Dressage Lesson Recap: Shoulder-In and Walk-Canter

Let’s just say, if you’re Foster, the last 6 weeks have been kind of cruddy from his point of view. Being left for 5 days, then lame 1, then returning to riding, only to get a chiropractic session and be back sore for 6 days, followed by another slow return to work, then left again for 4 days. Poor Fosterpants.

So it’s no wonder that he’s a little out of shape as a result of that mess. But I was determined to squeeze a Doug lesson in before he heads to the winter eventing mecca that is Aiken. After a casual jump school showed me just how not-in-jumping-shape he was, I decided to try a dressage lesson at his farm.

Hustle, son.

Hustle, son.

After telling Foster he was not going to be a lazy sod, we had a pretty bright warmup before moving into lateral work. Specifically, we worked on the quality of the shoulder-in. Immediately we were called out for getting a little shorter in his neck and in his step. Instead of constantly holding with my hands through the movement, I need to focus on keeping him soft (to inhibit neck-shortening) and think about lengthening throughout so we get more of a ‘swimming’ motion up front, and subsequent follow-through with the hind end. Another consequence of holding with my hands is that he will tend to lean into them, instead of carrying himself (self carriage) like the big-boy dressage horse he can be.

Asking for a bigger trot, then increasing the angle

Asking for a bigger trot, then increasing the angle

A few more notes about the shoulder-in work:

  • Start posting to allow for bigger trot (and less bracing), then start alternating, 4 steps posting-4 steps sitting
  • Put weight over outside hip- think about bringing the whole upper body over the hip, and not letting myself get crooked
  • Keep the inside leg at the girth, should not wander back
  • In a test, one shallow post is a good way to re-incorporate the idea of posting for reach/freedom
shifting weight over the outside hip

Shifting weight over the outside hip

After a brief break where we watched some theatrics from the farm’s residents, we moved on to walk-canter transitions. While we’ve been doing these in a jumping arena for some time, dressage quality transitions are still relatively new to Foster, and so a work in progress. This part of the lesson was somewhat simpler in theory, though just as hard (if not harder!) to execute. The main idea- straightness. We used counter-bend to bring his withers in line with the rest of his body (in the case of him falling to one side), then getting the inside bend before asking for the canter transition. It takes a bit of putting the pieces together before we get a clear transition, but with time and repetition, this is one that I hope will improve quickly. Also, it’s pretty fun to school. Bonus points for fun dressage.


Voila, canter.


Overall, the lesson was beneficial in keeping tabs on the quality of the work we are doing. I learned (er, was reminded) of many of the rider habits that I have that I can improve on, and have new visuals and techniques for improving Foster’s balance and suppleness through these more difficult exercises. Now, practice practice practice.

14 thoughts on “Dressage Lesson Recap: Shoulder-In and Walk-Canter

  1. Oh man. That is a bangin’ walk/canter transition! Giving just a little more strength, you’ll be able to keep that uphill feeling for a few more strides! 🙂

    I used to (still struggle with?) the same crookedness you have in body in the shoulder in. What helped me was realizing I was trying to “push” my horse into the movement instead of sit down on my seatbone and insist he stay with me. For me, I had to slow down for more engagement and a half halt (“STAY with me”) but you might have to keep your legs on a sit for more. Horses vary, but the need to sit usually doesn’t. Another thing that helped me was turning my outside shoulder back and really sliding my outside shoulder down my back, keeping my elbow connected to my hip. That solidified the outside rein contact and held the half-halt asking for the engagement and the sit, while letting my inside hip come forward to allow for the bigger step with the inside hind.

    Maybe some of that helped, or at least made sense? Now, I’ll trade you my inside leg that wanders forward for yours that wanders back? Deal?

  2. I am so eager to work on walk to canter but know I have to wait until we’ve got things a bit more together first. And I seriously have no idea why I ever thought Foster was a little pony, that guy is big!

    • Haha, I like to call all horses ‘pony’, after picking up the habit from my dressage teammates. 🙂 But I think Foster is going through a growth spurt right now- wondering if he has reached the 16.2hh mark!

    • I feel like January is no improvement, either! All this rain makes me thankful for the indoor, but it definitely makes jumping a little more awkward. Hoping to get lots of practice with the poles before starting the season!

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