Stepping under on the circle Shoulder-in & shoulder-out Haunches-in & haunches-out Lunging
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Bending in Movement

The fascinating thing about lateral movements and working on the circle is that they will both stretch and collect the horse at the same time. On the inside of the bend, the horse will contract – collect – his mucles, while at the same time on the outside his muscles will be stretched and lengthened. That is what makes bending exercises like lateral movements and work on the circle the bridge between stretching and true collecting.

Click here for the movie on the lateral movements at liberty

If you watch a horse doing the different movements his body can do, then you’ll see the bridge-function of the bending exercises very clearly:

  • Stretching in standstill: the horse stretches the muscles on both sides of his body at once.
  • Bending the body in movement: the horse stretches his muscles on the outside of the bend, and shortens them on the inside of the bend.
  • Collection: the horse shortens his muscles on both sides of his body at the same time
Travers / haunches-in with the cordeo Travers / haunches-in with the cordeo Travers / haunches-in with the cordeo
Bending the neck in
Haunches-in on three tracks
Haunches-in on four tracks
The combination of lengthening and shortening is what makes the bending in movement unique, both lateral movements and the work on the circle. That is, when the circle is done with a correct bend. If the horse hollows his back and looks to the outside on the circle and bracing against the bend instead of stretching and collecting himself following the bend, he will just move around with a stiff body. If your horse moves circle after circle in this wrong posture, he will actually make correct collection impossible, as he will train all his muscles to move in the wrong, stiff way.

The traditional idea that a horse should be lunged or kept on a circle until he finds the right posture, ruins the muscles as much as it strengthens it, simply because your horse will spend more time moving in the wrong way, than moving in the right way.

It’s like teaching a pupil to lift 250 kilos – by asking him to lift that weight a hundred times until he does so in the correct and healthy way. If after a hundred lifts your pupil is still alive, you can be sure that he will never be able to compete at Olympic level anymore, simply because he will have ruined his body within the first ten minutes. If you want to train the body to do something in a healthy way by working in the correct posture right from the start, you should chop the final movement into smaller bits. First you teach your pupil the right movements for weightlifting and with that the right movements to lift those 250 kilos. Then you start with small weights and seek the border of what the pupil can take at that moment. Then, slowly, you start to use heavier weights while always paying attention to the fact that he remains in the right posture so that he doesn’t just become stronger, but at the same time also stays healthy.

collection on the volte with the cordeo collection on the volte with the cordeo
Blacky collecting and bending beautifully through his body on the circle, actually mimicking my own posture!
collection on the volte with the cordeo collection on the volte with the cordeo
If you want your horse to use his body in a healthy way right from the start, then you can only start lunging or working on the circle after he has learned how to create and maintain the right bend through his body: only after you've taught him to step under the body with his inner hindleg on a circle in walk, and if you have a weaker horse, only after the shoulder-in.
First you want your horse to know how to use his body on the circle in a healthy way by placing his inner hindleg under the body mass and only then you ask him to maintain that correct posture for a longer time on the circle. Because the first aim of classical dressage is and always will be the mental and physical wellbeing of the horse.
Read, write and ask more about Natural Dressage at the Art of Natural Dressage forum.
For info (in Dutch) on clickertraining and the book Vrijheidsdressuur: www.vrijheidsdressuur.info
© of this site, pictures and texts: Miriam Nieuwe Weme