Question: In Europe, shoulder-in is greatly discussed. Also, I have heard the term shoulder-fore. Is this the same as shoulder-in? If not, what is the difference? When do you use each and why?
Answer: This is a really great question -- a question many of my students have asked. Instructors often are not clear in differentiating between shoulder-in and shoulder-fore, but the two exercises are not the same.
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Shoulder-fore is the mini-version of shoulder-in. It is the introduction for both the horse and the rider to the shoulder-in. In shoulder-fore, the rider displaces the horse's front end slightly to the inside, with the result that the horse's inside fore travels slightly inside, while the horse's inside hind tracks between the tracks of the two forelegs, and the outside hind is in the track of the outside foreleg. The horse should be slightly bent to the inside.
Shoulder-in requires the rider to displace the horse's shoulder even more to the inside. We are taught that most of the time three tracks are correct: the inside foreleg is on one track, the inside hind and outside fore leg are on the second track and the outside hind is the third track.
Many trainers will ride their horses on four tracks occasionally -- this is a shoulder-in with more angle, and the shoulders are moved even farther in, so the four tracks are inside fore, outside fore, inside hind and outside hind. It is difficult to maintain bend at such a steep angle, so this should be done only with more advanced horses and riders. Once the horse loses correct bend, the haunches swing out, the inside hind leg crosses in front of the outside hind and shoulder-in becomes a leg yield. Leg yield is fine, if that is what you are trying to do. But it doesn't require the horse to bend the inside hind leg more and carry more weight, so the collecting effect of shoulder-in is lost.
Both exercises are used to increase the engagement, collection, suppleness and straightness of the horse's gymnastic ability. Each causes the horse's inside hind leg to bend a little more and take a little more weight than when the horse is ridden in a straight line.
Another benefit is that after mastering both exercises, you always will be able to straighten your horse correctly by bringing the shoulders in front of the hind end, rather than pushing the haunches out. When a horse is straight in his body, the inside hind follows behind the inside foreleg and the outside hind follows directly behind the outside foreleg. This is true whether the horse is on a straight or bent line such as a circle.
The aids for both shoulder-fore and shoulder-in are the same; the rider just asks for less angle and less bend in the shoulder-fore. The rider looks to the inside track and turns her upper body and shoulders where the shoulders of the horse are to be placed. The inside rein opens slightly and brings the horse's nose in, while the outside rein closes against the neck and brings the shoulder in. These are the same aids as bringing the horse onto the first stride of a circle. As the horse brings his front end in sufficiently, the rider's inside leg at the girth tells the horse to continue to move down the track, rather than to complete the circle. The inside seat bone should be slightly in advance of the outside and slightly heavier. The rider maintains the outside leg slightly back. The outside leg is what I call a "guarding" aid: not active, but in position behind the girth to correct the horse's hind end if his haunches swing out.
The horse must maintain forward activity and throughness when doing lateral work. If the horse is truly going forward from both legs over the back into both hands before going into the shoulder-in, the aids can be very subtle and the throughness can be maintained. If the rider tries too hard and ends up pulling the horse into shoulder-in, the horse inevitably tenses, shortens the neck, shortens the stride and loses the forwardness and looseness needed for good quality work.
Therefore, both rider and horse need to become good at shoulder-fore, where the demand is less, before attempting shoulder-in. This is the reason why we should differentiate between shoulder-fore and shoulder-in.
Shannon Dueck was the individual silver medalist at the 1999 Pan-American Games on her Dutch gelding Korona. She is a U.S. Dressage Federation (USDF) gold medalist and has been short-listed for the Canadian Equestrian Team for the past three years. In 2002, she rode on the Canadian team at the World Championships in Spain; in 2003, she represented Canada at the World Cup in Sweden and the Open European Championships in Hickstead, England. A Canadian citizen, she is currently based in Wellington, Florida.