Thoughts On The Function Of Lateral Movements

Lateral movements are pretty to watch, when they are ridden well. They are fun to ride, and they are contained in certain competition tests. In addition, they are indispensable gymnastic tools in horse training. In this newsletter I want to share a few thoughts and observations concerning the gymnastic function of lateral movements. It is not a comprehensive, ultimate treatise on the subject. That would go beyond the scope of this post.

Due to their sidestepping aspect, lateral movements are very well suited to mobilizing and strengthening the horse’s hind legs and oblique abdominal muscles.

They can be subdivided into two large groups:

  • Lateral movements with bend AGAINST the direction of travel - shoulder-in and counter shoulder-in. You can add the turn on the forehand in motion to this category, since it is biomechanically related.
  • Lateral movements with bend IN the direction of travel: haunches-in, renvers, and half pass. Biomechanically related to this group are passades, turns on the haunches, and pirouettes, as well as the pirouette renversée, which is a turn on the forehand in motion with the bend in the direction of travel.

You can also divide the lateral movements into those with the bend towards the center of the ring: shoulder-in, haunches-in, and half pass.

And there are the so-called counter movements, with the bend towards the outside of the arena: counter shoulder-in and renvers. These are gymnastically especially valuable, but they are hardly ridden any more, since they are only very rarely shown in competitions or in exhibition programs.

There is yet another possible subdivision of lateral movements. If you ride them on curved lines, there are those in which the hind legs have the longer path: shoulder-in and renvers.

And there are those in which the hind legs have the shorter path: counter shoulder-in and haunches-in.

All these classification features have certain gymnastic and functional consequences. Over the years I have observed that lateral movements with the bend AGAINST the direction of travel are especially well suited for suppling and “closing” the horse, because you can bring the inside hind leg very effectively underneath the body. This way you can improve the lateral bend and prepare collecting movements such as half passes and pirouettes, which place more weight onto the inside hind leg, thereby flexing its joints more.

The suppling effect can be emphasized through:

  • Stirrup stepping into a front leg or stepping sequences that connect the front legs or front and hind legs with each other
  • Alternating between several steps of shoulder-in and counter shoulder-in
  • Alternating between several steps of shoulder-in or counter shoulder-in and voltes
  • Alternating between several steps of shoulder-in or counter shoulder-in and turns on the forehand in motion

Of course, you can also use shoulder-in and counter shoulder-in to collect the horse through:

  • Stirrup stepping into one or both hind legs
  • Stopping into a hind leg in the position of the lateral movement
  • Reinback in the lateral movement
  • Combining shoulder-in or counter shoulder-in with passades, turns on the haunches, or pirouettes

Lateral movements with the bend IN the direction of travel are very well suited for collecting the horse, since they place more weight onto the inside hind leg, while the outside one is crossing. A prerequisite for the successful execution of these lateral movements is that the inside hind leg steps well underneath the body and that the inside hip is advanced, so that the horse is able to bend into the direction of travel. Therefore, the shoulder-in related lateral movements are the precursors andthe preparation for the haunches-in related lateral movements.

The following combinations are gymnastically especially effective:

  • Shoulder-in - haunches-in
  • Counter shoulder-in - renvers
  • Shoulder-in - half pass
  • Half pass - pirouette
  • Haunches-in - pirouette
  • Half pass - pirouette renversée

Stopping into a hind leg and reinback in the haunches-in or renvers position are also very effective tools for flexing one hind legmore.

Generally speaking, transitions between gaits and even within the gait in all the lateral movements are very useful gymnastic tools.

Especially interesting and gymnastically effective are the lateral movements on curved lines, as they alter the mechanics of the movement:

  • In the shoulder-in and renvers the front legs are on a smaller radius, while the hind legs are on a larger circle.
  • In the haunches-in and counter shoulder-in the hind legs are on the smaller radius, while the front legs are on the larger circle.

This has certain consequences. When the hind legs are on the larger circle, they have to travel a longer distance than the front legs, and they have to move more quickly. Therefore, shoulder-in and renvers on curved lines are well suited for speeding up slow hind legs.

In the walk many horses start to diagonalise their steps and to offer half steps or piaffe steps, when you activate the crossing hind leg while keeping the opposite hind leg grounded longer with your weight and with half halts.

Horses that tend to be naturally short strided behind can learn to take longer, more energetic strides behind through the use of shoulder-in and renvers on curved lines, especially if you ride them at the trot.  

When the hind legs have to travel the shorter path, they have to support the weight more. Horses that take steps that are too long and that push too much with their hind legs benefit from haunches-in and counter shoulder-in on the circle or volte.

Haunches-in on curved lines is very well suited for training the collected canter, since the mechanics of the line and the movement makes it very difficult for the horse to canter fast, flat, and downhill.

Since extreme collection was one of the main goals of equestrian art during the Renaissance and the Baroque Eras, you can see many horses in the books and engravings of those periods that are depicted in haunches-in related lateral movements with a relatively steep angle.

Clever combinations of lateral movements are highly effective in straightening, as mistakes thatoccur in the shoulder-in can be corrected in the haunches-in or half pass, and vice versa.  Mistakes that occur in the counter shoulder-in are corrected in the renvers, and vice versa.

Because you can use lateral movements to bring the hind legs more underneath the body and flex their joints with the body weight, they are especially well suited as the starting point for lengthening the strides. Flexing the joints motivates the horse to open them again which results in a bigger push and longer strides.

If you add voltes, turns on the forehand in motion, as well as turns on the haunches, passades, and pirouettes to the various combinations of lateral movements, you can create an almost inexhaustible number of exercises that make the horse more supple, stronger, more maneuverable, more relaxed, more impulsive, and able to collect more.