Why Learn Shoulder In?

Today’s Tip: Most of the things we teach ourselves and our horses do have a function. Sometimes it’s helpful to find out what that reason is in order to properly apply it. Find out what one reason is for learning the shoulder in.

Today I had a lesson with a teenage girl who has been riding with me for a few years. I don’t have a good place to ride in the cold, dark, and snow of winter, so we take a few months off. Today’s lesson was the first time since last fall that she has ridden. I never know what to expect after so much time off, but today’s lesson went really well.

So far her lessons have consisted mostly of basics. We’ve been doing a flat walk (she really just does a “regular” walk and a flat walk, not really a running walk) for quite a while and started cantering last year. She’s still not strong enough to really convince him he should listen and has a hard time steering and going faster at the same time. We also spend a lot of time working on her ability to and confidence in making him go exactly where and how she wants him to. Today, however, most of those things went pretty well.

I decided, just like my own personal riding goals, that it’s not worth waiting around for perfection, it was time to move on and challenge her a little more. We started on a shoulder in today. Classy probably does a leg yield a little more easily (my fault!), but she doesn’t have the control or strength for it, so shoulder in seemed like a better starting place.

Toward the end of the lesson, she seemed a little frustrated because she wasn’t getting it very well (I thought she did well for a first attempt), so I tried to explain why we were doing this. I’d never really thought about it before except that it’s a gymnastic exercise for the horse and it’s a precursr to some other lateral work. Why does a rider need to learn a shoulder in?

The answer, I realized, was that it helps us learn how to use our aids. If we can see how the aids work when we use them a little more strongly, it can help us understand their use in the more subtle contexts. The inside leg has to push more to keep the back end on the rail. The inside rein has to “learn” how to tip the head in without turning the horse off the rail. The outside rein has to collect and recycle the energy as well as keep the outside shoulder off the rail. Going around a circle, it’s easy to just pull on the inside rein and lead the horse around, but that doesn’t help the horse balance or give you good control over the horse’s movement.

A shoulder in is a little more complicated in the grander scheme of things, but it can also be much simpler: It’s just another cool thing we can ask our horses to do!

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