Top ten ways to improve your lateral movements

If you are having difficulty in schooling lateral work, and have inconsistent scores in lateral movements in dressage shows, these 10 tips can help you achieve greater results, be more confident during lateral maneuvers, and have a more harmonious connection with your horse.

horse dressage female

10) Look where you are going

Lateral movements can be intimidating.  It’s often easy for a rider to get hooked on looking down at their horse to see if they are doing the movement correctly. DON’T DO IT! When you drop your head, most likely your torso will follow, and your seat will come off the saddle.  Even if you just lower your eyes down, the weight of your head is displaced, which impacts your weight aids over your seat bones.  Your weight aid is perhaps the most important instructional cue for your horse, as it influences balance and self carriage.  When your weight changes to more forward over the shoulder and down, your horse becomes more downhill and heavy.  Instead, hold your head high, put your shoulders back, and look confidently where you want your horse to go!  To help this, try setting up a mirror at either end of the rail.  This will encourage you to look up into the mirror to check the correctness of the movement, rather than down at the horse.  When there is no mirror, pretend you see your reflection, as your horse executes the desired movement perfectly!

9) Shorten your reins

A problem for a lot of riders is they ride lateral movements, which require substantial collection and self-carriage from their horse, with too long of a rein.  A shorter rein will help you make a connection to the hind end, make half-halts easier to achieve, and increase sensitivity in the lateral movements.  A shorter rein will help your horse balance over the hind end, and prevent a horse from getting “strung-out” in the maneuver. Be careful though that shorter reins do not cause you to tip forward, which as we discussed in tip #10, can have negative implications on the lateral movement, which cancel out anything gained by shorter reins.  Instead, bring your seat forward towards your hands, and keep your elbows loosely connected to your hips.

8 ) Be a mirror for your horse

I see a lot of riders twisting their bodies when they want their horses to move on a straight track, and being very immovable with their bodies when they want their horses to move on separate tracks.  Be a mirror for your horse. If you want your horse to move on three tracks in the shoulder-in, position your own hips and torso into the movement.  If you want your horse to carry its weight the outside or inside hind leg, position your own weight over that leg.  In this way, you are literally demonstrating for the horse what you want him to do; the horse will move corresponding to your weight.   This does not mean collapse your rib cage, as again, your horse will follow this incorrect movement.

7) Don’t be afraid to circle

If your lateral movement is not going the way that you wanted it to, don’t be afraid to regroup in a small circle.  A circle would be appropriate at any gait, in any lateral movement including shoulder-in, travers, or half-pass.  Also, don’t be afraid to circle several times if you feel it is necessary.  This regrouping can dramatically help your training of lateral movements – you will be more relaxed in the movement with awareness of an “out”, training will be in shorter, more bite-sized increments, and consequently, communication of your aids will become clearer for your horse.

6) Incorporate other lateral movements into the exercise to help the one you are concentrating on

Ride a half-pass like a travers across the diagonal to keep the hind end from trailing out behind.  Think about a slight shoulder-fore in the travers to keep the bend, and prevent the movement from becoming too similar to a leg yield.  If your horse is falling out through the shoulder in the shoulder-in, try switching to a ranvers for a while, then switch back to the shoulder-in.  Be flexible with your lateral movements, and let the gymnastic qualities of lateral work improve other lateral movements.

5) Keep both legs on

It’s very easy for riders to forget to ride with BOTH legs while riding lateral movements.   For example, in the shoulder-in, keep the inside leg on for the bend, the forward drive, and the inside leg stepping up and under.  Keep the outside leg on to keep the hind legs straight on their track, as well the animation in the steps. In the half-pass, remember to keep your inside leg on to keep the bend, and the outside leg on to stimulate the forward impulsion, and support the hind leg crossing.

4) Connect your seat

It’s very easy to get “perched” in the seat during lateral movements, as well as fall off to one side or another.  Stay over the horse during the movement, and keep a deep feel in your seat.  Think about opening your shoulders back and down.  Also think about your hips as a ball spinning backwards and down, so your tailbone spins down, through the saddle, and ultimately up towards the horse’s ears.

3) Ride to the last step

I see so many riders, especially in dressage tests, have great lateral work in the first half of the movement, only to lose it completely 3 or 4 steps before the prescribed end letter.  In this way, I feel like the riders are the marathon runner that stops 100m before the finish line. The race is not over, and the lateral movement is not over! Ask for that perfect lateral movement right up until the last step! In practicing your lateral work, to prevent both you and your horse from anticipating the end, ride 2-3 steps in the movement past the letter.  For example, if the test calls for a shoulder-in to F, ride the should-in further in towards the corner.  If you practice this on a consistent basis, by the time you arrive to the show, your lateral movements will be crisp and consistent from the first step to the last.

2) Have a good set-up

Set you and your horse up for success! It’s far too easy to concentrate on the intimidating lateral movement at hand, and forget the steps leading up to it.  If your horse is not round and in self-carriage before the lateral movement, how can you expect him to be round and in self-carriage with impulsion DURING the movement?  Make sure your horse is on the aids, respectful of your half-halts, and has good impulsion going in to the movement, always.  If not, circle, and try the approach again.  When you set your standards high for the approach, your lateral work will become cleaner and more consistent.  This will also be apparent in your tests, as in the corners before prescribed lateral movements, it will become routine to make sure to ask your horse for good set-ups.

1)      Breathe

It is incredibly important to breathe while riding a horse, especially during lateral work.  When you hold your breath, your horse becomes tense and stifled, causing the movement to become flat, and lack impulsion, balance and rhythm.  When you hold your breath, all the elements of training you have worked hard to achieve get lost.  To prevent holding your breath, try singing or whistling while you ride.  In a test, where whistling would not be so appropriate, try humming softly, or gently counting your horse’s strides.  When you breathe, your horse will relax, become softer through the back, and be able to remain expressive and animated in lateral work.

Have fun putting these tips into practice during your rides!

Happy Riding! 😀

Initially published:  2011 by Larissa Cox


4 Responses

  1. Thanks for these great tips. I know I am guilty of several of these things.

  2. tackandtalk

    You are welcome! Larissa 🙂

  3. Excellent advice! Thanks for posting the link on Twitter!

  4. thx for the tipps … i really have to work on “Look where you are going” …

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