the body
accomodate to the task.
Shoulder-in to the right.
Shoulder-in is a complex movement, the purpose of which is to train the horse
in a complex way. I will begin with explaining how it is performed, and will
then get into the purpose of it. In Shoulder-in along a straight track, let's
say the longside of the manege going on the right rein. The forehand is then
brought to the inside, so that the body of the horse is bent to the inside just
like you were about to start a small volte.
Shoulder-fore with the outside
foreleg between the hindlhooves.
The distance of the deviation from the straight position really depends on what
you want to accomplish and how well the horse can bend and step under without
losing rhythm. It can range from only 1 hof's breadth so that the outside front
hoof moves on a track between the hond hooves. That leaves the inside front
hoof just inside of the inner hind hoof. That is commonly referred to as the Shoulder-fore
, derriving from the German Shulter-vor.
In the Greman school that is so selfrighteous as to call everything else
incorrect, you often hear that the inner hind hoof should line up prefectly
with the outer front hoof. They move on the same track while the outside hind
hoof moves on its own track as well as the inner front hoof. This is also what
I have depicted here, not because I find it to be the only correct one (which I
don't) but because it's a good medium shoulder-in to start with, on a horse
previously shooled in shoulder-in.
Steep shoulder-in with the forehand
and hindland on completely different
You could also have the forehand so much to the inside that the front hooves
move on 2 tracks to the inside of the hind hooves - the Steep shoulder-in
. This requires either a little more from the horse, either that it can bend so
much that the hind quarters stay straight on the main track, and the body bends
so much to the inside that it goes on the inside totally. Or the horse needs to
have his quarters not straight on the main track, but move a little more like
in a leg yield, with the hindlegs crossing over. There used to be and still is,
a great debate as to wether this is incorrect or not, but the fact remains,
that the person who actually invented shoulder-in (De La Gueriniere) described
it as crossing behind very clearly. It has later been adapted, possibly to
better fit the type of horses, to the German strict shoulder-in with the
hindquarters straight, and the inside hindleg and outside foreleg on the same track.
I'm saying "inside" here, but the inside is not necessarily the inside of the
arena. The horse in the drawing above is doing shoulder-in to the right, with
the right being the inside, the side to which he is bent. It is easy on a
drawing such as this to imagine the arena side rail on the left border of the
drawing. It could easily be on the right side as well, only one has to be
careful not to turn the horse's head into the rail. It is also easier in the
beginning to actually use the rail for checking the hindquarters from straying
to the outside, when the horse can move straight in his body but to the side -
a leg-yield. It is also visually easier for the rider, who can actually see on
the riding track in front of her, just how much the shoulders are put to the
insie of the regular track.
False bend resulting in shoulder-out.
The most important thing, except from having the horse rhythmically forward and
a nice contact is that the horse bends. No amount of crossing over or placing
the bodyparts anywhere is of any importance if you cannot get your horse to
bend his sides. It is very, I stress VERY, common that horses doing shoulder-in
are actally doing shoulder-out
. This because the rider focuses on getting the head to the inside, and while
doing so bending off at the withers, so that only the neck is to the inside.
The shoulder is actually out.
They say that the horse should bend equally from poll to dock, and that the body
should display an even bow like a section of a circle. Now, this is only half
true. The horse cannot actually bend uniformly throughout his body. The horse
should position to the inside, that meaning releasing the jaw and bend
his second joint of the neck so that he is looking to the inside. He should
then bend his neck uniformly according to a section of a circle. His thorax
should also be bent
according to a circle, but here real attention should be paid to the join
between neck and chest. This area must not bend any more than the neck or
thorax. The area from the second neck joint to the area behind the saddle
should be uniformly bent.
The area behind the saddle cannot bend sideways. The spine here has stiff
processes to the sides which prevent the horse from bending sideways. What the
horse must do in this area, is to compensate this stiffness by lowering his
and bend his haunches (lumbo-sacral joint/hip/knee) vertically so that the
inner hip is actually more forward. This is part of the collectiing effect of
shoulder-in, and utterly necessary to keep the engagement. Without this it will
only be an exercise like leg-yield, which is at its best a limbering exercise.
Then there is the tail. The tail is the last part of the horse's spine that
needs to bend. There is no use in the tail bending, per se. You shouldn't pull
on it to bend to the inside unless you have trained as an equine
physiotherapist. There's no use.
The tail bending to the inside is an indicator that the horse is thoroughly
bent along his whole spine, and not tense or blocked anywhere. Keep an eye on
So the lowering of the inside hip and flexion of the haunch on that side is one
of the purposes of shoulder-in. Another is that the horse shall stretch his
outside so that it becomes longer, not only shorten the inside. This will
strenghten the topline muscles and improve contact by the horse stretching to
the bit. This stretching to the bit on the outside is where the rider can then
regulate collection and tempo as well as angle.
Shoulder-in right - stepping towards the center of gravity.
The horse works much like a wheel-barrel, is supports infront and pushes
behind. The grand purpose of shoulder-in is for the horse to get more load to
push forward with one leg at a time, the inner hindleg. In the case of this
illustration the right hindleg. In this position the inner hindleg is places
right behind the center of mass of the horse. The outer hindleg is relieved of
some weight, but not a lot. What ir really relieved is the inner frontleg.
It is not only the pushing that is increased, it is also the supporting of the
load. This is even increased by the rider sitting slightly heavier on his
inside seatbone, loading that bent inner hindleg even further. The smart thing
about shoulder-in is that it is almost inevitable that the horse will load his
inner hindleg more, wether he wants to or not. As he lands his inner hindleg
bent, and the outer lifts, he simply has to work. Also, the fact that only one
hindleg at a time has to work, stops the horse from slowing down because of the
increased resistence to one hindleg. If you were to try to get the horse to
stretch to both reins at the same time, and also bend both haunches at the same
time, you will probably have the horse slowing down and start to resist the
Not only the hindquarters strengthen by the exercise of shoulder-in. The
frontlegs get a workout as well. The muscles that draw the frontlegs in towards
the midline, the pecs and chest muscles, have to bot make the frontlegs cross
over and also support the weight in this crossed over position. They will also
have to learn to push away and out. The other (inner) frontleg will have to do
the opposite, grasp for ground away from the body and push off in under the
body. Hopefully they are relieved some by the engaged hindlegs, and work at
appropriate speeds, at least in the beginning. The shoulderblades and their
connective tissues and muscles will have to adapt to this work as they move up
or down on the sides of the chest. For the outside frontleg to grasp for ground
forward and out, the shoulderblade will have to be pulled up. As it draws the
body over its course and pushes away in under the body the shoulderblade will
have to lower some for the leg to be able to be leaning towards the midline.
Bending to the inside - stretching the outside.
Then there’s haunches-in, or traverse as it is more commonly called. There are
differences, however. The traverse is only a traverse if it is ridden across
the diagonal or quarter line, so that the horse’s hips are always more or less
aligned with the long sides. If ridden in the direction of the shoulders
aligned with the longsides and the haunches out, it is a renvers. There are
other names as well, but it is really unimportant unless you have a passion for
old literature or traditional riding for its own sake. What I’m getting at is
that the placement in the arena decides the name, but haunches-in is haunches
in even in a field with not fence. Can be done anywhere.
The purpose of the haunches-in is generally the same as the shoulder-in. It
should collect the horse and balance him towards the quarters. It does so in a
slightly different way than shoulder-in. In haunches-in the horse moves
straight forward (or nearly so) with the shoulders and obliquely with the
hindquarters. The outer (away from the bend) hindleg is placed behind the
center of mass and steps in under the center of mass in motion.
To be able to benefit from haunches in, the horse must be schooled in
shoulder-in and be able to sustain some degree of collection. It must have
learned from the shoulder-in not to pop the shoulder out, because trying to
teach the horse not to pop the shoulder out in haunches in is nearly
impossible, it is so easy for the horse and hard for the rider to fix. The
horse must also know how to move away from the outside leg without it bending
his body – the horse must be bent by the inner leg, and still let the outer leg
drive him sideways. The horse must also be strong enough to push the body
forward with one hindleg, and at an angle at that! The horse has to grasp
forward and inward with his outer hindleg, and push backwards and out in order
to maintain direction. This uses a slightly different set of muscles and they
have to work differently.Another very important thing is that the haunches-in
enables the rider to work the horse in canter, which can be a very collecting
exercise, compared to trot.
Shoulder-in in canter is both difficult and potentially harmful. This is so
because the frontlegs cross. When the outer frontleg has landed the inner
frontleg must pass it and land in front of it. This risks the horse brushing
his legs or even stumbling. This is why we don't reide a proper shoulder-in at
the canter, but merely a tendency for shoulder-fore. That is because at that
little angle, the frontlegs actually don't cross . but that inside hindleg will
still be placed in under the center of gravity, and be forced to bend and take
In canter haunches-in, the horse crosses the hindlegs, and does this while they
are both in the air. That makes it no longer a problem. The problem with
capital P in canter haunches-in is that the loaded hindleg is the one that is
aligned right behind the center of mass and on the outside of the bend. So
rather than being on the inside of the bend and be able to reach far in under
the center of gravity, this hindleg's hip is as far away from it as it can be.
It can be quite difficult to make the horse bend this hindleg and suppoert,
rather than just push on.
Leg-yield to the left - front and hindlegs crossing.
Leg-yield is the baby brother of Shoulder-In and Haunches-In. It does not really exist as a separate exercise in for example classical French equitation. The Germans have decided to use it less and less in their tests, since the absolute majority of horses do not get beyond Klasse L (which means they never school collection). For an untrained horse who never collects, years and years of leg-yield training (mostly done poorly) in order to pass a test is very detrimental.
Leg-yield has basically 3 purposes, so it's not completely useless and from hell. It should however be used with caution since it can vear the horse down.
1 It teaches the rider the use of the diagonal aids - inside leg to outside rein. Not until the rider has learned to master the coordination between these aids can the leg yield be ridden with any success.
2 It teaches the horse to move away from the leg. That it, it gives the rider control of the position of the haunches. This is elementary and very important in a young horse's career as a mount.
3 It can be used as a loosening exercise in the warm-up phase. The angle at which the legs must move is quite different to that in which the body is aligned. This means the the legs must move away from the body and in towards the body bot loaded and lifted and in both directions. This wakes up a lot of slumbering muscles an´d generally gets the juices going in the joints as well.
The leg-yield has no collecting effects on the horse. The horse moves at too steep an angle for that, so that the hindlegs step beyond the center of gravity. The horse does not push his body in front of him, so there's no extra load on the hindlegs.
Turn on the Forehand
Turn on the forehand to the left.
Turn on the forehand really does the same thing as the leg-yield. It
teaches the horse to move away from the leg. The difficulty here is that the horse is allowed to move only minimally forward, so it can be quite discouraging for a young horse. In a green horse that is upset by the turn on the fore, it is better to leg-yield.
It is therefore also a good idea not to turn a full 180 degrees, and certainly no all the time. A step or two, going 6 feet inside the main track and just approaching the corner, can help to engage the inner hindleg without losing forward urge.
Many riders can't tell a turn on the forehand from a turn on the haunches, or really, which one is which. If you move with the forehand more or less in place, but the hindhand is the one doing the movement, so which is that, a turn on the forehand or hind?
Well, I ususally categorize them by what they do to the horse's balance, and that works for me. I shall venture to explain. Physics 101:
The center of gravity
The horse stays upright and in balance by supporting his body over 4 legs as pillars, one in each corner. There is a Center of Gravity - COG (yellow) to the horse's body, and if the horse were stiff and inanimate like a stone statue, the horse could be balanced on one pillar right under the center of gravity and still remain standing. But the horse has 4 legs - one in each corner, and the center of gravity is somewhere inside the rectangle of the four corners (blue). Usually quite near the middle, but a little closer to the front hooves, since the horse is heavier in front and since the neck weighs the front end down more. The COG in a standing horse is likely to be somewhere around the yellow splash.
The center of gravity
shifts forwards as the
hindleg is lifted.
When the horse lifts a hindleg to move it, the COG shifts away from that corner (orange), because otherwise that corner might fall down, because the original COG (Yellow) is outside or colse to the edge or the triangle of the three remaining supporting hooves. The heavy body is still there, but one supporting pillar is gone. COG has to move.
So when a horse turns on the forehand, lets say, to the right, it is positioned right. This automatically transfers the COG a litte to the left. It then lifts the right hindleg to place it in front of and across the left hindleg. So the horse must move its COG so that it is instead well inside of the three remaining pillars/legs. It also only has one hindleg to stand on, and in order for it not to have to take double the weight, the COG shifts forward.
The frontlegs are not moved in long steps. The right frontleg is basically stepping in place, and the left frontleg is stepping inches, so they do not deviate from their straight supporting position. The hindlegs, on the other hand, move to the side and take long steps, so they have to be relieved. The COG is constantly in a forward position compared to a halt.
Now, some may say that that's counter-productive and not at all the way it is supposed to be done. And quite possibly so, the horse should probably try to put as much weight as he can over the hindlegs for it to look nice and be of gymnastic value. But the fact reamins, that the exercise of Turn on the Forehand naturally sets the horse up for front heaviness. When collection is beginning to work OK, we no longer ride Turn on the Fore.
What it does for collection is, that it places the inner hindleg closer to the midline, thus pulls it closer to the body, and in front of the outer hindleg. This gymnasticises the hip and stifle joints, and makes them flexible and stronger.
A common flaw in the Turn on the Forehand is that the horse not even lifts his feet in front, but merely lets his legs be twisted around each other screwed into the ground. Then when they have to step away because they would otherwise snap off from the twist, the horse usually just stumbles away for half a step, without synchonization with the hindlegs movement.
This is front heaviness at its extreme. The horse is so weighed down in front that he doesn't even bother to lift the outer foreleg to make it step around the inner. You could drill a hole throught the earth this way! A good solution would be to not let the front end stay in place throughout the turn, but to make it move on a very small circle instead.
Turn on the Hindquarters
Turn on the Hind is a totally different story. Or, not totally, it's just the opposite.
It is also commonly called a walk pirouette. A pirouette that is less forward and engaged than a canter pirouette, but none the less a pirouette. The horse transfers more weight back over the hindquarters in order to be able to move each frontleg across the other and to the side, just like I described in Physics 101 above.
The center of gravity
The horse stays upright and in balance by supporting his body over 4 legs as pillars, one in each corner. There is a Center of Gravity - COG (yellow) to the horse's body, and if the horse were stiff and inanimate like a stone statue, the horse could be balanced on one pillar right under the center of gravity and still remain standing. But the horse has 4 legs - one in each corner, and the center of gravity is somewhere inside the rectangle of the four corners (blue).
It is a little closer to the front hooves, since the horse is heavier in front and since the neck weighs the front end down more. The COG in a standing horse is likely to be somewhere around the yellow splash.
The center of gravity
shifts backwards as the
frontleg is lifted.
When the horse lifts a frontleg to move it, the COG shifts away from that corner (pink), because otherwise that corner might fall down, because the original COG (Yellow) is outside the three remaining supporting hooves. The heavy body is still there, but one supporting pillar is gone.
When the horse turns on the forehand, the hindlegs step around the forehand. They step in front of eachother and in that way step a tad closer to the front hooves. In the turn on the quarters, the frontlegs step around the hindquarters, but as they do so they step in front of each other and thus further away from the hindquarters. So in a turn on the hindquarters it is very easy for the horse to actually walk away from his hindquarters, if done badly or imprecisely.
Wouldn't it be better if we could make the horse cross his frontlegs behind eachother in the turn on the quarters, to make the frontlegs step closer to the hindlegs?
The good part about this, is that the outer hindleg also has to step around the inner hindleg, and in doing so it will step in front of the inner hindhoof and make the hindlegs catch up with the drifting front end.