Ger­many’s Mon­ica Theodorescu dis­cusses this in­dis­pens­able el­e­ment in the daily train­ing of her horses.

Dressage Today - - Front Page - By Mon­ica Theodorescu with Silke Rot­ter­mann Pho­tos by Silke Rot­ter­mann

Lat­eral work plays an es­sen­tial role on the way to higher collection, which is ex­pressed in a high de­gree of sup­ple­ness, car­ry­ing strength and self-car­riage and is an in­dis­pens­able el­e­ment of the daily train­ing of all my horses. My father, Ge­org Theodorescu, had a guid­ing motto that ev­ery rider should be aware of: “A horse doesn’t get col­lected through hand and spurs, but through ex­er­cises.” The cor­rect seat and po­si­tion of the rider al­low lat­eral move­ments to ini­ti­ate the step­ping-un­der, lon­gi­tu­di­nal flex­ion, through­ness, straight­ness and sup­ple­ness that are all part of the Ger­man Train­ing Scale—the ever-valid and ever-present guide­line I use when I work my horses.

Which kind of lat­eral move­ment and ex­er­cise is needed and in­cluded in a train­ing ses­sion de­pends on the horse. This means that a rider has to an­a­lyze daily what a horse needs in gen­eral and on a par­tic­u­lar day. Dif­fer­ent ex­er­cises that cater to a horse’s in­di­vid­ual needs will in­creas­ingly straighten and strengthen him, in­crease sup­ple­ness and also im­prove his bal­ance. For ex­am­ple, a young horse’s lat­eral work will be dic­tated by his weaker di­rec­tion, whereas lat­eral move­ments such as a not too steeply rid­den half pass serve a Grand Prix horse as gym­nas­tics and an­i­mates him to swing through his whole body. But whether work­ing with a novice or Grand Prix horse, cor­rectly done lat­eral work will al­ways im­prove the horse’s gaits and most of all, the trot.

Since horses are all in­di­vid­u­als, I can­not give you uni­ver­sal recipes in this ar­ti­cle, but hope­fully you’ll see some ideas and sug­ges­tions for your own work.

When is My Horse Ready for Lat­eral Work?

Peo­ple of­ten ask at what age a horse is ready to start with the first lat­eral move­ments. But be­cause horses, like our­selves, are in­di­vid­u­als and de­velop dif­fer­ently, it is dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine a spe­cific age. It makes more sense to name the pre­con­di­tions that have to be ful­filled if you want to achieve the pos­i­tive ef­fects of lat­eral work that I men­tioned at the be­gin­ning of this ar­ti­cle.

Most im­por­tant is that the horse has al­ready learned to cor­rectly work on bend­ing lines such as cir­cles. “Cor­rect” means that the horse re­mains re­laxed and thus keeps his rhythm in both direc­tions with an even con­tact so that he be­gins to show some sup­ple­ness un­der the rider.

The First Lat­eral Move­ments

What­ever I aim for when train­ing horses, one work­ing prin­ci­ple from my father rings in my ears: The horse should con­sider the ex­er­cises easy and keep the joy and ea­ger­ness through­out his train­ing. For that rea­son it is para­mount that when we teach the horse lat­eral move­ments, we

thor­oughly pre­pare him and ask only for a few steps at the be­gin­ning. This is to en­sure that he doesn’t lose his bal­ance and get tense, but in­stead ex­pe­ri­ences some­thing pos­i­tive on which we can build in the fu­ture train­ing.

The first lat­eral move­ments I teach the horse are leg yield­ing and shoul­der-fore. Both do not re­quire more collection and serve two dif­fer­ent pur­poses in the horse’s ed­u­ca­tion. Leg yield­ing is a move­ment that does not re­quire or fos­ter any collection or lat­eral bend­ing, but is use­ful to teach the horse the di­ag­o­nal aids and the obe­di­ence to them. Shoul­der-fore, on the other hand, al­ready re­quires some slight collection and lat­eral bend­ing and there­fore pre­pares the horse for the most im­por­tant lat­eral move­ment, shoul­der-in.

Leg Yield­ing

Un­like in any other lat­eral move­ment, in the leg yield the horse re­mains straight in his body and neck, ex­cept for a slight flex­ion of the poll against the di­rec­tion he is mov­ing. While leg yield­ing doesn’t serve collection, it is still ben­e­fi­cial for teach­ing the young horse to move away from the in­side leg and gen­er­ally to ac­quaint him with the di­ag­o­nal aids. It is also quite use­ful for a horse of any level to help him loosen up dur­ing the warm-up phase be­cause the cross­ing of the hind legs al­lows the horse to give his back and come onto the bit.

Leg yield­ing is not a de­mand­ing move­ment, but like ev­ery­thing else, it needs to be well done and as al­ways: less is more. So when you ride it, take care that the horse promptly moves away from the in­side leg, shows a clear di­ag­o­nal cross­ing, is for­ward enough and re­tains his rhythm. I per­son­ally do not like to ride leg yield or any­thing else with the head against the wall of the arena be­cause this has a slow­ing down ef­fect and no horse likes to go with his head against the wall. Leg yield­ing can be started from the track across the di­ag­o­nal or from the cen­ter­line to­ward the track. When rid­ing this move­ment with an in­ex­pe­ri­enced horse across the di­ag­o­nal, you must only ask for steps that ful­fill the re­quire­ments men­tioned. Do not ask for th­ese steps on a steep di­ag­o­nal be­cause it would mean a sig­nif­i­cant cross­ing, which might eas­ily throw the young­ster off bal­ance.

Here are two sim­ple ex­er­cises to train the young horse to lis­ten to your di­ag­o­nal aids:

Ex­er­cise 1. Al­ter­nate a few steps of leg yield across the di­ag­o­nal with a few steps straight for­ward and back again to leg yield­ing and so on (see above di­a­gram). The horse learns to re­act quicker and in a more re­fined way to the di­ag­o­nal aids, which will help you later on when teach­ing more col­lected lat­eral move­ments.

Ex­er­cise 2. Start leg yield­ing out of a cor­ner of the arena, as shown in the di­a­gram at the bot­tom of p. 32. Ride a few steps straight, then leg yield un­til you reach the cen­ter­line. There, ride a few steps straight, fol­lowed by leg yield in the other di­rec­tion back to the same wall. If your horse be­gins mov­ing too fast or the steps be­come slow and in­con­sis­tent or the horse throws his head up, it all in­di­cates that he has lost his bal­ance. At that point, ride a big cir­cle to re­store lost bal­ance, choose a less steep an­gle and ask for fewer steps when at­tempt­ing leg yield again.


Shoul­der-fore is a lat­eral move­ment that isn’t talked about much, but is very im­por­tant in the train­ing of a young horse be­cause it is, in prin­ci­ple, the same move­ment as the more well-known shoul­der-in only with lon­gi­tu­di­nal flex­ion and a smaller an­gle from the wall. Rid­den on three tracks with a slight flex­ion in line with the body, shoul­der-fore al­ready asks for a cer­tain de­gree of collection as the in­ner hind leg gets an­i­mated to step un­der, carry more weight and the shoul­der free­dom in­creases.

You can de­velop shoul­der-fore out of a cor­ner of the arena or a volte to eas­ily pre­pare the needed lon­gi­tu­di­nal flex­ion. Take care that you lead the shoul­ders into the arena with the out­side rein and bend the horse around your in­side leg in­stead of feel­ing tempted to pull his head in, as this will rob the move­ment of any ben­e­fit. The in­side rein is there to yield or cor­rect the horse if he gets tilted in his neck. In­cor­rect use of the in­side rein only re­sults in the horse fall­ing onto the out­side shoul­der in­stead of step­ping un­der with his in­side hind leg.

Col­lected Lat­eral Move­ments

Ad­vanced lat­eral move­ments like shoul­der-in, travers, ren­vers and the half pass re­quire a cer­tain de­gree of collection and when prac­ticed reg­u­larly and cor­rectly will in­crease collection at the same time. The higher the de­gree of collection, the more weight the horse’s hind legs will carry and the lighter his shoul­ders will be­come. In turn, this de­ter­mines the de­gree of bal­ance of the horse, and all lat­eral work helps us with our goal to bring him into the best pos­si­ble bal­ance. But be­cause it is im­pos­si­ble to speak about all of th­ese ad­vanced move­ments in one ar­ti­cle, I will fo­cus only on the shoul­der-in and the half pass, which are both re­quired in ad­vanced dres­sage tests.


François Ro­bi­chon de la Guérinière

A young horse like 7-year-old Quadrille xx rid­den by Theodorescu’s stu­dent Louise Rob­son, will show less bend­ing and cross­ing in a half pass than a Grand Prix horse will later on.

Leg Yield, Ex­er­cise 2

Leg Yield, Ex­er­cise 1

Once the horse is able to do the shoul­der-in prop­erly, the more de­mand­ing travers can be in­tro­duced. Both move­ments can be al­ter­nated along the wall or arena bound­ary.

Rob­son rides Quadrille in shoul­der­fore, which re­quires slight collection and lat­eral bend­ing and pre­pares the young horse for the most im­por­tant lat­eral move­ment, shoul­der-in.

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