Back when dressage was a total mystery to me (as opposed to now when it’s just a bit of a mystery – I mean, where, exactly, IS the line between ‘accepting the aids’ and ‘being in front of the leg’?!), before I finally found a trainer who cut through the mystique and explained things clearly and easily, lateral work was my absolute bête noire. Not only because I couldn’t do it, and therefore couldn’t get my poor clueless horses to do it, leading to lots of humiliation and frustration, but also because I couldn’t see the point of it… it just seemed as if it was invented to make things tricky, like calculus.
Eventually during a lesson a trainer (I can’t remember who, unfortunately) came up with a simile that really stuck in my mind and worked for me.
You know if you have a big ball of blu-tack that’s been sitting in a drawer? At first it is solid, but if you play with it and warm it up, stretching it this way and that, it becomes warm and malleable, and then you can shape it into whatever you want.
That is what lateral work does to the horse. Oh WOW. That was my lightbulb moment.
Maybe yoga and pilates aficionados would say the same about their effects on human body – since I have never managed to get my body to that level of pliability (well, not since I was about 9 and on the school gymnastics team, and for a dizzying few days could do the splits and a passable walkover) I cannot say, but certainly lateral work is a great way of warming up horse and rider, and now it’s automatic for me to use it.
I love shoulder-fore and shoulder-in more than anything; I still have some problems with travers (mental block? physical block? more work required), and my trainer’s ‘contra-shoulder-in in walk in extreme leg-yield position’ (really need a catchier name for that, I’m sure in German it is just one long really impressive word) is a thing of wonder. The effect it has is often jaw-dropping, the horse’s inside hind-leg totally engages, you change the bend and pop up to trot or canter and just go “O…M…G….”
I did hear a funny story about a load of typical livery-yard know-it alls, who were standing watching a new dressage trainer on a yard horse, when one opined scathingly, as the trainer took the horse down the long side in perfect shoulder-in, “look, she can’t even make it go straight.”
So, that might be me next time, with a bit of luck, and honestly, it’s deliberate!
The pics are of me on a mare I am slowly rehabbing after ataxia, hence I am not worrying about the outline, it is all about the engagement and cross-over of the hind-legs in particular.