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Western Dressage – How to perform the haunches-in exercise. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

June 19, 2017

In this blog post, we are discussing an exercise called haunches-in, also called travers. Just like the shoulder-in exercise, haunches-in is a lateral movement and requires a certain amount of collection. The haunches-in exercise is performed on four tracks, so when watching the horse from the front or back, you will see all four legs, which each hoof on a different track. The outside front leg is on the outside track, the inside front leg is on the second track, the outside hind leg is on the third track, and the inside hind leg is on the inside track. This is different to the shoulder-in exercise, which is a three-track movement and requires slightly less bend.

During the haunches-in movement, the horse will be bending around the rider’s inside leg. The horse’s front legs stay on the outside track, while its hindquarters are brought in off the outside track toward the inside of the arena at a constant angle of approximately 30 to 35 degrees to the wall. In order for the movement to be ridden correctly, the horse’s head and shoulders remain straight on the wall, while the horse’s hind legs move off the track, with the outside hind leg crossing in front of the inside hind leg. During the movement, the horse is bent in the direction of travel.

Just like the shoulder-in exercise, haunches-in is used to supple and balance the horse. The movement also strengthens the horse’s hind quarters, its back and abdominals, as well as improving its mobility, therefore preparing it for more collected work. It also teaches the horse obedience to the outside leg. Haunches-in, along with shoulder-in, are the stepping stones to the more advanced movement of half-pass, which we will discuss in a future article.

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Haunches-in down the wall. Notice the horse is bent in the direction of travel (the horse could be bent around the inside leg a little more). – Photo by Lisa Wieben

How to execute the haunches-in

We recommend that the horse and rider are already familiar with leg yields (February and March 2017 issue) and shoulder-in (April 2017 issue) before introducing the haunches-in exercise.

Before attempting a haunches-in, the horse should be proficient in the leg yield exercise along the wall where the horse’s head is pointing toward the wall and the hindquarters are moved off the wall. This prepares the horse by moving the hindquarters off the outside leg toward the inside of the arena. The leg yield exercise can be performed with the horse bent around the pressing leg, away from the direction of travel, and then with the body straighter. The next step would be changing the bend toward the direction of travel, which will be shown below, from a circle.

When teaching the haunches-in 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. Haunches-in is the last step of a 10-metre circle continued on a straight line.

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Jacklyn Hegberg and Reno executing a leg yield down the wall. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

  1. Start the movement by riding a 10-metre circle in a corner so that the horse is correctly bent to the degree needed for haunches-in.
  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. When the horse’s forehand reaches the outside track, keep the horse’s hindquarters on the circle by moving your outside leg slightly back. Your hips will turn as you maintain your horse’s hips off the track. This will keep the horse’s hind quarters to the inside of the outside track and under its body, help bend the horse around your inside leg, as well as maintain forward energy.
  4. Keep your inside leg at the horse’s girth to maintain bend in the direction of movement and to maintain rhythm and impulsion.
  5. The outside rein will support and maintain the straightness of the shoulders and prevent overbending. It also contains the energy produced by the horse’s outside hind leg.
  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 and keeps the horse looking in the direction of travel.
  7. Both reins will keep the horse’s shoulders on the track through series of half-halts. If you hold pressure on either rein the horse will become tight and resistant in the movement. To maintain straightness of the horse’s shoulders, keep your shoulders aligned with your horse’s shoulders.
  8. Shift your weight slightly towards your inside seat-bone.
  9. Ask the horse to move down the long side of the arena while maintaining bend and the four-track movement.
  10. Only ask for a few steps at a time, then bring the horse’s hind quarters back on the track and continue straight ahead and forward along the outside track.
  11. As well, only ask for a slight bend to the inside, before increasing the degree of bend and the difficulty of the exercise as the horse progresses.

The haunches-in movement is developed through Level 2, where more collected work is asked for.

We will discuss common errors while performing haunches-in in the next blog post.

This article is the fifteenth 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. http://www.mountainviewtrainingstables.com.

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. http://www.fallingstarranch.ca.

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