Lateral Work with Leah Beckett
Training Feature - Lateral Work - Members Only
Courtesy of Aloeride, the natural aloe vera supplement for horses, Leah Beckett, international dressage rider and Aloeride sponsored rider gives readers takes a look at lateral work and how incorporating it into your every day training can have so many benefits for you and your horse. Leah is riding Russki, the 10 year old son of Rimskij Korsakov, a 16 yr old Grand Prix Black Stallion by Rubenstein, also owned by Shaun Measures. At the time of the shoot, he was competing at Advanced Medium and working at home towards Grand Prix.
Here I have chosen to write a very brief introduction to the basic lateral movements but before we go there, I have to start where I always start and that is to say that if there is anything that I have learnt then it is that the most important thing of all when riding dressage is to first knowing how to ride straight.
"The most important thing of all when riding dressage is to first knowing how to ride straight"
So many people demonstrate their straight lines with an inside flexion but this is not straigh – quite simply, straight is straight! There should be a straight line from the front of the saddle up the mane and through the two ears. Your reins should be like a tunnel and the horse should be right in the middle of them. I always say try and keep your knees, toes, forearms and thumbs facing forwards, like you’re skiing. Then all the energy and impulsion takes you in a straight line. If you are dropping a hip or pulling up a heel or cocking a wrist then you would ski off the mountain! So imagine what happens to the energy of the horse! I don’t think people always realise that the horse is a mirror of their own body so whatever you do, however you sit, has an absolute direct impact on the horse.
Straightness is the key to everything. I cannot stress it enough. It is the foundation to dressage and certainly the key to success. If you have control of the body and you have the basics in place it makes training the ‘tricks’ so much easier!!!! And not just for you, but it also makes the work easier for the horse. If he is straight and evenly balanced then his body is the most available it can be to do the exercise you are asking of him.
When a horse is straight he is on two tracks. This means that the hind legs follow in the track of the front legs
Introducting Lateral Work
When we first start to introduce lateral work it is on a three-track movement. So for example in shoulder-in the shoulders are brought in from the track and the inside hind leg tracks into the path of the outside front leg (see image right).
Too much angle and you get (image right) four tracks. Can you see each leg has its own track?? Too much bend and you will struggle to even get off two tracks!
Shoulder-in is a great exercise to increase suppleness, increase engagement of the hind legs and also help to get your horse more between the inside leg and outside rein. This exercise does all the work for you so as a rider don’t try and over complicate it!! Come through the corner, bring both hands to the inside (almost as if you are neck reining a little) to bring the shoulder in, half halt on the outside rein and then ride the horse up the track on the inside leg.
Another great exercise for increasing suppleness is Travers. This is where you bring the quarter’s in (image right). The head, neck and shoulders head up the track whilst the quarters step in. You can see that the rider’s outside leg is back whilst the body is positioned straight – reflecting the horse. Such a wonderful, wonderful exercise for bend and also the foundation for half pass!
Half pass is simply Travers on a diagonal line! Turn onto the diagonal, visualise your long side and ride the quarters in! Eh Voila!!! A super supple, flowing, engaged half pass!!!
Just to demonstrate the difference the lateral work can make for suppleness and engagement, these two photos show the difference: The first before the lateral work, the second after!! (See images below)
Before lateral work
After lateral work
For the purposes of this feature, lateral work and riding these movements has been super simplified to make it easy to understand but it really is not so hard – IF the horse is straight to begin with.
As with any aspect of training your horse, it doesn’t matter if it goes wrong in the beginning, just make sure you both have fun. If you are serious about teaching the lateral movements, get some support on the ground to help you get the feel for the correct aids and angles and remember be happy with ‘baby’ steps at first. As you progress the quality of step will improve, keep your sessions short and sweet with plenty of walk breaks.
Photos by David Miller
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