Working on flat: shoulder in
The aim of flat working is to relax the horse, to loosen and at the same time to strengthen its muscles, to obtain balance, lightness, impulse and, last but not least, harmony and collaboration with the rider.
- #work in flat
It is still a widespread belief that intense flat working is only necessary for the preparation of the horse which must have dressage skills. Of course flat working in preparation for dressage involves specific work aimed at the execution of required figures but every rider must be able to work their horse properly on a flat, even in terms of jumping or country riding. In flat working, one of the most important and fundamental exercises to loosen the body of the horse is the ‘shoulder in’; in particular, engagement of the rear, mobility and loosening of the shoulders and hips and flexibility of the sides are all obtained. The horse slightly moves its shoulders, and thus its head and neck, on a more inner line to the extent that the outer front is in front of the inner rear . A greater degree of inclination is not required. The head of the horse must stay straight with the ears on a horizontal plane. The horse should proceed with a smooth gait rhythm that can be initially stepping and then, mostly, a small trot. This is how to perform with simplicity the action of shoulder in, starting from a small circle.
To relax the horse we move in a circular pattern, moving from a smaller circle performed at a short trot to a larger circle while increasing the strike. We always alternate requests with breaks in which the horse moves freely. When the horse is loosened up and relaxed, working with two hands, after the circle exercise we proceed in a straight line with the shoulder in. At the beginning it must be quite subtle: the inclination of the horse must be minimal and only for a few meters. Essentially, we maintain the same body flexion that we created in the circle exercise. After the shoulder in movement on a straight stretch, we repeat a small circle then we move forward again with the horse relaxed. The breaks are even more important than the requests. It is a time when the horse moves freely and comfortably. We perform this exercise with two hands so that the body of the horse always works in symmetry. In full execution of the exercise, from the circle to the shoulder in, we focus on the balance, the rhythm and the fluidity of movement. Gradually as the exercise improves and becomes increasingly precise, we intensify our efforts and we sit in the saddle more to enter increasingly into contact and harmony with the horse. Thanks to the use of the rear, which is carried under the mass and with the relaxation of the body of the horse, this is the best exercise to win the trust of the horse.
To begin with, our efforts must be subtle, though always clear and precise. When the horse begins to work, it relaxes, and performs the exercises with ease and without tension whereupon we can intensify the actions. We must monitor our riding position at all times. Hands must work in harmony and with discretion to obtain inner flexion; the inner hand (right if we are performing shoulder in right) acts with light opening while the outer one rests gently on the neck. With these actions we obtain movement of the front on an internal track with a concave rounding of the entire body of the horse. The inside leg acts behind the girth strap and checks that the rear does not move inwards. The outer leg, in harmony with the inner part, maintains the impulse. The head is in the direction of forward motion and the weight is well centred in the stirrups. Our body in the saddle must always be relaxed.