Lateral Exercises at the Walk and Trot


To increase the suppleness of the horse, you can add other lateral exercises to your work program. The leg-yield is an elementary lateral exercise, which can be performed at either the walk or sitting trot along the long side of the arena or across the diagonal of the ring, with the horse positioned at no more than a 45-degree angle from the direction in which it is moving. If the horse begins by traveling counterclockwise, then performs a leg-yield across the diagonal of the arena, your aids would be as follows (figs. 2.17 A & B):

  • right indirect rein
  • right leg behind the girth
  • left leg at the girth

The horse’s body remains straight during this movement, except for a slight bend at the poll away from the direction of travel. Your right hand bends the horse only to where the bulge of its right eye can be seen, while your left hand restricts the animal from rushing. Both hands are shifted slightly to the left to reinforce the right leg as it drives the horse toward the proper direction of travel.

To keep the animal’s body from becoming bent from withers to tail, your right leg must be positioned behind the girth. Pressure exerted by the right leg creates the lateral movement in the haunches, while the at-the-girth position of the left leg prevents the horse from bowing its barrel toward the direction of travel and helps to maintain impulsion. As in all lateral movements, pressure from each of your legs changes as necessary to maintain the proper position and impulsion. If the horse begins by traveling counterclockwise, then performs a leg-yield along the railing on the long side of the arena, your aids are as follows:

  • left indirect rein
  • left leg behind the girth
  • right leg at the girth

To initiate the movement, bring the horse’s forehand off the track by moving both hands slightly toward the inside ofthe ring, while slipping your left leg back into a behind-the-girth position and applying enough pressure to make the horse take the first step sideways. The animal should continue traveling down the long side of the arena with its body at a 45-degree angle from the railing and its left legs crossing in front of its right legs.

The function of the hands is critical at the start of the movement. In the span of a few seconds; they must: (1) half-halt the horse to balance it in preparation for the movement; (2) create a slight left bend at the horse’s poll through a left indirect rein; (3) bring the horse’s forehand off the track by moving together to the left; then (4) change the direction of travel by shifting to the right, creating lateral motion in conjunction with the left leg aid. Thus, there is a shift of the hands to the left, immediately followed by a shift to the right. This must be done subtly, or the horse’s impulsion will be interrupted by the roughness of your hands.

If the horse tries to leave the track, your outside hand can be used as both a restricting aid and an opening rein for a moment or two, correcting the error by prohibiting forward movement while guiding the horse toward the proper direction. Your hands, then, change both their strength and position to make the adjustments necessary to maintain the leg-yield (fig. 2.18).

You may find it easier to perform this movement across
the diagonal, as in figs. 2.17 A & B, since your legs remain in
the same position as when you were traveling around the preceding corner of the ring; whereas if you choose to perform the leg-yield on the rail, you must change the position of both of your legs to initiate the movement.


The shoulder-in promotes control of the horse’s inside hind leg, which is critical to the correct execution of a number of upper-level movements. I often refer to the shoulder-in as “more than a bend,” since the horse stretches its inside hind leg a little farther sideways than the normal bend requires in order to sustain the correct position during each step of the shoulder-in. This causes it to lower its inside hip in collection, which can be very useful on a strong, stiff horse because it prevents the animal from bracing with this foot, using it as a base from which to pull against the reins.

The shoulder-in is executed at the walk or sitting trot on the long side of the arena. In a left shoulder-in position, the horse is moving on three tracks, with its left fore on one track, its left hind and right fore on a second track, and its right hind on a third track. You should concentrate on the centerline, formed by the left hind and right fore, and drive the horse’s feet forward along that line to maintain the correct position. You can best do this by looking down the line and feeling the horse’s left hind leg reach under your seat with each step (fig. 2.19).

To perform the left shoulder-in when moving counterclockwise,
first balance the horse with half-halts, then bring both of your hands slightly to the left, moving the horse’s forehand in that direction until the animal is at a 30-degree
angle from the rail. The moment you displace the shoulders, press with your left leg in an at-the-girth position to begin
lateral movement. (The at-the-girth position of your inside leg, coordinated with an inside indirect rein, causes the horse to be bent uniformly from head to tail. Note the difference
between this and the behind-the-girth position of the inside leg during the leg-yield, which causes the horse to remain straight from withers to tail.)

Throughout the movement, the driving aid is predominantly your left leg, although the right leg helps in maintaining impulsion. Your left leg and hand sustain a slight bend to the left throughout the movement; your right hand controls the pace and prevents the horse from “popping its shoulder” to the right; and your right leg prevents the haunches from swinging toward the rail, an error which would result in the horse’s body becoming too straight from withers to tail so that the animal’s feet would be tracking a leg-yield pattern. For the left shoulder-in, then, move the forehand away from the track by bringing both hands slightly to the left, then sustain the movement with the following aids:

  • left indirect rein
  • left leg at the girth
  • right leg behind the girth

Since all lateral movements tend to slow down a horse, you should follow them with straightforward work that encourages long steps and an energetic tempo.

Turn on the Forehand (Basic and Advanced)

The usefulness of the turn on the forehand is controversial. It was deleted from the USEF Dressage Division rules in 1990 because many riders feel that it encourages the horse to lean on its forehand and lose impulsion in its haunches and therefore is a deterrent to collection. This opinion is not shared by all, however. Those who disagree feel that the turn on the forehand encourages the horse to remain active in its haunches, even when the animal’s forward movement is very restricted, and thus promotes collection.

Although the turn on the forehand has been deleted in the Dressage Division rules, it has not been deleted from the USEF Equitation Tests 1–19. Therefore, you will find specific information about both the basic and advanced executions of this movement in the explanation of USEF Test 12 in chapter 3. The basic turn on the forehand, shoulder-in, and leg-yield are relatively simple to perform and are beneficial in the training of all hunters, equitation horses, and jumpers.

Although more difficult movements such as the advanced turn on the forehand, travers, renvers, turn on the haunches, half-pass, and modified pirouette might be useful for training a hunter, they are usually reserved for horses that will also be performing tests of greater precision in equitation competition, or for jumpers whose courses demand concentrated power in the haunches.

Travers (Haunches-In)

When the travers (haunches-in) is performed at the walk or trot along the railing of the arena, the horse’s haunches are pressed toward the inside of the ring by your outside leg (fig. 2.20). When traveling counterclockwise, the aids for the travers are:

  • left indirect rein
  • left leg at the girth
  • right leg behind the girth

To move into a left haunches-in from a straightaway, your right leg slides back into position and presses the horse’s haunches off the track, while your hands move into a left indirect rein position, bending the horse toward the direction in which it is traveling. (If the horse resists the left indirect rein by stiffening its shoulders, use an outside opening rein to guide the shoulders toward the right, into the correct position.) Your left leg complements the left rein in sustaining a uniform bend throughout the animal’s body and drives the horse forward in the movement. Your right leg holds the haunches off the track, while your right hand prevents the horse from rushing and works with the left hand to control the degree of bending. In the haunches-in, the horse’s body is approximately at a 30-degree angle from the wall, but the haunches are bent slightly more around the rider’s leg than when performing the shoulder-in, so that the animal’s feet travel on four tracks, instead of three. (Originally, the haunches-in was a three-track movement, but because of the difficulty of judging the less obvious degree of bending, the movement was changed to four tracks for dressage competition.)

Renvers (Haunches-Out)

The renvers (haunches-out) is the inverse position of the haunches-in, with the horse’s tail turned toward the wall, instead of toward the inside of the arena (fig. 2.21). When this movement is performed along the rail, the horse’s shoulders must be brought off the track as the movement begins, so that the haunches will not bump into the railing. To perform the haunches-out at the walk or trot while moving counterclockwise on the long side of the arena, bring the horse’s shoulders off the track into a left shoulder-in position. Then create a right bend with a right indirect rein while simultaneously sliding your left leg back to keep the haunches on the track. Sustain the bend and impulsion by firmly pressing with your right leg at an at-the-girth position, for it is difficult to bend the horse outward when it has just been bent inward on the preceding corner of the arena. The aids, then, for the haunches-out while moving counterclockwise around the ring are:
• right indirect rein
• left leg behind the girth
• right leg at the girth

The travers and renvers are particularly beneficial for schooling a tense horse. Animals that have a keen temperament are often distracted by the smallest movement in or around the arena. The upper-level lateral movements, which encourage the horse’s concentration, can work wonders in making a high-strung animal pay attention to its work. They also are physically demanding and rid the horse of excess energy sooner than less difficult movements.

Turn on the Haunches

Specific information about the turn on the haunches can be found in USEF Test 18 in chapter 3.

Half-Pass (Two-Track)

Another useful upper-level movement is the half-pass. The half-pass receives its name from being a half-forward and half-sideways movement—that is, the horse travels on a diagonal line that is at a 45-degree angle from the long side of the arena. The combination of the forward track and sideways track is the reason this movement is also commonly referred to as the “two-track.”

The half-pass can be performed at the walk, trot, or canter, although it would be unusual to incorporate it at the canter into the schooling routine of an equitation horse or jumper. When moving counterclockwise, in order to perform the half-pass across the diagonal, your aids are as follows:

  • left indirect rein
  • left leg at the girth
  • right leg behind the girth

The left indirect rein creates a slight bend in the horse’s neck. The left leg at the girth drives the horse forward during the half-pass; and the right leg in a behind-the-girth position initiates and sustains the lateral motion. To begin the half-pass, move both hands to the left to bring the horse’s inside shoulder slightly off the track, just as in the shoulder-in. Then, when you immediately apply your right leg to begin the lateral movement, the horse’s shoulders will be correctly preceding the haunches. The animal’s body should be almost parallel to the long sides of the arena during the movement, with the forehand preceding the rest of the body only slightly.

The horse’s right foreleg crosses in front of its left foreleg, and its right hind leg crosses in front of its left hind leg (figs. 2.22 A & B). Since it is difficult for most riders to position the horse properly and initiate the crossing of the legs when they first try this movement, it is best to begin at the walk, rather than at a faster gait, so that you have time to think about what you are doing and correct your errors.

Once you can perform the movement at the walk, try it at the sitting trot, encouraging your horse not only to cross the outside legs over the inside ones, but also to have a swinging, athletic motion during the crosses. By concentrating on an imaginary line from your left seat bone to a point at the end of the diagonal line on the other side of the arena, you will naturally shift your aids to move the horse laterally. You may, however, have trouble maintaining the slight bend in the neck and keeping the horse’s shoulders in front of its haunches, since these are typical problems during the halfpass. If the horse starts to invert its bend or catch up to its shoulders with its haunches, use a left opening rein to correct these errors. As always, if impulsion drops radically during the movement, straighten the animal and drive it forward until the desired impulsion is regained, then attempt the movement again.

Although the half-pass can be beneficial in training a horse, it is a difficult movement that is performed badly by many riders and, for this reason, may hinder more than help a horse.

Teaching the movement to an equitation rider is more for the sake of rounding out his education than necessary for improving his horse, since there are other, easier movements that can teach the horse the basic concept of moving toward the bend, such as the advanced turn on the forehand, turn on the haunches, or travers.

If you believe the difficulty of the half-pass outweighs its benefits, do not hesitate to discard it from your schooling routine, since it is not included in any equitation tests and therefore is not mandatory for a hunter seat equitation rider to perform. However, if you find it useful in training your equitation horse or jumper, then incorporate the movement into your work.

Choosing Lateral Exercises

When working a horse, it is not necessary to practice all of the lateral movements in each flatwork session. Instead, you should choose the ones that seem to address the horse’s particular problems. For example, if an animal does not want to move away from the leg, practice the leg-yield or turn on the forehand. If the horse is quick or a little stiff to the inside, the shoulder-in will be helpful. To develop strength and suppleness in the haunches and increase your control over them, practice the turn on the haunches, travers, or renvers; or to test the horse’s obedience and balance, perform the halfpass (figs. 2.23 A–F).