Western Dressage Exercise – Haunches In Prep

As the horse’s balance improves, we can begin asking him for maneuvers that require him to displace his haunches laterally. While tempting, asking for these movements too early in the horse’s training creates a horse that gets wiggly through his mid-section to the point of his hind-quarters and forehand being disconnected rather than remaining connected through the upwards arch of the horse’s back. Compromising for poor balance or insufficient musculature, the horse learns to throw his butt sideways but without any increased flexion in the hind joints. Learning to do exercises in a compromised manner does not make him a better athlete.

Prior to beginning any movements requiring a haunches-in position, it is beneficial to first achieve a level of training that demonstrates consistent rhythm, balance, and bend on 10m circles, shoulder-in, and leg-yields. Confirming this foundation will ensure that your horse can hold his body in a laterally flexed position without falling apart and recruiting—or stiffening—muscles and joints we are not targeting. This will also ensure that your horse is adequately conditioned as haunches-in maneuvers, similar to the demands of counter lope, place a fair bit of torque on the horse’s lower back and outside hip stabilizers.

Once you are ready to begin haunches-in, introduce positioning and footwork with the following routine that relies on an arena rail to give both you and your horse the correct alignment from the very first step. I find that when riders can learn to do haunches-in correctly right from the start, it saves them a lot of frustration down the road. One of the biggest pitfalls for riders is simply pushing the horse’s hindquarters over without maintaining the correct bend through his whole body. Remember that this bent position around your inner leg is just as important as how far you can move his haunches over.

Haunches In Prep

  1. Ask your horse to stand in a quiet halt along the rail, tracking right, while remaining on the bit.
  2. Weight your right seatbone a tiny bit more than your left seatbone while also closing your right leg against the horse’s ribcage for support. Now lightly vibrate your right rein for him to turn his head to the right enough for you to see his right eye. Keep his feet still while you ask for this flexion at his poll.
  3. Now, without allowing his front feet to move, ask him to step his haunches away from the rail by drawing your left leg back and pressing him away from the leg. If he begins to fidget or brace his neck or fall in with his whole body, allow him to stop after moving just one step. Regain balance and lateral poll flexion and begin another step.
  4. Bring his haunches in only enough to line up his left hip and right shoulder. The horse should feel and look like a crescent shape curved around your leg.
  5. After getting this position, move his haunches back over to the rail and then walk straight forward in a lively tempo to refresh his energy.
  6. After several steps, halt and repeat the above procedure.


Western Dressage Weekly Exercise – authored by Jec Ballou | Copyright © 2013

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