In this training article we are going to look at how you can add lateral work into your training. We are going to look at what lateral work actually is in the first place, the different uses of it and how we can apply it into our training to help different training issues we might come across with our horses. we will also look at what order to introduce the lateral movements in and when is the best time to introduce them.
What is lateral work?
Lateral work is simply the term we used to describe all the movements that improve a horses lateral suppleness. Basically, any movement that requires a horse to bend in their body and move sideways.
Lateral movements in a test start at elementary with the leg yield and at medium you need travers, half passes and shoulder ins. As you progress up from medium the difficulty of the half passes increases, you need to be able to ride them more steeply and at PSG you then need to be able to ride a right half pass, then change, then a left half pass in one long side, at Inter I you need to be able to ride 3 half passes in the space of one centre line (still with your flying change in between each one) and finally at grand prix you need to be able to ride 5 half passes in canter.
There are 4 different lateral movements: leg yield, shoulder in, travers, renvers and half pass. You can go into counter shoulder in and things like that but they are the basic lateral movements.
Why is it beneficial for horses?
We know that lateral movements are required from Elementary, so from a practical point of view, you need to be able to ride the lateral movements that are required for the level you want to compete at. But lateral work also has benefits to improve your horses suppleness. Think of lateral work as the gymnastic side of dressage, it helps your ability as the rider to be able to move your horse around and make them athletic, but it also helps you as the rider gain the ability to be able to control different parts of your horse independently, When doing lateral work, you need to be able to ask your horse to move their shoulders more one way or bring their hind quarters in another way, you also need to be able to ask for more impulsion or more suppleness or a more secure contact whilst in the lateral movement which is naturally going to require you as the rider to have more control over your horse and their body, Lateral work can be used as a great training tool to help fix a huge variety of training issues and at the end we will go through lots of different training issues and the different lateral exercises you can use to help it.
There are so many more benefits that we haven't discussed. It improves their agility and manoeuvrability, their attentiveness and responsiveness to the aids, their balance, their straightness, their engagement and bend in the hindleg, their hips ability to open and cross. improves the strength of their abdominal muscles and creates more freedom in the shoulder. Essentially, its very beneficial!
What you need to have in place before you introduce lateral movements
Before we look at lateral movements you need to have a certain degree of control over your horse, we need to have the basics in place. When we talk about the basics, we look at the Scales of Training and these are rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection. These are the basic building blocks you need in place. However, something that a lot of people forget when we look at the Scales of Training is that, as you go through the levels, the degree to which you need each of these elements increases. For example, the amount of suppleness your horse needs at prelim needs to be enough for you to do a 20m circle, maybe a 15m circle. But by the time you get to Grand Prix, that suppleness needs to be enough that you are able to ride 5 half passes down a centre line with a flying change in between each one. In other words, you need a hell of a lot more suppleness if you're at Grand Prix than you do at Prelim and the same applies for all the Scales of Training.
If you are able to influence your horses impulsion and are able to ask your horse to go more forward and come back. If you have a secure, stable contact and your horse works over their back in a round frame and you have enough suppleness to ride a 15m circle then i would say you are able to start introducing the leg yields.
When should i introduce lateral work?
There are 3 reasons why you introduce a lateral movement.
You need it for a test or a level you would like to compete at.
It will improve your basics/scales of training (rhythm, suppleness, contact and so on)
It will help improve a training issue
The first one is just a practical thing. If you want to ride an Elementary test then you need to teach your horse to leg yield. The same as if you want to ride an advanced medium you need to teach your horse how to flying change. When we teach our horse a new movement it is a process. We introduce them to a new aid and we show them how we want them to react when we put this aid on, especially when first introducing lateral movements the concept of stepping sideways can seem foreign to our horses after a long time spent wanting them to push forward into a contact and be straight and so on. This takes time in itself and they might get it wrong, get confused and make mistakes but after they've got to grips with the new aid and the idea of stepping sideways, you need to work on your ability to be able to influence your horse in this new movement, can you move their shoulder and their hind end, can you ask for more or less activity, more or less bend and so on. Then once you have this control you then need to look at getting your movement being of test quality, making sure the rhythm stays the same, the contact is consistent, the shoulders always lead slightly and so on. This whole process takes time and so you need to be looking ahead to when you want to do an Elementary. Ideally, we introduce that first step of teaching the aid and the reaction we want and getting our horse to step sideways from the age of 4 or 5. We make it more of a game and keep it light and easy just so they understand the concept of moving sideways as well as forwards. They may be confused to start with or fall a bit through the shoulder or lose balance or the quality in the way of going but that's okay, it means that when we get to the stage where we need to start getting a test ready lateral movement that the concept is already in their heads and we just need to make the quality of that movement a little better.
So introduce it before you need it is the main thing i want you to take away from this. That way you don't need to panic if your horse takes a while to understand the concept or if you find they lose impulsion in it or come across any other problems, you have time to fix it all.
The second reason to introduce suppleness is that it improves your horses basics, those scales of training we spoke about. Lateral work is fantastic for improving your horses suppleness but can also be hugely beneficial for all the other scales too. In this sense its great to be able to use lateral movements to improve your horses basic way of going.
The final reason to use lateral work is to fix a training problem. Lateral work can be great for regaining control over your horses body, improving the hindleg engagement and self carriage, creating more suppleness and collection.
What order should i introduce the lateral work?
This is not necessarily a definitive guide to which ones to introduce first but this has always been the way i have done it and its always worked really well for me and the way i train. Again, the process from introducing the movement to it being of test quality does take time and that time depends on the horses trainability as well as their strength and ability to move their body.
Leg yield on a circle: (also called spirals) this is a great way to introduce your horse to lateral work. start on a 10-12m circle in the middle of the arena and use your inside leg to push your horse back to the track. The circle helps encourage your horse to already have that bend around your inside leg as well as helping them to step underneath and across with their hindlegs rather than running forward instead.
Leg yields: we then introduce leg yields from the 3/4 line to the track. Once established you can then build this up in difficulty. You can do it from the centre line to the track and then from the track to the centre line which the horses tend to find more difficult as they are going away from the fence line. Once established leg yields are great to play around with; altering your horses tempo, frame, bend and so on.
Shoulder in: Once our horses have an idea of the stepping sideways with the leg yields we will begin to introduce the shoulder in. We use this to help us gain more control over the shoulder as well as starting to think about getting that hindleg to bend and push looking toward our collected work.
Travers: Up until now, all the lateral movements we have introduced our horse to has been a step away from our inside leg with a bend away from the direction of movement. Travers means the horse has to bend towards the direction of travel so they end up stepping away from the outside leg and around the inside leg. This is a whole different feel and concept for a horse and, depending on the horse, this is the one that i find most horses struggle to get the idea of the most because they are not just stepping away from the pressure they are having to almost step into it. It requires more suppleness as well as more strength from the hindleg.
Half passes: The process from travers to half pass is always pretty easy. Best way i find to introduce this is to get your horse comfortable riding travers across the diagonal and then its just about your ability to be able to influence your horse then within that.
What could you use lateral work for?
Lets have a look at some problems that you could use lateral work to fix.
Your horse falls in on a circle: use leg yields to teach your horse to step away from your inside leg and lift their inside shoulder
Your horse struggles to sit and push from their hindlegs/struggles to carry themselves: use shoulder in, travers or leg yields all encourage the horse to step under and engage their hindlegs.
Your horse is tight in the shoulder: use shoulder in which encourages the horse to open out their outside shoulder.
Your horse struggles to collect: travers and shoulder in are both great for helping your horse become stronger in their hindleg so they are able to carry more weight behind.
Your horse falls out on circles or falls out through the shoulder in leg yields: renvers is fantastic for this.
If your horse is a bit spooky or 'looky' you can try leg yields on a circle or leg yields in a zig zag left and right to get their attention back to you.
Ultimately, the point i am trying to get across is that there are so many ways you can use lateral movements to help you and your horse. They can be a huge asset to anyone's training system and teaching your horse these different movements not only is going to help their suppleness, straightness and all those scales of training we spoke about; its also going to be extra tools in your toolbox you can use to fix such a huge variety of problems you may come across in your training.