Do you find that when you ask your horse to perform haunches in or travers, the forward movement tends to get a little ‘stuck’? It feels as though he is on his tippy toes, pottering along with no inclination to get to the other end of the arena?!
Haunches in is a lateral movement that is fantastic for suppling your horse and it also opens the door to performing a half pass later in training. It requires an engagement of the hind quarters, due to the outside hind leg having to move over and almost in front of the inside hind leg, and so incorporating this movement into your schooling will, in turn, help strengthen your horses hind quarters.
I find that haunches in is also a great exercise to improve the riders co-ordination, both physically and in their head and also to help take the confusion out of riding lateral movements on their horses.
You ride this movement by asking your horse to move his hind quarters or haunches in off the track, towards the inside, as he continues to move forward with his shoulders remaining on the track. As he does this, he bends around your inside leg at an approximate 30 degree angle to the track. If you looked at your horse moving down the arena, from the front, you would see either 3 or 4 distinct tracks created by your horses hooves. I say 3 or 4 because this depends on what level in his training your horse is at and sometimes how he is put together.
A simple way of imagining how haunches in should look when being ridden is to think the ‘last stride’ of a circle or bend, just before your horse straightens up again. Now imagine holding this position as you ride down the long side of the arena. Your horses shoulders would be on the track, however the hind quarters or haunches would be slightly in off the track as he bends around your inside leg.
Haunches in or travers can be performed in walk, trot or canter and, as always, I suggest first asking for the movement in walk before building up to faster gaits. This will give both you and your horse the opportunity to figure out what to do when it is being ridden.
Start in walk on a 10 meter circle in the corner before the long side of your arena. Focus on establishing and maintaining a correct bend while on the circle, applying the half halt as necessary to re-balance your horse and let him know something is happening.
As you come out of the corner on the circle, your outside leg to keep your horses hind quarters off the track and closer tot he inside of the school, by bring it back and maintaining the bend around your inside let. Make sure the shoulders remain on the track by using your inside leg on the girth. Your inside leg will also help create the bend and continue to create the forward energy that is essential to prevent you and your horse from becoming ‘sticky’ while riding the haunches in.
Work towards maintaining the bend around your inside leg and ask your horse to move down the long side with his hind quarters to the inside and off the track. Continue to half halt throughout the movement to re-balance and also to make sure the horse is not over-bent
Only ask for a few strides of travers initially, working up to longer periods as your horse becomes stronger and grows his confidence in his ability.
Make sure your inside leg is continuing to create forward impulsion as you perform the movement. Also, continue to check that you are not applying too much inside rein and ‘pulling’ his head and neck around. Over-bending through the front end will prevent your horse from stepping out correctly, leading to the short, choppy, sticky steps that we often achieve when riding haunches in.
Don’t worry too much about the angle initially. Rather focus that your horse is listening to your aids and responding, even if that response is not as ‘active’ or expressive as you would like it to be. As he becomes ore supple, you can ask more difficult questions of him and work on ‘polishing’ the movement up.
All the while, both before, during and afterwards, make sure your body and position is correct and that you are applying and using your aids as clearly for your horse to understand as possible. Often when we are not getting the desired result, riders can ‘fight’ with their horse; pulling, pushing and shoving in frustration. Rather realize that if what you are doing is not working, go back a step or two, perhaps to leg yielding, and after re-establishing a solid foundation, ask again.
Try not twist or slouch your body while riding. It is tempting to ‘look’ your horses hind quarters to see if you are achieving what you are setting out to do; rather use your seat to ‘feel’ what is going in and ‘glance’ with your eyes that the shoulders are remaining on the track.
Also think about your seat aids as you prepare and ride the haunches in movement. Don’t try to influence your horse to ‘go sideways’ by swinging your seat around in the saddle. Simply make sure your inside seat-bone is slightly more forward than your outside, as you would when bending, and that you are not collapsing through the inside hip and shifting all the weight onto your outside seat-bone.
Once you and your horse have successfully performed the movement in walk, you can begin to add trot and, later, canter into your schooling time.
Pay attention that your horse is truly bending around your inside leg, otherwise he may just be leg yielding!
Another exercise you can ride is a 20 meter circle, which using haunches in, you can spiral smaller into a 15 meter or even 10 meter if your horse is balanced enough. From there you can use shoulder in to move your horse back out to the original 20 meter circle. This can be ridden on both reins in all three gaits and is a simple way of incorporating this movement into your daily schooling routines.
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