Shoulder-In and Your Horse

Courtesy of America’s Horse Daily

The shoulder-in is a valuable horse-training exercise on and off the dressage court.

I have two passions: reining and dressage.

People need to realize they’re not that different, though the horses might look different.

Shoulder-in is just one of the exercises that can be done with your horse to help supple him, whether you ride a reiner or a dressage horse. It works to strengthen the haunches and topline, and frees up the shoulders so the horse can perform higher-level maneuvers such as sliding stops and rollbacks, or canter pirouettes.

In a shoulder-in, as the horse tracks along the rail, you bend his body slightly so that just his shoulders move off the rail to the inside, right or left, depending on your direction of travel. His hindquarters stay on the rail.

The horse should rock his weight back onto his inside hind leg so he can keep his frame up and light, and the rider can maneuver the horse’s shoulders. If you’re on the ground and the horse is coming toward you, it will look like his legs are moving in three tracks or four tracks, depending on how much bend there is in his rib cage. Three tracks would be the inside front leg on a track, the outside front and inside hind on a track, and the outside hind on a track. In four tracks, you see all four legs moving on a track toward you.

When you first start out, if you can get your horse to do a shoulder-in for three or four strides, you should be elated. At first, just ask for a stride or two and then go straight again. Or try going into it coming off a small circle, or out of a corner.

The rhythm of his legs should stay the same as he goes into the shoulder-in. If the legs get quicker, that tells you the horse is unbalanced.

You really have to build up your horse’s ability to do it longer. Allow the horse to understand the balance of the exercise first.

Build up to six or seven strides, and then up to the long side of the arena, but don’t expect that too soon, even with stronger Quarter Horses. If you do it over and over, the horse’s muscles will get too tired to do it. Start out at the walk, but you can build up to performing the exercise at the jog and lope.