Tack n' Talk

Online Equestrian Resource

Lateral work Demystified

s559325974_211595_4269waiting her turn by the sand ring


   At first glance one of the most daunting aspects of dressage is lateral work. To the novice or inexperienced onlooker lateral work appears to be some sort of magic or trick whereby the horse responds to some unseen cue and of their own accord begins to dance.

  In actual fact if you happen to be a rider who has been working at walk , trot and canter ( training level) in dressage or equitation and/or hack in hunter for some time you probably know and use regularily most of the aids you need for almost all of the lateral movements already.

   The good news about dressage and one of my favourite parts is that progression is slow, logical and extremely methodical. it is designed to increase the level of difficulty in the movements at the same pace that horse develops the muscle and strength to carry them out and gives ample time for the rider to truly understand the aids and when and why we need them.

   In most cases the first lateral work a rider will be taught is a simple leg yeild.This means you will ask your horse to move away from or yeild to pressure from your leg.Picture your self in a standard 20×40 meter arena . coming down the centre line on the left rein at A you will ride ahead very straight to D (on the centre line between F and K. Let’s say you are going to leg yeild right to M. This means your horse will move away from pressure given by your left leg toward M.In order to prevent your horse from moving too much sideways and reaching the track at say B you will add  taps of outside or right (forward and impulsion leg when on left rein )leg. This will ensure your horse moves equal parts forward and sideways toward M.The next problem you would most likely encounter will be the haunches trailing , simply meaning the horse turns and heads for M on a diagonal rather than crossing both front and hind legs equally. The remedy for this will be to half halt with your outside (right rein ) intermittantly.In leg yeild the horse is permitted to look straight ahead or slightly away from the direction they are heading. This means you must be sure to keep your inside hand as soft as possible.

   In a very short time you and your horse will be floating sideways feeling like Gran Prix performers simply by applying correctly aids you are probably both well acquainted with already.

    The horse who has been properly trained simply responds to the aids given by their rider without concern for the end result of various combinations of aids given in sequence or even some at the same time.

   It is much easier to train your horse for lateral work in an indoor or outdoor ring of the correct size to post either a standard or 20×60 set of letters. This way you have somewhere definite for your eye to be aiming. This will help to keep your work straight and correct with the right amounts of both sideways and forwards movement.

     While lateral work looks lovely it was actually developed simply as a series of suppling exercises with which to help your horse develop flexiblity, strength , pushing power and bend.The end result being improvement in the basic gaits of walk , trot and canter.

     The cornerstone of lateral movement is the shoulder fore. The shoulder fore means the horse’s shoulders are slightly displaced to the inside while the haunches remain travelling staight on the rail or whatever line you are on (ie. centre line , quarter line etc.)To develop the shoulder fore you would probably find it easiest to start when coming out of a corner onto the long side of the ring, ie. at K on the right rein.You would imagine you were going to ride a circle say 15 metres at K. Prior to starting the circle you would half halt with your outside rein as per normal to let your horse know a request is coming up and to set their weight more onto the haunches.You would take your first stride onto the circle and you would notice your outside rein is now roughly on the inside line of the track. Outside half halt again, bending the horse slightly around your inside leg and keeping your lower body in line with horse’s shoulders , rotate your upper body to be looking straight down the track.  With the inside leg tap the horse’s side, outside leg maintaining impulsion , soft inside rein and outside rein half halting occasionally to stop the horse from coming onto the forehand.In short order you will be flowing along the track in shoulder fore and when comfortable in that you can increase the displacement of the shoulders to about 45 degrees in off the track at which point you will be riding a full shoulder in.

   Most of this work is best experimented with in the walk until you understand the relationship between your eye , and each hand and leg in creating the movement. It does take patience but it is not work for only the gifted few as it often appears when you are starting out in dressage.

   If your horse stops or starts to back up rest assured you have been too heavy with the hand and lacking drive with the leg. Be very patient in the beginning and reward every sideways step you feel. Do not school these movements endlessly and become frustrated, upsetting your horse in the process. Play around with the concepts and be happy with a few strides in the beginning. If you try too hard you will become desparate with the aids and annoy your horse no end.

    These two movements ( shoulder fore and leg yeild ) lead into half pass , travers , renvers, shoulder in e tc. and you will not need any more aids than you already know. The key is knowing when and how to apply the aids in the order that will result in the movement you are attempting.

    Have fun , be patient, if able find good coaching but if not rest assured you can learn these movements on your own and stay on good terms with your horse as well. There is no magic involved , merely a true dedication to taking responsibility for the aids you apply and the results they produce. Cheers. Libby Keenan


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