“In the past, the exercise ‘head-in and haunches-out’ was used as a preparation for the lateral movements, in order to teach the horses to yield to the leg. Lately, the turning of the haunches around the forehand on the spot along the lines of Baucher's method has been applied, which has the advantage of avoiding detrimental rein aids with mediocre riders in order to communicate one's will to the horse in a direct fashion.”
Friedrich von Krane, Die Dressur des Reitpferdes (Campagne- und Gebrauchspferdes), 1856, 141, translation: TR.
This is the opening article for a new series on dressage movements. In discussions of this subject the participants often disagree on which movements are considered “classical”, and what criteria determine whether a movement is “classical” or a “circus trick”, or a “competition movement”.
There are two main criteria that can be applied in deciding whether a movement or an exercise is classical or not. On the one hand, there is the historical factor to be taken into account. A movement or technique that used to be commonly practiced in past centuries (especially during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, the “classical” period of dressage) has to be considered classical. Many of these classical exercises have become forgotten nowadays, even though they can still be of great benefit for our modern horses.
On the other hand, classical dressage is based on equine biomechanics and psychology, and one of its main goals is to develop the horse’s gaits gymnastically to their maximum potential, so that the horse moves with as much grace and ease and expressiveness under the rider as at liberty. Therefore, any movement that helps to improve the gaits or to explain a certain aid to the horse, can also be considered classical.
In the early stages of the horse’s training, after he has learned to go forward on straight lines and large circles, when he has been familiarized with the concept of bending and turning by riding circles, corners, and voltes, he has to learn to bend and step sideways away from the direction of the bend, so that the inside legs cross in front of the outside legs.
The classical dressage movement par excellence for bending and stepping away from the bend is the shoulder-in. However, before the rider attempts a full fledged shoulder-in, it makes sense to prepare the horse by explaining the basic components to him with related, but more elementary exercises, such as enlarging the circle from the inside calf, the leg yield, the turn on the forehand in motion, and the full pass.
You could say that there is a gymnastic progression of exercises that lead up to the shoulder-in. Historically, there was a certain progressive development as well that paved the way for the shoulder-in, and that can be traced through the classical literature.
The first one of these preparatory movements seems to have been the “head-in and haunches-out” on a large circle. Baron v. Eisenberg (Wohleingerichtete Reitschule, 1748, 16, translation: TR) calls it “one of the most important movements, which serves above all to make a horse maneuverable”. He further explains (ibid.): “This exercise is also useful for wayward horses, who resist and are prone to rearing, or who are otherwise nervous or who ignore the rider’s aids, because this movement enables the rider to place the horse’s head well, to end his stubbornness and to make him obedient. In a nutshell, nothing makes a horse more supple and corrects his mistakes and stubbornness more effectively.”
Eisenberg gives the following description of the movement (p. 17): “I may say that a rider who knows how to use this movement will be able to place the head of any horse correctly, regardless of the horse’s breed or type, and regardless of whether his neck is well conformed or not, as long as he proceeds as follows. One must begin in the walk, and when the horse is ready, take the trot, and ensure that the horse is always going forward in an even tempo, since everything depends on this regularity. It will be easy to maintain a horse in the trot, as long as the rider takes care to meet the horse’s contact with a light hand under all circumstances. When the horse carries his head away from the direction of travel, one has to release the reins, as this shows gratitude for his effort. … He (the rider) must also pull the outside rein inward periodically, in order to bring the horse’s outside shoulder in, because this is the most important element. For it is not enough to pull the horse’s head into the circle and to flex the horse’s neck. But one must also be careful to bring the shoulder to the inside, which means pointing the shoulder towards the center and the pillar. This is the reason why a pillar is necessary in the school. One should not plague the horse too much with this movement but be initially content with four to five strides, then ask for a few more as the horse becomes stronger.”
Plates XVI and XVII illustrate Eisenberg’s description. The horses are depicted in a shoulder-in related position, their body forming a steep angle to the circle line, their head facing the center of the circle, which is marked by a single pillar. The spine is bent away from the direction of travel, so that the inside legs cross over the outside legs.
This exercise is very versatile, since the horse’s body can be aligned along a continuum of angles. When the haunches stay out on the original track, and the shoulders are brought in to a smaller circle, the exercise is essentially a shoulder-in, especially if the outside front leg and inside hind leg are tracking on the same circle line.
If the rider’s body remains on the original circle line, while the haunches are moved out and the shoulders are moved in, the exercise is more related to a leg yield. This variant is easier and can be used as a very convenient introduction to lateral work at the trot or the walk.
Should the horse not understand the request to yield to the leg and to move sideways away from the bend, the rider can stop the horse, increase the angle of the horse’s body to the circle line to ninety degrees, so that his spine is parallel to the radius of the circle, and the center of the circle appears between the horse’s ears, and then ask the horse to step directly sideways along the circle line (away from the same leg as before) at the walk, without changing the alignment of the horse’s body. This exercise is called a turn on the forehand in motion.
All of the above exercises, the turn on the forehand in motion, the leg yield on a circle, and the shoulder-in on a circle dissolve tension and blockages in the horse’s hips, belly muscles, neck, and poll, and can be used to engage the inside hind leg, which is what makes them invaluable gymnastic tools.
A very good exercise is, for instance, to begin with a leg yield or shoulder-in on the circle at the walk, then increase the angle of the horse’s body to the circle line by bringing the shoulder more to the inside, until the horse’s spine is parallel with the radius of the circle. Continue for a few steps or a quarter of a circle. Then ride straight ahead, following the radius of the circle. Upon reaching the opposite side of the circle, change direction and begin again with the leg yield or shoulder-in.
Cardinal mistakes in these exercises include loss of tempo (slowing down) and disconnecting the neck at its base by overflexing it laterally, if the outside rein does not support the bending inside rein sufficiently, which leads to a bulging of the outside shoulder. The horse then becomes crooked and drifts over his outside shoulder, consequently overburdening the outside front leg.
In the turn on the forehand in motion a further common major mistake is a loss of alignment, so that the horse’s body is no longer parallel with the radius of the circle, because either the shoulders are traveling sideways faster than the haunches (when moving away from the calf on the hollow side), or the haunches are traveling sideways faster than the shoulders (when moving away from the calf on the stiffer side). Some horses will step backwards, so that the inside hind leg crosses behind the outside hind leg instead of in front of it, thus rendering the exercise ineffective. Other horses will run forward through the seat and rein aids, which also defeats the purpose.
All of these evasions are indications of stiffnesses in the horse’s hips. If the horse goes backwards, he is not yet truly in front of the driving aids. If the horse diminishes the circle as soon as the shoulder is brought to the inside, he is not yet truly obedient to the inside leg and outside rein. The hind legs are still pushing more than they are willing to carry, and the horse is not quite on the seat yet. If the tempo slows down, the horse is not enough in front of the driving aids yet.
All of these exercises can be explained to the horse through work in hand, without the rider’s weight in the saddle. This is often easier for the horse to understand than if he has to learn it with the rider on his back.
When the horse understands the turn on the forehand in motion as well as the leg yield or shoulder-in on the circle, the rider can ask the horse to diminish the arena after the first corner of the long side by leg yielding on a diagonal line away from the outside leg (German: Viereck verkleinern). The horse is initially positioned to the outside. Eventually this exercise is converted into a half pass, where the horse is bent in the direction of the movement.
At this stage the rider can also ask the horse to leg yield along the long side by placing the haunches to the inside, while still flexing the head to the outside of the arena. If the entire spine is bent to the outside, this movement is called a counter-shoulder-in. If the spine is bent toward the inside of the arena, and the outside legs cross in front of the inside legs, the movement is called a haunches-in. In the leg yield proper, the horse’s spine is kept relatively straight, but the head is flexed a little away from the movement.
If displacing the hips or shoulders is difficult for the horse at first, it can be very helpful to stop and increase the angle of the horse’s body to the line of travel to 90 degrees, which will either bring the haunches to the inside with the head facing the wall, or it will bring the shoulders to the inside with the haunches on the wall. Once the horse’s body is parallel with the short side (assuming the long side, quarter line or center line is the line of travel), the rider asks the horse to step directly sideways from the same leg as before, flexing the horse away from the direction of travel at first. Later on the horse can be flexed in either direction. After a few strides, the rider returns to the original leg yield or lateral movement to test whether the horse has understood the request of yielding to the calf. This movement is called full pass. It has the same major evasions that were mentioned above for the turn on the forehand in motion, such as losing the alignment of the body, because either the shoulders are traveling faster than the haunches or vice versa, stepping backwards, running forward through the seat and outside rein, and head tossing (due to stiffnesses in the poll and neck).
It is easy to see that the leg yield can be used as a good preparatory exercise for the true lateral movements. The rider can break down the requirements and ask the horse first to move either his shoulders or his hips sideways to the inside or the outside of the track he is riding, without bending the spine very much. Once this has become easy, the rider can add the bend. As a general rule of thumb, bending away from the direction of travel is easier for the horse than bending into the direction of travel. In other words, shoulder-in and counter-shoulder-in are easier for the horse than haunches-in, renvers, and half pass.