Move Over…lateral work exercises for your horse

Lateral means sideways.  For lateral work with our horses, we see that the horse moves both forwards and sideways on different tracks.  Lateral work aids suppleness and flexibility for your horse. It can improve free movement as well as responsiveness to the riders aids.  Think of it as being a bit like yoga for horses; balance, relaxation in the frame and suppleness. We have some classic exercises listed below and some ideas for how to make riding them that little bit easier to understand!

1. Turn on the forehand

A perfect starting point for both horse and rider to learn all about moving sideways.  This schooling movement will teach your horse to respond to your direct inside leg pressure and move away from it.  Working on this can ultimately improve your control of circles and turns.  

How to ride the exercise…

Set up two ground poles into a right angle (L shape).  The poles give you a shape to work around making it easier for you as a rider.  Make sure you are sitting in a balanced position in the saddle. Ride alongside the outside of one of the poles in an active walk, half halt as you approach the right angle.  Ride forwards to halt. Maintain contact in your outside rein as this will contain the outside shoulder and the energy, open the inside rein away from the horses neck to create a little flexion.  Use your inside leg pressure just behind the girth to push your horses quarters around his forehand in an arc. Maintain your outside rein at this point! Your horse will make steps to move around the right angle of the poles.  He’ll do this by crossing his inside hind leg diagonally forward in front of his outside hind. Keep your outside leg on the girth to make sure the quarters dont swing out too fast. Steady equal steps are what you are looking for, bringing the back end around a quarter of a turn until you are alongside the second pole and can ride forwards again.

  1. Leg Yield

This is a great lateral suppling exercise and can be ridden at both walk and trot.  The horse moves on two tracks; forwards and sideways keeping the body straight with a small degree of flexion at the poll AWAY from the direction in which he is going.

On the quarter or three quarter line, just as you turn off the track, have a ground pole placed length ways along the line. This will allow you to have a marker to start straight and work from.  Once you have ridden alongside the inside of the pole, you are aiming to leg yield your horse across to the outside track. Allow for steps both forwards and sideways, steady and consistent. Check out our detailed blog on riding the perfect leg yield here for more info.  This blog tells you exactly what each step of the exercise is and how you ride the movement.

3. Shoulder in

This exercise helps maintain suppleness and straightness, whilst also encouraging hind quarter engagement and impulsion.  The rider bends the horse around the inside leg creating a step over from the inside fore across the outside fore, the hind legs remain travelling in a straight line on the outside track.  It is important to remember that the riders shoulders must stay in line with the horses shoulders, riders hips in line with the horses hips and that this is a positioning exercise of the shoulders in and not quarters out!  The horse will move on three tracks and bend through its rib cage at a 30 degree angle to the wall or fence it is working off.  

How to ride the exercise…

This exercise is ridden when horses can show a degree of collection and increased engagement.  Start by riding a 10m circle in your corner at the start of the long side of the arena. Establish balance, bend and suppleness around your inside leg. The rider should sit slightly heavier on the inside seat bone. With the inside leg pressure at the girth and the outside leg slightly back to keep the quarters from falling out. Leave the circle and ride down the long side of the arena. Now bring the horses forehand off the track as if you were about to commence another 10m circle.  As the horses shoulders and forelegs leave the track, the outside hand and rein contains the degree of bend and stops the horse from moving onto a circle. Inside leg on the girth pushes for forwards and sideways movement. Outside leg just behind the girth prevents the quarters escaping.

Points to note

Watch that you are not pulling on the inside rein to position the horse’s head and neck. The horse’s neck and head should still be aligned with the center of its chest. You must maintain correct hand position on either side of the horse’s withers when asking for shoulder-in.  Keep the weight down into your inside heel. 

Ride just a few steps to begin with and then circle off to the inside.  As you become more proficient with the exercise and aids you can increase the amount of steps you ride.  Your shoulder in will then progress down the long side. 

Hopefully these exercises will keep you busy over the coming weeks in the school and ultimately you will feel the benefit in your horses way of going, thanks to the variation of lateral work exercises.  








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