While there are many lateral movements in western riding, they are not traditionally performed to the level that you will see in the dressage arena. Adding these basic dressage movements to the training of our western horses in Cowboy Dressage makes for a more complete and balanced equine athlete.
You can think of lateral movements as the Pilates of equestrian training. It teaches your horse independent control of the parts of the body creating bend and suppleness through the entire spine. It also helps convey soft feel by gathering the horse’s legs under the body and redirecting the feet laterally one quarter at a time. Like Pilates in people it also helps to develop elasticity and strength in the muscle groups and when performed correctly can even help a horse that is very one-sided naturally to better be able to use both sides of his body equally. Do you have a horse that is stiff to one side, or reluctant to take up one lead? Lateral movement exercises can help your horse to better learn how to balance and use his body for better athletic control.
The basic lateral movements are:
1. Shoulder in
2. Shoulder out
3. Haunches in
4. Haunches out
5. Leg Yield
6. Half Pass
If you think of a horse walking down a dirt track, you can see two lines of tracks. One of each side of the body. In the simplest terms, the lateral movements change the way the front half of the horse and the back half of the horse are tracking, ultimately changing how many lines of tracks there are in the dirt. Visualization of these maneuvers is so important when teaching your horse. Developing the feel to understand where each foot is falling can be difficult and so having a clear picture in your mind really helps to create the proper feel for you and your horse.
The best method for clearly visualizing these maneuvers is to pair up with a friend. You don’t have to put the horse costume on, but imagine you are two people in a horse costume. When you are walking united the forequarter person and the hindquarter person are each stepping in the same lateral tracks, left and right.
In the picture below you can see Eitan and Katrina traveling as the forequarters and hindquarters of the horse. They are traveling united and both of their feet are in the same left and right track.
With a Shoulder in maneuver, the hindquarters stay traveling straight in the same original tracks while the forequarters step in one track. This creates three tracks in the dirt. The inside hind foot and outside front foot are traveling on the same track while the outside hind foot and inside front foot are on their own separate tracks. This creates an arc through the body of the horse that begins at the nose and travels to the pelvis.
You can see an excellent shoulder in performed by Eitan and his lovely assistant Katrina in this picture
Eitan is the forequarters. His body is offset by one “track” from the rear quarters, which is Katrina. The forequarters are looking in the direction of the bend creating a slight arc through the body.
The same basic principle applies to a Haunches in and Haunches out maneuver, except the forequarters will stay on the same original track the hindquarters are asked to move over one set of tracks in the dirt. In order to create the bend, the head and neck need to be looking in the same direction that the hindquarters are traveling.
The leg yield is a much more common maneuver in western disciplines because it is a relatively straight maneuver. This maneuver is often used to initiate teaching of some of the other more complex maneuvers. Generally performed along the fence line, the leg yield asks the horse to move on three tracks in a straight frame with the head bent just slightly towards the fence. The inside hind leg is on one track, the inside foreleg and outside hind leg is on the middle track and the outside front leg is on the other track. The purpose of this exercise is to teach the horse to move off of the rider’s leg.
In a half pass, all the feet are on a separate track in the dirt. Unlike the commonly performed side pass where there is only lateral movement and no foreword movement, the half pass is diagonal movement. Properly performed, the horse should move equally forward and sideways creating a perfect blend. When performed correctly, the feet create 4 tracks in the dirt that could be labeled from top to bottom as outside front foot, inside front foot, outside hind foot and inside hind foot. The direction of the slight bend in the horse’s body is towards the direction of travel so the head and neck look just slightly towards the inside front foot track.