THINK LATERAL MOVEMENT
by Wendy Murdoch
Don't think that shoulder-in and zucchini have anything in common?
Discover how it is possible to combine the two as a means to learning and understanding lateral movements.
When properly applied, lateral work - that is, sideways as well as forward movement- has many
benefits, the greatest being that it teaches a horse how to balance with the weight of a rider so it
can move more powerfully with less effort. Correct training in lateral movements also increases
the flexibility in the ribcage, creates ‘lifting’ in the back and unifies the top line. Ultimately, the end result is
a horse that can move easily and efficiently in all gaits, can travel straight with thrusting power in selfcarriage
and is able to respond to the rider’s request to move in any direction with only the slightest of aids.
In contrast, poorly executed lateral work becomes an exercise in pulling and kicking on the part of the rider
and one of pain, restriction and resistance for the horse. Often, the underlying cause of this scenario is the
rider’s misunderstanding of the lateral movements and how to ride them correctly, leading them to make the
mistake of ‘locking’ the horse into a frame then trying to bend it through forceful leg aids applied to the
ribcage along with heavy contact on the inside rein. Not surprisingly, instead of the horse becoming an
excellent partner in following the rider’s lead, this method of attempting lateral work has completely the
opposite effect - the horse/rider combination stumbling and wobbling their way along in a a futile quest for
harmony, balance and lightness.
Left: FLEXION THROUGH THE NECK ONLY, NO BEND THROUGH THE HORSE'S BODY
Below: BEND THROUGH THE NECK AND RIBCAGE
CONFUSION AND MYSTERY
In the course of teaching riders across the world how to develop a better relationship and higher level of
performance with their horse, internationally renowned instructor, Wendy Murdoch, has unfortunately seen
many more examples of wrongly executed lateral work than she has of the correctly applied variety.
Interestingly, however, she feels that this is not always totally the fault of the rider. There is, she points out,
somewhat of a ‘sea of confusion and mystery’ that riders must wade through in their efforts to understand
exactly what each lateral movement involves and how it should be carried out.
Wendy relates how her own experience, as a developing young rider, of seeking information about the
shoulder-in, involved consulting numerous books by many of the great riding masters including Podhajsky,
Oliveira and Steinbreck. To her surprise, she realised that each described the lateral movements differently
and made emphatically different recommendations. “Never do a shoulder-in at the walk” and “start shoulderin
at the walk first”, for example. Then there was “The shoulder-in should only be performed on three
tracks” but also “ride the horse on four-tracks”.
There were many other discrepancies like
these so the bottom line, Wendy admits, was
that she was unable to come up with a clear,
concise or consistent description of this
subject that she could relate to
and understand. Her discoveries, or lack
thereof, also led her to realise that if she
was having trouble understanding and
applying the principles of lateral work, then
the odds were that others would be
experiencing the same problem.
In an endeavour to teach students who found
it particularly hard to visualise lateral
movements, Wendy decided to come up
with a unique and simple way of explaining
their ‘mysteries’ and how they are related
to each other. This she has achieved in the
several ways - the first of which is to define
each one by using five key characteristics,
these being Direction, Bend, Orientation,
Tracks and Gait. A summary chart of all the
lateral movements and these characteristics
The term ‘direction’ refers to the direction
in which the horse is moving, and can be
illustrated with arrows: forward ( );
sideways ( ); backwards ( ); in a circle
( ); diagonally left or diagonally right ( )
/( ). Note that in relation to pivot-like
movements, a horse can do quarter turns,
half turns, three-quarter turns, full turns or
multiple full turns (spins).
There is also a relationship between
direction and bend in that a horse can move
‘into the bend’ or ‘away from the bend’.
The degree of ‘into’ or ‘away’ may be slight
but this distinction can result in a specific
movement. Half pass, for example, is
moving diagonally ‘into the bend’, whereas
travelling in the same direction on the same
diagonal line without bend is leg yield.
Travelling the same line diagonally but
‘away from the bend’, with the shoulders
to the inside of the bend, would be a
shoulder-out or in on a diagonal line
(depending on where the side of the arena
is - see the section on Orientation).
BEND (Lateral flexion of the ribcage)
Many riders think of ‘bend’ as referring to
something that is happening in a horse’s
neck but this is not quite correct, as it actually relates to the shape of the ribcage
and spine. Bend originating from the
ribcage ultimately influences the shape of
the neck - that is, a horse that is truly bent
will bend throughout its whole body
(including the neck). If the bend fails to
come through from other parts of the body,
however, the shape of the neck may change
but in a ‘false’ way that will then lead to
problems with performing lateral and other
A horse bending laterally through the entire
spine is similar to a human doing sidebending.
To feel what side-bending is like, drop your left ear towards your left shoulder and your left shoulder towards your left hip while sitting.
Notice that the ribs on the left
come closer together while the right side of
your ribcage expands. This is similar to how
a horse bends - the ribcage on the outside
of the curve expands while the ribs on the
inside of the bend come slightly closer
together. In order for the horse to ‘fill into’
the outside rein, it has to expand its ribs on
the outside of the curve - not only where
you are sitting but also underneath the
shoulder blade. In essence, this action of the
ribcage is what happens when a horse is
correctly ridden from inside to outside rein.
There is often confusion amongst riders as
to the difference and relationship between
between flexion and bend. A useful definition of these two terms can be found
in Susan Harris’ book, Horse Gaits, Balance
and Movement, where the author describes
three different types of flexion -
longitudinal, direct and lateral - then
explains how flexion and ‘bending’ are
related as follows;
“Longitudinal flexion refers to the bending
of the horse’s joints from back to front (nose
to tail), the ‘long way’. It can refer to a part
of the horse, such as flexion at the poll, neck
or jaw, or to flexion throughout the whole
body. Longitudinal flexion is what people
are trying to achieve by riding their horse
‘long and low’.
Direct flexion usually refers more
specifically to longitudinal flexion of the
poll and in the mouth. When the horse flexes
longitudinally in all his joints, he is said to
The horse can flex laterally (sideways) at
the poll, in the neck, and very slightly in the
back and lumbar spine. In order to flex
laterally, the horse must flex longitudinally
to some degree. Bending requires
engagement of the hindquarters, lifting of
the back and slight rotation of the spinal
column. Consequently, there is no such thing
as lateral flexion without longitudinal
Orientation requires working within a
defined space, such as a dressage arena or
large square area. A square or rectangular
arena can be divided lengthwise into four
equal portions, while a centreline bisects the
arena into two halves and the quarter lines
bisect the halves into quarters. These
demarcations are useful when moving
laterally as, for example, a leg yield can be
ridden from a quarter line to the edge of the
arena to begin with, then from the centreline
to the outside track.
The terms ‘in’ and ‘out’ come from the 18th
century, when a classical riding arena was a small square, with ‘in’ referring to inside
the line of a circle and ‘out’ to outside the
line of the circle. Hence, performing a
shoulder-in means that you would move the
shoulders onto a line to the inside of the
original circle line, while riding a shoulderout
meant directing the shoulders onto a line
to the outside of the circle line.
|FORWARD B BACKWARD B BSIDEWAYS B BDIAGONALB BB B CIRCLE B BSTRAIGHT ALONG ARENA WALL
When riding circular movements, in
addition to the ‘in’ and ‘out’ side of
orientation, the amount of rotation needed
must also be taken into account - this being
determined by where a circle starts and how
much of a circular turn ones does. For
example, a turn on the forehand can be a full
turn (360 degrees) which ends with the horse
and rider facing the same way as they did at
the start. A half-turn (180 degrees) will end
facing in the opposite direction and so on.
Each lateral movement can create a different number of ‘tracks’, based on the path of each leg and the horse’s degree of angle to the line of travel. The number of ‘tracks’ a horse is travelling on is usually determined by observing it from end on (front or rear) to see the number of separate lines formed by its legs and feet. This process can, however, be a little confusing as different numbers of ‘tracks’ are sometimes used to describe the same movement. For example, a shoulder-in can be described as being ‘on two tracks’ by virtue of the
horse’s hips remaining along the wall of the arena, while the shoulders are on a path to the inside. A correct shoulder-in, however, is actually performed on three tracks, which is apparent by watching the limbs.
In order to minimise this confusion, the following distinctions can be made:
Two Tracks - the hind feet follow in the track of the front feet so that, when looking from the front, one cannot see any displacement of the hindquarters or shoulders to either side.
This is the case when a horse is moving straight forward on a line or a circle.
Three Tracks - when viewed from front or rear, the legs are on three distinct lines. This is regardless of which part of the horse is displaced (fore or hindquarters).
Four Tracks - there are four separate tracks, one for each leg.
None Specified - in some lateral movements - such as a spin or turn on the forehand - the number of tracks is irrelevant.
Left side from top to bottom:
Right side- from centre up to top:
Shoulders-in right on diagonal;
Left bend, shoulders right, tracking right
About The Author
An international riding instructor clinician, Wendy Murdoch resides in Washington VA and travels worldwide, teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve their horse’s performance by improving their own body position. Her book, Simplify Your Riding and DVDs, Simplify Your Riding and Ride Like A Natural are available at www:murdochmethod.com.
THE ZUCCHINI LESSON
Wendy has developed several ways for demystifying the art of lateral work so, now that the five characteristics and how they relate to each movement have been explained, it’s time to move on to her other teaching tool - which, it must be said, seems a little unorthodox at first!
This strategy is what she calls ‘the zucchini lesson’, in which small zucchini are used to represent a horse in different positions. Sound intriguing? Well, read on!
Wendy recommends selecting one or two zucchini (under 15cm/ 6 inches in length) that have a good ‘bend’ in them. She prefers zucchini to bananas because they have the bend more ‘towards the front’ and are straight through ‘the lumbar area and croup’, which more accurately represents a horse that is bent correctly for lateral work.
Once armed with your vegetables and a copy of the chart of the lateral movements and their characteristics, place the zucchini within a boundary - a tabletop will do. The idea is then to move the ‘horses’ (that is, the zucchini) according to bend and direction for each of the lateral movements. For example, try this for the shoulder-in.
Take the zucchini and roll it so that the bend is on the left. Place it on the outside edge of the right hand side of your ‘arena’, then move its ‘shoulders’ in off the track. Now move it straight forward in this position.
Since the bend is on the left and your ‘horse’ is moving forward, it is moving away from the left bend and is therefore in shoulderin.
Make sense? Now roll the zucchini over so the bend is on the right and move the ‘shoulders’ so they are closer to the wall than the hindquarters. Continue straight forward - your ‘horse’ is now in shoulder-out.
If you then pick up the zucchini and place it on the left side of the arena without altering its relative position, the ‘horse’ will be in shoulder-in tracking to the right. The only thing you changed here is which way it is travelling around the arena - that is, on the right rein instead of the left.
Going back to the example used in the Direction section above of the difference between half pass, leg yield and shoulder in/ out, set your zucchini ‘horse’ up on a diagonal line to imitate these three movements.
For half pass, say from left to right, orientate the zucchini so its ‘shoulders’ are slightly leading and its bend is to the right. Start ‘travelling’ across the diagonal (note that this is ‘into the bend’) then change to leg yield by rolling the zucchini so it is straight (that is, the bend in it is facing the table surface). Now continue rolling it until the bend is facing left. Given that your ‘horse’ is still on its diagonal path, it is now in
shoulder-out and, consequently, moving ‘away from the bend’.
FROM TABLE TOP TO SADDLE
The beauty of using this technique to help visualise lateral movements is that, due to the manouevrability and three dimensional nature of the zucchini, an extra element of understanding is added that a series of drawings can’t capture nearly as well. This applies especially to gaining an appreciation of how it is possible to easily change from one lateral movement to another, simply by altering one of the five key characteristics - direction, bend, orientation, tracks or gait. Of course, having this ability then enables much
more variety, challenge and benefit to be introduced into a schooling regime.
The zucchini exercise also conveys an important message to riders, which is that lateral movements aren’t difficult to understand and to perform as long as you have a clear picture in your mind BEFORE getting on your horse as to
what each movement involves. Once in the saddle, then, the ‘picture’ in your mind of how the zucchini horse was positioned and moved for a given exercise will always be there to refer back to if you get stuck. END