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Western Dressage – How to perform a shoulder-in. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

April 19, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing an exercise called shoulder-in.

Shoulder-in is a lateral movement which is used to supple, straighten, and balance the horse. It also strengthens the horse’s inside hind leg by encouraging the use of its hindquarters, therefore preparing it for more collected work.

In order to perform the movement, the horse needs to be bending around the rider’s inside leg, with its hindquarters staying parallel to the wall, while its forehand comes off the wall onto an inside track, creating a 30-degree-angle with the wall. The horse’s neck should only be very minimally bent, just enough that the corner of the horse’s inside eye is visible to the rider.

The horse’s hind legs track straight forward along the wall while the front legs move laterally, with the inside front leg crossing in front of the outside front leg.

The shoulder-in exercise is performed on three tracks, which means the horse’s outside hind leg is on the outermost track, the horse’s inside hind leg and outside front leg are on the next track, and the horse’s inside front leg are on the third track.

The inside hind hoof should track into or beyond the hoofprint made by the outside front leg.

During the shoulder-in exercise, the horse is bent away from the direction of travel, and therefore the movement requires a certain amount of collection.

As this is a collecting exercise, in Western dressage you will begin to see this movement in Level 2, when the collected gaits are asked for.

How to execute the shoulder-in

When teaching the exercise to a horse, we recommend starting the movement when coming out of a corner or on a circle as the horse is already correctly bent from head to tail. This way the rider only needs to maintain the bend rather than establish it from a straight line. Shoulder-in is the first step of a 10-meter circle continued on a straight line.


Riding a 10-m circle to set up for shoulder-in. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben

Riding a 10-m circle to set up for a shoulder-in.

Some trainers prefer to teach the shoulder-fore movement first before introducing the shoulder-in to the horse. The shoulder-fore movement is ridden on four tracks and therefore requires less angle than the shoulder-in exercise. The shoulder-fore exercise is also often used in lope work to help straighten a horse’s natural crookedness.


Some trainers prefer to teach the shoulder-fore movement first before introducing the shoulder-in to the horse. The shoulder-fore movement is ridden on four tracks and therefore requires less angle than the shoulder-in exercise. – Photo by Lisa Wieben


  1. Sit tall with eyes forward, looking into the direction you’re going.
  2. Align your shoulders with your horse’s shoulders and your hips with the horse’s hips, just as you would when riding a circle or corner.
  3. Your belly button should be pointing in the same direction as your horse’s bend.
  4. Keep your inside leg at the horse’s girth to maintain bend, while also encouraging the horse to step under its body with its inside hind leg.
  5. Move your outside leg slightly back to prevent the horse’s haunches from swinging out and to maintain the forward energy.
  6. With the inside rein, gently ask your horse to flex at the poll so you can see its inside eye. The inside rein maintains proper bend.
  7. The outside rein steadies the horse and prevents overbending and also keeps the horse from stepping further off the track than is needed.
  8. Shift your weight slightly towards the horse’s outside shoulder in order to continue tracking down the long side and to prevent the horse from moving off the outside track.
  9. Only ask for a few steps at a time, then ride a small 10-metre circle before continuing along the outside track.

The haunches remain on the track and the shoulders move towards the inside of the arena. Notice the three tracks: outside hind leg, outside front leg and inside hind on same track, and inside front leg. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben


Common errors

  • The rider uses the inside rein to create bend instead of asking for bend with the inside leg. This, however, overbends the horse in the neck instead of creating bend in the ribcage. It may also pull the horse off the outside track.
  • The rider’s inside leg is too far back instead of at the girth. This will push the horse’s haunches out, and you will end up doing a leg yield instead of a shoulder-in movement.
  • The rider’s outside leg is too far forward or completely off the horse’s side: in order to bend a horse properly, both the rider’s inside leg and outside leg have to work together. If your outside leg is too far forward or completely off the horse’s side, the horse’s hind quarters may swing out and the horse may lose forward energy.

The shoulder-in movement can be executed at any gait, and while we prefer to ride it at a walk when first learning the movement, riding the exercise at a jog can be beneficial as the horse has more impulsion. In Western dressage competitions it is only ridden at the jog.


Notice the inside rein is soft, the bend is coming from the inside leg and the rider’s body turning with the shoulders. The horse moves into the outside supporting rein. – Photo by Rebecca Wieben


This article is the fourteenth in a series of articles on Western dressage and is a collaboration between Lisa Wieben (see biography below) and Birgit Stutz. The articles appear in the horse magazine SaddleUp on a monthly basis.

Lisa Wieben is a versatile and exceptional riding coach, balancing her skills as a Level 2 Centered Riding Instructor, Equine Canada Western Competition Coach, and Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer. Currently specializing in Western and English Dressage, she trains youth, adult amateurs, and professionals as well as coaching a local 4H group at her facility near Bowden/Olds, AB. Through dressage and foundational training she helps riders of all disciplines create stronger partnerships with their horses. Also, as a Hanna Somatic Instructor and Practitioner in Training, Lisa works with riders, in class or privately, learning movement exercises that target specific muscle issues in the body brought on by stress, injuries, surgeries, and overuse. Her approach, using Dressage, Centered Riding, Irwin Insights principles, and Somatics, all come together to develop a balanced rider and a balanced horse.

Birgit Stutz is an Irwin Insights Level 4 Master Certified Trainer and offers horse training, riding lessons in the English and Western disciplines, horsemanship clinics, mentorship programs, intensive horsemanship courses, workshops, short courses and demos on various topics, as well as working student programs at Falling Star Ranch Academy of Foundational Horsemanship in Dunster, BC. Birgit’s passion is to help humans have a better relationship with their horses through understanding of equine psychology and body language, biomechanics, as well as fundamental riding skills based on classical dressage.

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