How To Perform The Shoulder-in
Updated: May 11
The shoulder-in is a suppling exercise and one of the first collective movements introduced in Dressage. Besides suppling the horse, the shoulder-in will help "to improve the cadence and bring the balance and pace into harmony; and to develop and increase the engagement of the quarters and thereby also the collection." (USDF Rule Book DR111)
The goal of shoulder-in is to achieve lightness and improved balance of the horse, which ultimately leads to a higher degree of collection. "Shoulder-in is used to supple and engage a horse and make him obedient to the aids. It’s not only a suppling movement but also a collecting movement because with every step the horse must move his inside hind leg underneath his body and place it in front of the outside hind leg, which he is unable to do without lowering his inside hip." (Practical Dressage Manual, p97)
"Standing in front of the horse, one should see only three legs. The inside fore-leg, the outside foreleg which hides the inside hind, and the outside hind." (The Dressage Horse, p 140). The rider slightly moves the forehand to the inside of the track. The horse bends around the rider’s inside leg. The bend through the horse’s body around the rider’s inside leg is created by the horse lowering its inside hip and bringing the inside hind further under its body.
The Three Tracks:
Track 1 = outside hind leg
Track 2= inside hind leg and outside foreleg
Track 3 = inside foreleg
"The horse is led into the shoulder-in with a half-halt. The inside rein 'guides' the forehand to the inside. The outside hand allows the shoulder to move forward and limits the bend passively. The rider slightly weights the inside seat bone and checks that the shoulder does not come behind the movement. The inside lower leg lies closely to the girth to maintain the bend in the ribs, causing the inside hind leg to step forward and maintain the side-ways movement. The outside lower leg is passive unless required when the outside hind leg falls out." (The Dressage Horse, p 140)
When first starting to teach or train the shoulder-in, try using less flexion and angle. Start with a shoulder-fore position then increase the flexion until a few steps of shoulder-in is achieved.
If at any point rhythm or impulsion is lost, bring the horse back to the track and regain forwardness and rhythm before asking for the shoulder-in again
If the horse isn’t getting the correct bend, start the shoulder-in by performing a 10m circle in the corner, then go directly into the shoulder-in on the long straight side of the arena.
Another problem can arise if the horse tilts his head in the shoulder-in. This is probably due to the rider hanging on the outside rein excessively, or the contact on both reins isn’t even.
When I was first learning the "proper way" to do a shoulder-in, one of my biggest hurdles was hanging too much on the outside rein. I would keep too strong of a connection with the outside rein and my horse would in-turn tilt his head. I was also a little bit of an overachiever. I would put my horse in a 4-track shoulder-in and it took me a while to learn the right feel of a 3-track shoulder-in. If you don't have mirrors in your arena, it is helpful to have someone videotape you so you can see what track you are on.
Disclaimer - I am an amateur rider and not a professional. The information provided on this blog is based on my personal experiences and educational research.