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What to know before you try lateral work

In the competitive sport of dressage, there are almost a dozen lateral movements (depending on how you count them): turn on the forehand, leg yield (at least 3 forms), shoulder-in, travers, renvers, turn on the haunches, half pass, working pirouette, pirouette. They each have very specific requirements, and the aids for each are different.

How are you ever going to learn all the aids for each of the lateral movements?

It’s not that hard, really. Any lateral movement you do is simply a combination of three basic components: the direction of bend, degree of bend, and the “ends” (forehand, hindquarters) going sideways. If you can learn how to control each of these components, you can put them together in any way you want, to ride any lateral movement you wish.

Direction of bend

It’s very important to understand that the direction of bend (i.e., whether the horse is going sideways toward the direction of bend or away from the direction of bend). It's important enough that I've dedicated a page just to the subject.

Degree of bend

You have several aids that will initiate and maintain bend. Keep in mind that although most bend occurs in the horse’s neck, there is some amount of bend through the horse’s back and rib cage.

To bend the neck, you simply pull on a rein. The opposite rein is used to “allow” for the bend, and also to control the bend. Be very careful not to pull on one rein and let the other hang loose!

Bend through the horse’s body is controlled by your legs (inside leg at the girth, outside leg behind the girth) and by the position of your body (and for that matter, by the position of the saddle on your horse’s back!)

Keep in mind that bend is relative -- to the horse's conformation, level of training and balance, as well as to the movement itself. If a little bend is good, rarely is more bend better, so don't get greedy!

(Under construction) You'll have better control over your horse's bend if you know how to use the reins in a variety of ways. Here's a quick primer on the rein aids.

Going sideways

To control the horse’s front legs, think about controlling his withers. This is accomplished with your reins -- you can bend your horse and control his withers at the same time.

To control the horse’s hind legs, you use your lower legs (and perhaps, if your horse needs a clearer signal, a spur or whip as well). (Under construction) Here's a discussion on the correct use of the whip or spurs.

Remember to relax the aid as soon as the horse responds correctly. If you want multiple, sequential steps of a movement, ask for each step individually and rhythmically.

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Lateral work chart: Check out the lateral work chart -- you can see by looking at the chart that each movement is just a combination of the three components mentioned above: direction of bend, degree of bend, and going sideways.

Before you start

"Inside" vs. "Outside"

Direction of bend

Lateral work chart

Turn on the forehand

Leg Yield
 Leg yield parallel
 Leg yield head to wall
 How to ride

Shoulder in



Half pass


Pronunciation 101

Lateral work game