The shoulder-in is a two-track exercise in which the horse moves laterally and bends from the poll to the tail. The horse moves toward the outside of the bend with his eyes directed toward the inside of the bend. The shoulder-in is executed at all three gaits.

Shoulder-in on three tracks Shoulder-in on four tracks This is not a shoulder-in


Purpose of the shoulder-in

 Make the horse limber,
 Lower the haunches and engage the hindquarters,
 Put the horse on the bit and elevate the forehand,
 Make the horse submissive,
 Relax the horse.

It is a key exercise.
“It’s the Aspirin of horseback riding, it cures everything”. Nuno Oliveira
“The shoulder-in is the first and last lesson one must give to a horse”. F.R. de la Gueriniere.
Posture of the horse 

The horse must be bent from the poll to the tail. The angle between the horse and the rail should be from 30 to 45 degrees, depending on the horse. 

Do not over bend the horse toward the inside, and keep the head high and fixed. The neck is almost straight, perpendicular to the axis of the horse's shoulders. If the horse stiffens, accept a lower head, relax and take the posture back little by little. 

The two shoulders are in and the weight is distributed equally. The horse must move with fluidity, relaxed and active all during the exercise. 

Right shoulder-in

The Aids

The inside hand gives the bend toward the direction of the outside shoulder of the rider. The outside rein perceives all the actions of the inside rein.
The inside leg acts at the girth, the outside leg a hair further back.

The rider keeps his shoulders parallel to the horse’s shoulders.
The rider’s body goes toward his own outside elbow delicately.

Start the shoulder-in with the inside aids and little by little, switch to the outside aids. At the second or third stride, you must start using the outside aids, especially the outside rein. The outside aids must prevail like for the half-pass, especially on the end of the half-pass or the shoulder-in.

My Advice

Do not “break” the neck; control your outside rein. Keep you inside leg at the girth, maintain "impulsion" ( forward thrust ) and cease all leg action as soon as the horse gives in.
You can eventually and intermittently put your leg back a little while teaching the shoulder-in, to teach correct posture to a green horse.

Do not ever let the horse lean on the outside shoulder.

Start on the inside bend with your inside leg rather than your inside rein, then take more contact on the outside rein.

More contact on the outside rein indicates more work of the inside hind leg.
You can help your horse by delicately shifting your weight from your inside buttock to your outside buttock at each stride.

If the horse stiffens, accept a lower head, relax and take the posture back little by little.

Perfecting the shoulder-in:
Increase the flexion of the horse during the transition shoulder-in/half-pass/shoulder-in.
Feel the weight of the horse on the inside hind leg and not on the outside shoulder.

Teaching the young horse

The shoulder-in is the first exercise to teach a young horse, right after he learned to go forward calmly and without hesitation, while beginning to maintain cadence.

Establish a supple, slow and very relaxed walk with your horse well bent on the circle.
Take particular care of your walk when you get to the corner.
Start on the long side of the arena just as if you would ask for a circle. Open your inside rein slightly, regulate with the outside rein, inside leg at the girth, outside leg slightly further back.

At the moment the nose, the poll, the neck and the shoulders start coming inside the arena on the circle, delicately encourage your horse to “slide” on the long side of the arena by bringing the inside hand toward outside (inside hand toward outside shoulder of the rider).

The switch can softly tap on the inside shoulder of the horse.
The inside leg at the girth maintains forward thrust and the outside leg – slightly further back – controls the haunches.

Obtain several steps of shoulder-in, let the horse out on the circle and reward. Start over by progressively increasing the amount of steps.
Do the same with tact along the entire long side of the arena.

My advice

When you teach your horse the shoulder-in, never forget the great principle of Beudant, “Ask little, ask often and reward a lot”.

At the beginning, have your inside hand spread and high, have your outside rather high too, make wide movements with your hands and accentuate the bend.
Act with great softness.
Do not try to put the horse on the bit too much.

When taking the corners before the shoulder-in, use the switch on the inside shoulder.
In a shoulder-in, give your attention to the outside shoulder of the horse. The weight of the horse is on the inside hind leg.

At the beginning, be satisfied with the beginning of compliance and little by little, increase the amount of strides and the degree of angles with the rail. If stiffness occurs, get out on a circle, relax and work on taking the corners and start over.

When the horse is able to execute a shoulder-in with no trouble at the walk, start asking for it at the trot, watching for your rhythm.
Then, ask along the long side of the arena, on a circle and on the midline of the long side of the arena. (Watch your bend).
Do not ask for half-pass before you have taught the shoulder-in

Frequently encountered Problems

My horse looses impulsion during shoulder-in

A young horse very often starts the exercise without enough impulsion and relaxation. Ride on 2 or 3 circles with your horse well bent, relaxed, in balance, in the right rhythm and with a real impulsion (in short, a perfect horse!). Be very delicate and fluid in your actions at the moment you put the horse’s shoulder in. Keep the bend from the corner and “prolong” it on the long side of the arena.

If the angle with the rail is too great for the level and the limberness of the horse, he is going to be forced to make too big an effort and sometimes he will knock his knees together. He will loose impulsion and give up. Be less demanding.

If you change the angle with the rail and the posture of the horse, you change the horse’s balance. He looses impulsion. Be more careful.

A neck that is too high or too low can also slow down a horse and make him loose impulsion.

Or your horse might not really be in balance. You use your hands too heavily and you slow your horse down. When in a shoulder-in, try to act less with your hands and more with your chest. Be well seated and in balance, on your two buttocks, with your belly pushed forward. Start with the inside aids and finish with your outside aids.

Take a couple of strides in a shoulder-in with a good impulsion, and immediately get out of it in a circle. Keep your horse very active… back to a shoulder-in… get out again… etc. Increase the length of the exercise little by little. Also work the shoulder-in on a portion of a circle (when approaching the rail), then on the entire circle. Reward with a “lowering of the hands” when everything goes well.

In short, your main worry is balance (do not let your horse lean on one shoulder) and rhythm. This is conditioned by impulsion.

My horse bends his head inside
 You are using too much inside hand. Keep a better balance between your inside and outside hand and keep your horse in balance. As soon as he comes into the shoulder-in, the inside hand becomes lighter and the outside leg becomes determining.  Keep your chest back and generally act less with your hands.
What is the right amount of bend?
The most important is to give your horse a slight bend that is regular and equal from the poll to the tail - to curve his entire body.  The inside leg is at the girth, never behind. Give your horse an angle between 30 and 45 degrees, depending on his limberness and his level of training. A common error is to keep the horse straight and to bend him only from the withers to the poll. This is not shoulder-in and the exercise has no purpose. (see “purpose of the shoulder-in”). It is even bad for the horse, it creates stiffness, a rigid back and twists the poll and the neck.
What is the difference between a shoulder-in and a shoulder-fore

A shoulder-fore is simply a less demanding shoulder-in. The angle of the horse’s body with the rail is lighter, from 5 to 20 degrees. When the horse accepts to do a shoulder-fore easily and without stiffness, surreptitiously switch to a shoulder-in.

My hands in the shoulder-in

My instructor want tells me my hands must go the opposite way of the direction of the horse during shoulder-in. Is this correct?
The hands must ask for the movement of the shoulder-in, and then control it.

To start, move your two hands toward the outside (the same way as the direction of the horse) at the moment the  horse starts the circle, just after the corner.
The horse starts a shoulder-in.

You will then control by slightly moving your hands toward inside (the opposite way of the direction of the horse). 
In the mean time, your leg touches the horse at the girth delicately at each stride. Touches… lets loose… 
touches… etc. Your outside leg is slightly back and controls the movement of the haunches toward inside.

This way, you will control each stride of shoulder-in with very little apparent movements. In fact, you hold back 
the shoulders (opposite way action) and then you let them go toward the way of your direction.

And when your horse is in balance, light and stable, stop acting with your hands (lowering of the hands).

Posture-position / Walk / Trot / Canter / Shoulder-in / half-pass /Flying change of lead/ Tempi changes / The canter Pirouette / Piaffe

A Word
This page in french
© Chiris 2005