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Western Dressage – Common errors during haunches-in. By Lisa Wieben and Birgit Stutz

July 16, 2017

In the last blog post, we discussed what the lateral movement haunches-in is and also how to properly execute this four-track movement. In this blog post, we will be looking at common errors while performing haunches-in (travers).

As a review, a correctly executed haunches-in will have the horse’s head and shoulders straight on the track, while the hind legs will move off the track toward the inside of the arena. Seen from the front the legs will show four tracks. The haunches-in is a Level 2 movement and is the first movement where the horse is bent in the direction of travel. The horse must be supple through its body and the rider must be aware of body position. The inside leg will be at the girth to maintain impulsion. It is also the ‘post’ for the horse to bend around. The outside leg will be behind the girth to move the hindquarters off the track. The inside rein keeps the head and shoulders in position, while the outside rein controls speed and amount of bend in the neck. The rider will sit in the direction of travel, to the inside, with the bend. The rider’s shoulders will be in alignment with the horse’s shoulders, with the outside hip moving back to bring the outside leg back.

Common errors

The horse loses impulsion or rhythm: the horse may not be strong enough or supple enough yet to perform the movement. You can help him by asking for less angle. As well, with any new movement, only ask for a few steps at a time before either asking the horse to straighten or perhaps asking for a few strides of lengthening down the long side. A horse that does not want to bend will become tight and lose impulsion. Go back and ride some spiral-in/out circles, and shoulder-in exercises to confirm bend and suppleness.


Horse is too straight through the body and appears to be on three tracks instead of four. – Photo by Lisa Wieben


The horse is travelling with its haunches slightly to the inside of the arena without bend through its entire body: this generally occurs when the rider focuses on moving the hindquarters off the rail, but forgets to hold the horse’s shoulders with the inside leg at the girth. You could start the movement as a leg yield down the wall with the head facing the wall, the bend around the leg to the outside of the arena, and the haunches moved off the rail. After a few steps add the inside leg at the girth and begin to change the bend into the direction of travel. Sometimes doing the movement in steps helps the rider to feel the difference in bend created by the holding inside leg as the horse is brought into correct alignment with the outside leg. The correct amount of angle is 35 degrees.

Difficulty maintaining the bend: start the haunches-in exercise from a circle to create the bend and then go into the haunches-in movement. Go back on a circle if you lose the bend. When you first start this exercise the horse may only be able to do a couple of steps before losing bend and impulsion. Build up gradually.


The rider is leaning into the direction of travel, dropping her shoulder. This will make it more difficult for the horse to lift his inside shoulder and to lift his inside hind leg. Impulsion may become an issue. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse is overbent through the neck, but not moving the haunches off the wall: this is caused when a rider uses her reins instead of leg aids. Remember to keep the neck and shoulders straight with the rein aids while the legs and seat move the horse’s body. If the horse becomes overbent he will not be able to maintain impulsion as he will get ‘blocked’ at the shoulders.

The horse won’t respond to the outside leg: go back to the leg yield on the wall exercise until the horse quickly and easily responds to the leg cue to move the haunches off the track. It may take several sessions of this before the horse is ready to move into haunches-in.


The horse has a nice bend, but too much angle off the wall. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The horse’s shoulders are leaving the track: this may occur if the rider tries to create too much bend with the reins or does not support enough with the outside rein. If the outside hand moves forward too much the horse will bend more to the inside and take the shoulders to the inside. The rider will need to maintain their elbow position on both sides of the body, keeping a soft feel through the hands on both sides.

The rider sits incorrectly: the weight for this movement must be in the direction of travel. Many riders, as they work to get the outside leg back while maintaining the upper body alignment with the shoulders, will shift their weight to the outside. When this happens the horse will struggle to bring the hind legs up and under for the movement. This will affect impulsion and make the movement more difficult for the horse. Imagine sitting on a balance beam; if you lean to one side you will fall off the balance beam. Your goal is to work with the horse’s movement with as little interference as possible. The shift in the direction of travel is very subtle.


The rider has shifted her weight to her outside seat bone, dropping her outside shoulder. This will make it more difficult for the horse to lift his outside hind leg. – Photo by Lisa Wieben

The haunches-in improves your horse’s response to your aids, increases mobility in the shoulders and hip joints, and improves weight carrying ability. As you move up the levels this will also become an exercise to prepare for the half-pass.

Keep working toward your goals and have fun!

This article is the sixteenth 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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