Whatever level you compete at, it’s always worth working beyond that when you’re in the comfort of your home arena. This not only takes the pressure off on show day, as you’ll already be more than confident with what’s asked of you in a test, but also boosts your marks because your horse’s way of going will have advanced beyond what’s required for your level of competition. So, why not give some thought to incorporating more advanced exercises – perhaps shoulder-in and walk pirouettes – into your sessions?
Ready to rumble
Even if moving on to more complicated movements is well within your grasp, you’ll still need to prepare your horse effectively with a suitable warm-up to make the most of your session. The two exercises I’m covering here – shoulder-in and walk pirouettes – both require suppleness aplenty and a good degree of impulsion, so it’s worth using the first few minutes to get your horse in the groove.
Begin on a longer rein, working your horse forward and over his back to help him swing through his quarters and cover the ground. Incorporate shapes and transitions to help supple him, very gradually working him up into the bridle and shortening his frame. It’s essential that you maintain this relaxed, soft way of going and forward-thinking movement when you begin asking for more collection.
A movement that’s as useful out of the dressage arena as it is inside it – why not try it to pass parked cars? Shoulder-in’s introduced at Elementary level and it’s slightly more demanding than leg-yield, which is why I only begin teaching it once a horse understands the aids for, and is correctly performing, leg-yield.
It requires your horse to work on three tracks, with his shoulders slightly to the inside. His inside foreleg will move on an innermost track, while his inside hindleg and outside foreleg share a central track and his outside hindleg works on an outer track. Shoulder-in is a great exercise to strengthen and supple your horse, encouraging him to lift through his core and work into an even contact.
Don’t push for too much when you introduce shoulder-in, a few correct steps is a great start, and little and often is the best way to ensure you continue to get it right going forward.
Pick up a copy of March Horse&Rider, on sale 7 January 2021, for Alice’s top advice on how to ride shoulder-in and walk pirouettes.