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The Classical Rider's BLOG

Exercise of the Month, December 2021

Marinero Brillante, PRE Stallion

Every month, I will post on the BLOG an exercise that I find helpful in developing the horse. I will explain what the exercise is, what its benefits are, tips to ride it, and other pertinent information. I will in most cases provide a rudimentary diagram with probably inaccurate circles!

December's Exercise of the Month is Shoulder In to the Reverse Pirouette.

The Exercise: You will ride a Shoulder In to the Reverse Pirouette and back to Shoulder In. 

Exercise Description: In this particular exercise, the horse will be in walk. Begin a shoulder in right on the quarter line or center line, continue shoulder-in for at least half the length of the arena, and then perform a reverse pirouette to the right of 180 degrees, and then return to shoulder in to the right. Repeat on the left, except perform left shoulder in to left reverse pirouette. Variations will be discussed. 

How to Ride the Exercise: First, let me describe what the reverse pirouette actually is.  The reverse pirouette is a turn on the forehand where the front feet keep the march of the walk rhythm more or less in place while the hindquarters transcribe a circle around the forehand with the horse's flexion and bend placed INTO the direction of the movement (the direction the hindquarters are moving). The walk must maintain rhythm, march, impulsion, and the horse should be light, moving with ease, grace, purposefulness, and impulsion. For example, a reverse pirouette to the right would have the horse flexed at the poll to the right with slight bend in the body to the right, while the hindquarters move to the right around the forehand which keeps the march of the walk in place. A reverse pirouette to the left would have the horse flexed at the poll to the left, slight bend in the body to the left, and the hindquarters moving to the left around the forehand. 

To ride the shoulder in to reverse pirouette exercises, let's begin tracking to the left. Track left, and turn left up the center line (or quarter line), and put the horse in shoulder in to the left. This part of the exercise is good because it requires the shoulder in to be off the wall of the school. The rider must be sure the inside hind leg is engaged, and the horse's hindquarters do not escape to the outside. To see how I like to ride shoulder in, check out the November BLOG under Tips. Ride at least half of the length of the arena in shoulder in (you can vary this, and make it longer if desired). Half halt, and maintain the flexion to the left in the shoulder in. Half halt in the seat, and follow that by a light half halt and release of the right, outside rein. With the inside (left) rein maintaining the slight flexion to the left, use the right seat (I  usually contract and RELEASE the right gluteal muscle) to send the haunches to the left. You can engage and release  the right gluteal muscle in rhythm with the walk when the outside, right, hind is coming up and under (contract the muscle, then release). The release allows the horse to perform unhindered. Half halt as needed to hold the shoulders back, and the forward movement on the outside, right rein. Ride the reverse pirouette for 180 degrees facing you back the other way, and continue in left shoulder in. Do not lose the flexion or bend throughout the entire exercise. 

To ride the shoulder in to reverse pirouette to the right, go down the center line in right shoulder in. Half halt on the left, outside, rein and the seat to prepare the horse. Maintain the flexion of the poll to the right, and the right bend in the body. With the left gluteal muscle, contract and release, and send the horse's hindquarters to the right. Half halt as needed on the left, outside rein. Perform 180 degrees, and then continue back in shoulder in to the right. 

If the horse does not understand the seat aid (I train and ride all my horses with back and seat primarily, and rarely the legs, so you may have to teach the horse what that seat aid means), then after giving the aid with the seat, follow up with the outside leg, touch and release, as needed to take the hindquarters around the forehand. For example, in a reverse pirouette to the right, engage and release the left gluteal mass (left butt cheek), and if the horse does not understand, follow up with a touch and release of the left leg, all while maintaining flexion to the right with inside right rein, and half halts on the outside left rein as needed. 

Exercise Variations: There are multiple ways to vary this exercise. 

  • Ride a 180 degree reverse pirouette, and when you return to the center line, instead of staying in the same flexion and shoulder in, change the flexion the opposite ride and ride the opposite shoulder in. For example, right shoulder in to right reverse pirouette to left shoulder in.

  • Ride more or less shoulder in prior to the reverse pirouette.

  • Ride a 360 degree reverse pirouette and continue in the same shoulder in or change the flexion and ride in the opposite shoulder in.

  • Add sequences of shoulder in to reverse pirouette. 

  • Add walk and trot transitions in shoulder in prior to the reverse pirouette and after, all while maintaining shoulder in.

  • These variations should keep you busy for a bit!

Exercise Benefits: The benefits are plentiful for this delightful exercise. First, maintaining rhythm and impulsion is imperative to achieving the maximum benefits. The primary benefit is suppleness, particularly in the bend and flexion, with sweeping haunches into the direction of movement. Worked both left and right, the exercise tells the rider much about the equality of the horse's suppleness and straightness. Straightness is also improved through this exercise as the horse becomes more supple. The shoulder in before and after serves to engage the hindquarters and lighten the forehand, producing collection and lightness. Combined, the horse's equilibrium is enhances as is his strength. This simple little exercise easily works all 4 classical principles, without causing excessive wear and tear on joints.


  • The quality of the walk must be good prior to the shoulder in and reverse pirouette. If the walk is not marching forward (not rushing, but in impulsion), then put the horse straight and forward first.

  • Maintaining the rhythm is key to maximizing the benefits.

  • If the horse or rider becomes confused, simply ride forward, straight, and try again (same with life).

  • The half halt and release of the outside rein is very important to slow the shoulders and allow the hindquarters to sweep around, enveloping them (that's how I visualize and think of this movement, which embodies a warm lightness).

  • Ride with the SEAT FIRST, and follow up with the leg second if the horse needs clarification.

  • Do not apply steady pressure with any of the aids. The horse responds in the release, always. In this manner, the horse is not taught through resistance. 

  • Do not over flex or overbend the horse. 

Conclusion: This exercise is a nice continuation onward from November's exercise. It successfully develops the classical principles in the horse, yet without causing undo wear and tear on joints. It so greatly enhances suppleness through the variations that can be performed, and primarily due to the reverse pirouette, that no rider should be without this wonderful tool to assist in lightness. As always, do not drill the exercise, and if you are not familiar with the reverse pirouette, work on establishing that exercise first, and then adding the shoulder in. Remember, reward the horse for his effort. If you can only ride a quarter reverse pirouette, then it is better to do that well than to teach mediocrity by trying to ride more insufficiently. I'll be concocting something even more delightfully fun for January.

December 2021 Exercise of the Month 

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