The Classical Rider's BLOG
Exercise of the Month, January 2022
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!
January's Exercise of the Month is Transitions through the Shoulder-In.
The Exercise: You will ride a Shoulder-In through various transitions.
Exercise Description: While simple, the exercise of riding transitions while remaining in the shoulder-in packs a powerful punch for developing suppleness and strength, while further enhancing the horse's equilibrium towards improved collection. Essentially, the exercise consists of remaining in shoulder-in to varying degrees of angle while riding transitions such as from walk to trot, trot to walk; halt to walk, walk to halt; halt to trot, trot to halt; walk or trot to canter, canter to walk or trot. Transitions may also be done within a gait while performing shoulder-in, such as transitioning from collected trot to medium trot.
How to Ride the Exercise: The transitions will only be as good as the shoulder-in before them, whether they are up or down transitions, and the shoulder-in will only be as good as the gait you will ask the shoulder-in from. So, establish a high quality walk, trot, or canter to begin with, with good impulsion, cadence, rhythm, and straightness prior to asking for the shoulder-in. Once you establish the quality of the gait, then ask for the shoulder-in. Maintain the same quality of the gait in the shoulder-in, keeping the impulsion, maintaining the rhythm, and assuring that there are no contractions or resistances, no matter how subtle. Any resistances, tensions, or contractions will be magnified through the transition. Once you have ridden the shoulder-in, continue riding shoulder-in, and make a transition, either up or down to the gait you would like to move to, dependent on what the horse needs at that moment, and the goal of the exercise. Are you looking to improve straightness, such as in the canter, in which case transitions from walk or trot to canter are useful. Or, are you looking to enhance collection, going from canter to walk or trot to halt?
For example, if you are in walk to the left, establish a quality, marching, forward walk, and ask for shoulder-in maintaining the same walk. Once you have ridden a few steps of shoulder-in, reinforce the aids for shoulder-in only if necessary, and ask for the trot, while keeping in shoulder-in.
The sky is the limit in terms of combinations that you can ask for, and each combination will have effects on the classical principles: straightness, strength, sending forward impulsion, and stabilizing the equilibrium. What transition you ride should be dictated by what the horse needs at that moment in his development.
Exercise Variations: There are infinite varieties to ride this, as well as performing the exercise on voltes, circles, serpentines, squares and combined with other lateral work. The most important thing to remember is to ride the exercise for the horse's benefit, employing the exercise for understood reasons, to negate a contraction, to build strength and suppleness at a given moment in time.
Exercise Benefits: The benefits of transitions ridden in shoulder-in are multiple. The reasoning behind the benefits is that you are working the horse both longitudinally through the transition, while also laterally through the shoulder-in. This works the horse in his entirety. The benefits include a further development of strength longitudinally toward collection, as well as laterally , which further enhances equilibrium and collection collectively. The particular strength sought here is more complete because it greatly builds suppleness, due in part to the combination of the lateral and longitudinal work. Additionally, through that increased strength in suppleness, the horse's equilibrium is strengthened. And, lest we not leave out straightness, because of increased strength and equilibrium, straightness is better achieved, particularly in the canter.
Maintain the impulsion!!!! Impulsion, impulsion, impulsion in cadence...
Ride from the seat first, and "hold" the horse in the shoulder-in position with the position of the seat; modify with the legs, and let the combined energy flow through the fingertips to the horse.
Do not ask for too much angle or bend initially. As the horse understands and develops, you can ask for more with time.
Do not "over ride the forward," which means, do not ride the horse more forward than his balance allows; how do you know? Watch out for disturbances in the rhythm...
Don't drill the exercise; use when necessary for an accomplished effect.
Conclusion: While seemingly simple, this exercise is mighty in developing the horse's gymnastic capabilities. Never underestimate its power. It further develops collection and cadence, and sets the stage for transitions in other lateral work. Remember, always ride not to accomplish the exercise as a movement, but as an exercise for the benefit of the horse. Enjoy!