This course explains the shoulder-in, the aids for asking for this movement, and common errors made when doing a shoulder-in. Learn when and where to do a shoulder-in, the benefits of this exercises for both horse and rider, and a brief history of this movement.
Eliza Sydnor Romm
FEI Rider, Trainer, & Instructor
Eliza Sydnor Romm is a classically trained dressage rider and instructor. Her goal is to successfully train horses and riders with an emphasis on partnership and harmony.
1. What is a Shoulder-In?
According to the USDF Rulebook, a Shoulder-In is:
“This exercise is performed in collected trot. The horse is ridden with a slight but uniform bend around the inside leg of the rider maintaining cadence at a constant angle of approx. 30 degrees. The horse’s inside foreleg passes and crosses in front of the outside foreleg; the inside hind leg steps forward under the horse’s body weight following the same track of the outside foreleg, with the lowering of the inside hip. The horse is bent away from the direction in which it is moving.”
View From Above
In a Shoulder-In, the horse moves at approximately a 30 degree angle to the track.
The horse seen from above performing a shoulder-in.
2. A Brief History of Shoulder-In
Trainers have been using shoulder in (Or a version of it) since the 1500s, or possibly earlier! The first person to describe what we would recognize as Shoulder-In was the French trainer, Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere (1653-1781.) According to De la Guérinière, the shoulder-in has multiple effects. (…) First and foremost it has a suppling effect on the shoulder (…), it prepares the horse to sit on the haunches because with every step it brings the inside hind-leg under the body and puts it over the outside (…) and it teaches the horse obedience to the leg aids.” For him the shoulder-in was the ideal means to achieve the suppleness of the whole body of a horse with the goal to perfect the natural movements.
The Old Masters generally considered the shoulder-in to be the foundation of all other dressage movements, since it increases the horse’s shoulder freedom, the lateral and longitudinal flexion of the horse’s spine, and the engagement of the haunches. It is beneficial in so many ways and can be used to correct so many problems that some riders jokingly call it the “aspirin for the horse” or dressage’s “mother exercise.”
The modern shoulder in is most often ridden as a 3 track movement, which is what we show in this course. Throughout history, shoulder-in has also been ridden as a 4 track movement, with more angle, so that the horse makes 4 tracks. But this requires greater collection, so it is not recommended for lower level horses or riders. Riding shoulder in with too much angle usually takes away impulsion and inhibits the quality of the trot.
1. The rider’s weight is slightly to the inside.
2. The inside leg is at the girth for impulsion and bending.
3. The outside leg is just behind the girth to guard the haunches from stepping out.
4. The outside rein controls the angle and bend.
5. The inside rein asks for flexion.
The outside rein has the job of controlling the angle through half halts. Once in the shoulder-in, the inside rein should be giving, and then only used to re-establish the bend when the horse loses it.
When to ask for a shoulder-in
Shoulder in is first asked for in 2nd level dressage tests. This means you must have established all the prerequisites from Training and First Level before working on shoulder in. Your horse should move nicely forward off your leg into a supple and consistent contact, and he should equally bend left and right, and move easily off your leg through leg yielding. Horses are naturally “crooked” when viewed directly from the front or the back. Their hips are wider than their shoulders, so as green horses, they carry significantly more weight on their front end, and the hind leg either falls slightly in or slightly out, depending on their strong/weak side. This is normal and expected. Through basic training, we as riders help to strengthen the horse through working gaits and suppling exercises, making them more symmetrical and slightly less crooked. But even a strong, supple First Level dressage horse will need help with straightness and engagement, which will create a more uphill horse. This is where shoulder-in can be very helpful!
Why do a shoulder-in?
Shoulder-in is used to help with improving connection to the outside rein, engaging the inside hind more under the horse’s center of gravity, suppling/mobilizing the horse’s shoulders and thereby helping to improve the balance to a more uphill way of going. Shoulder-in is also an excellent exercise for aligning (straightening) the horse.
Where to do a shoulder-in
The easiest way to introduce shoulder in is by riding a 10 m circle in trot. Pay attention to the first stride of the 10 m circle. If it is difficult to ride a 10 m circle keeping bend and impulsion, first work on that. When that feels fairly easy, ask for the 10 m circle, followed by a few steps of shoulder-in down the track of the arena. When your horse loses impulsion, bend, connection or quality of the trot, ride onto another 10 m circle to re-establish these things. At first, you will only be able to get a few steps of steady shoulder-in, and this is normal. Pretty soon your horse will be able to hold the steady angle for more and more steps. Once you get to the point of being able to hold the shoulder-in for more than a few steps, you can use the corner of the arena (instead of a 10 m circle) to help “set up” your bend before riding down the longside.
6. Shoulder-In & Shoulder-Fore
In Shoulder-Fore, the horse’s inside hind leg is visible between the two front legs.
A shoulder-in that has an angle less that is less than 30 degrees is called shoulder-fore. The horse’s shoulders are moved only slightly to the inside, so that the inside hind leg is “threaded” between the two front legs.
Benefits For the Horse
Shoulder-fore and shoulder-in are both excellent exercises for developing engagement, suppleness, and throughness in horses at all training levels. It supples the shoulders, strengthens the hocks, and improves both the horse and the rider’s the inside leg to outside rein connection.
Benefits For the Rider
Some common errors in shoulder-In
The horse on the left is over bent to the inside due to too much inside rein.
The horse on the right is too straight and the haunches swing out, similar to doing a leg yield along the wall.
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