Lateral Moves and Changing Leads

‘ “I must say, that instead of emphasizing
more and more the schooling exercises,
I have come to the conclusion
That shoulder-in and two-track work
Are nothing more than amusing diversions
Often detrimental to the horse
And of utility only in permitting
The mounted soldier to position his horse
Correctly in the ranks.”
Horse Training Outdoor and High School by Captain E. Beudant
To understand the true significance of this statement
One must have some realization of Beudant’s marvelous skill.’
Schooling of the Western Horse by JRY pub 1954

I have been contemplating what exercises people can do on the ground that will help them with lateral work on horseback. Since I did not have an arena to school in most of the time, my own experience of lateral movements came about primarily from sitting a horse that was shying. Because my Spanish Colonial horse enjoyed skipping about, hopping over and away from things both real and imaginary, I learned to ask for lateral movements by asking him to keep skipping after the initial shy and to alternate directions. Since he was shying out of exuberance not fear, he was happy to comply. Of course, to be able to change directions, he also had to change leads, so we practiced that whisking along miles of dirt roads skipping from one wheel track to the other.

Since the idea of schooling horses in general and dressage in particular were unheard of in my area at the time, mine was a solitary journey. Even when dressage began to become popular, I was still isolated in my experiences. I realized working on my own had taken me far far from the beaten path when I managed to alienate an entire room full self-professed dressage experts expounding on the difficulties of lateral work and lead changes by announcing that I found skipping to the right and left a joyful and humorous experience, rather like riding a jet-propelled rocking horse.

It turns out that the name for the movement my Spanish Colonial horse offered me is :

• the Terre-a –Terre
and it is described as:
• a two beat canter on two tracks

Historically, the movement is found in the Baroque schools of riding, although it is rarely practiced by contemporary masters. I’d like to claim this is on account of the different type of horse being ridden nowadays (click here). But, as my 17.2 racing Thoroughbred also volunteers not only the Terre-a-Terre, but the capriole, leaping about of his own accord, I have to assume the reason the movement is not performed has more to do with the kind of rider than the kind of horse (click here).

I wondered why lateral work should be considered such a serious and difficult activity, and a little research promptly illustrated that there are a confusing plethora of names for sideways movements of the horse with at least as many definitions of how each should be performed as there are experts:

• Half pass
• Side pass
• Leg yield
• Renvers (head to wall)
• Travers (tail to wall)
• Haunches-in
• Shoulder-in
• Shoulders-in
• Shoulder-fore

The descriptions for each variation differ in how the horse should be positioned relative to the wall of the riding school and in which way the horse’s head should be bent, driving home the point that these are academic exercises whose relevance to riding in the great out of doors is rarely contemplated. They do all share the emphasis that the horse’s legs must cross over each other, in spite of the fact that the hind legs of a horse are completely structurally incapable of doing so. That tidbit of information shed light on the struggles people have with lateral work on horseback. As the lateral movements on horseback are currently defined, they are not difficult to execute, they are anatomically impossible.

The horse’s hind joints
In effect
Are not built to bend laterally.
A horse
In order to engage his inside hind leg
In a slanted manner
Is obliged to tip off his pelvis
In the meantime
As he sets himself more on his hindquarters
By bending the joints of his outside hind leg.
Pg 66 Another Horsemanship by Jean-Claude Racinet

A horse may learn to step up under their mid-line with their hind leg (click here), but even that is a muscular effort that stretches the limits of their anatomy. The reason that their front legs can cross over each other is because their shoulder girdle is a boneless elastic sling of muscle and tendons. The sling-like structure supporting the shoulders allows the horse to advance one shoulder in front of the other (which retreats to an equal degree), permitting one front leg to pass in front of the other instead of banging into it. Despite all appearances:

• the bony joints of the front legs have no more lateral movement than those of the hind legs

The entire front leg of the horse from the top of the shoulder blade to the hoof must be at an angle in order for the front leg to cross the mid-line of their body or step away to the outside. The lack of a collarbone allows the entire shoulder blade the flexibility to press against or pull away from the rib cage as needed to execute the movement. If any of the horse’s bony leg joints, if their shoulder, elbow, knee, hip, stifle, hock, or pastern joints are actually bent to the side, it is time to call the veterinarian, not the dressage judge.

This short explanation will, I hope,
suffice to make it understood
that things should be studied thoroughly
before laying down any principles of action.
Let us have no more systems, then,
upon the exclusive use of such or such leg
to determine the gallop;
but a settled conviction that the first condition
of this or any other performance
is to keep the horse supple and light—
that is rassemblé;
then, after this,
to make use of one or the other motive power,
according as the animal,
at the start, preserves a proper position, or seeks to leave it.
It must also be understood that,
while it is the force (muscular contraction) that gives the position to the horse,
it is position alone upon which the regularity of movement depends.

Baucher, F. (2011-12-06).
New Method of Horsemanship
Including the Breaking and Training of Horses,
with Instructions for Obtaining a Good Seat.
(Kindle Locations 98o-985). . Kindle Edition.

Shoulder-fore appears to be the most accurate description of the position required for the sideways movement desired. It takes quite a bit of coordination and strength for the horse to step up and under behind, and cross over in front while carrying the weight of a rider. Whether the movement develops that strength and coordination or is a result of it is debatable. That there are as about as many variations in the movement as there are horses and riders developing the strength and coordination to execute it is not.

This crossing over is more or less important,
Depending on the energy of the action,
And the degree of laterality,
and is always more evident in front
than behind,
as a result of the bending.
In fact,
Most often,
The crossing gesture of the hind legs is only started
The inside hind foot
Setting down in front of
(i.e. in the alignment of)
The outside one.

Pg 67-70 Another Horsemanship by Jean-Claude Racinet

The inevitable variations in the movement come about because shoulder-fore is not a natural movement for the horse.

‘Shoulder-in is a difficult movement
Some subjects-
Horses as well as students-
Are more gifted than others
Pg 75 Another Horsemanship by Jean-Claude Racinet

Shying is the natural lateral movement of the horse. It is hard to sit because horse wants to land ready to run for their lives, as well as be able to strike or kick to defend themselves. So they bounce up of off their haunches and to the side. They land on both front feet, ready to kick out behind and if their head or neck is bent at all, it is in the direction of the perceived threat so as to keep an eye on it. Then they immediately rock back on their haunches in preparation to bolt or strike.

The natural two-beat rocking horse movement of the Terre-a-Terre is an ongoing repetition of the original leap of shying that allows the horse to retain the ability to react to the unknown at any phase of their stride, to kick out behind, strike out in front, or bolt forward on either lead. I was thinking that if a rider is to sit this explosive impulsive movement, never mind repeat or direct it, they had better have strong flexible core body muscles. Then I remembered that when I tried taking belly-dancing lessons years ago, my instructor was impressed with my strength and control of my hips and belly.

So, it seems to me that if you want to work on isolating and strengthening specific muscles so you can enjoy lateral moves on horseback, you could get yourself a beaded, bangled, and belled belly dancer’s hip-belt. You will want it to sit low on your hips and be gaudy enough to swing and ding, letting you know if you have sufficient emphasis, sufficient speed and strength, in your hip movements by its jingling. Then you want to start your Mud-tread circles once more (click here).

  1. Settle into your walk and
  2. then begin to isolate and emphasize your hip movement
  3. enough that you can hear your belt jingle
  4. Each time a foot leaves the ground.

Once you are comfortable jingling rhythmically along, change your stride and begin to skip. Skipping is the closest human equivalent to what we are asking horses to do when moving sideways. In skipping

• One foot leads
• The other follows

Which also makes it as close as we two –leggeds are going to get to a canter. While skipping, you only want the leading hip to jingle.

  1. Step forward with your inside foot
  2. With enough hip emphasis to jingle your belt
  3. Bring the outside foot just behind the inside foot
  4. Set it down
  5. Repeat

Your movement will be a bit of a hop, skip and yes, we will add the jump. Change directions by

  1. Jumping the outside foot forward
  2. With enough hip emphasis to jingle your belt
  3. And bring it well past the inside foot
  4. Set it down angling outward
  5. Bring your new outside foot just behind the new leading foot
  6. And continue skipping in the opposite direction

You can continue in a figure eight, or a serpentine, and do keep on practicing in both directions until you can make the switch in direction smoothly, quickly and musically.

• Congratulations!
• You have just learned to change leads!

To practice lateral steps:

  1. Start your skip in a straight line
  2. Set your leading (inside) foot down
  3. In front of the opposite hip
  4. With enough hip emphasis to jingle your belt
  5. Crossing your legs
  6. While keeping your body facing front
  7. bring the trailing foot up just behind the lead
  8. and set it down as far to the outside as you can
  9. and repeat
  10. then switch directions
  11. and your leading foot
  12. and repeat
  13. keeping up an audible regular jingling of your belt as you skip

Do not let your feet drag. If you have somebody that can call out changes for you, it may help you to keep the bouncy skipping impulsion going. You want to step smoothly, lightly, and musically. The more to the side your feet set down, the more angle there is to your line of movement. Vary the ratio of front to sideways movement.

• Eventually you should be able to set one foot down directly in front of the other, and move mostly sidewise.
• You can also practice tempi lead changes, alternating your leading foot every other or every stride

When you have all the moves down, get out your champagne glasses filled with water and repeat all of the exercises. Successful lateral work on horseback takes emphatic hips AND quiet hands (click here):

In shoulder-in
The hand DOES NOT determine
The horse’s lateral action.

This role is imparted to
The inside leg
Or the seat (better)

However these latter aids alone
have no effect
They need the assistance of the hand.

This assistance comes about through
a soft resistance
a ‘withholding’ of the horses front end.

Any attempt to induce the lateral feature
of the movement
through the hand
is doomed to failure.
Pg 76 Another Horsemanship by Jean-Claude Racinet

So practice until you can hop, skip, and jump musically about without spilling a drop. If you would like a further challenge, know that I not only impressed my belly dancer instructor with my hips, I confounded my punk friends with my ability to slam dance with a full open beer in my hands without losing even a drop of foam. Try using beer instead of water in your glasses and see if you can make your moves without the beer foaming over.

• Keep those hips jingling without spilling!

Keep practicing and you will suddenly find yourself with a lovely balanced rocking movement wonderfully reminiscent of the two beat canter of the Terre-a-Terre.

I suppose I would be remiss not to add a disclaimer stating that following these instructions may not win you prizes in the show ring or popularity with your peers, but I can assure you that they will open the door to taking joy in lateral work and can win you what I consider the most important prize of all:

• your horse’s appreciation

click for more


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