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Topic Review

Joined: Thu May 7th, 2009
Posts: 187
Status:  Offline
Posted: Wed May 1st, 2019 03:21 pm
Hi Dr Deb, I have a question regarding which shoulder in is better for the horse. I was recently told that the 3 track shoulder in was only for competition, and that the 4 track was the only true shoulder in. Then I read that the 4 track shoulder in is not beneficial to the horse because it does not induce the correct bend from poll to tail, and is actually anatomically hard for the horse to do. I know Nuno Oliveira did both. Is there any truth to either of these theories ?

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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3251
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Posted: Thu May 2nd, 2019 01:10 am
No. The 3-vs-4 track shoulder-in is one of the oldest silly debates among European dressage pundits. Lots of armchair athletes in that crowd.

The first thing we have to clarify is that most people who claim to be "into" dressage really don't understand what a shoulder-in is. And in the last three decades, where cheating by altering the form the horse produces in order to "make sure" that the judge sees that phase of whatever test in the competitor's favor, we have lots of competitors and coaches who think that the competition modifications are actual things that would be physiotherapeutically beneficial to the horse to practice. Big laugh, that -- just as big a laugh as the confusion that many competition-oriented dressage people have over what an extension of stride consists of, or how you could tell whether a horse was producing one. This infects all levels of expertise, right up to people who hold judges' cards.

The ultimate origin of the 3-vs-4 debate goes back to La Gueriniere's book, which you will find reproduced as the lefthand image attached below in this post (marked "A"). This is the most famous and significant image in La Gueriniere's very authoritative and seminal work. The problem is not with La Gueriniere at all, but with the happenstance that the artist who made the engraving showing the shoulder-in happened to choose to portray that moment when the horse's left diagonal grounded. As the animal is at a trot, obviously if the drawing were one frame in a movie film, a frame or two later the support would be by the right diagonal.

But this is the crucial point -- the trot gait may be symmetrical, but the shoulder-in exercise is not. What the horse on the right rein who is standing on the left diagonal does with his inside hind leg is different than what he does with it when he is standing on the right diagonal. Therefore, I have "completed" La Gueriniere's thought and the engraver's work by supplying the frame that comes a few seconds later (marked "B").

The problem is that when the animal is pictured upon the left diagonal, it is not obvious (because he is standing on the right hind leg) that the first key to shoulder-in is that the animal untrack with that leg. By "untracking" we mean exactly what La Gueriniere meant when he used the term (indeed he invented the term, although he also goes to elaborate lengths in the text to define it, calling it "an oblique circular-lateral movement of the inside hind leg"). Untracking means that the horse swings his inside hind leg forward and diagonally across under his belly, so that the hoof of that limb lands under the body-shadow (i.e. if it were noon and the sun was shining directly down on the horse's body). But when he's standing on the left diagonal, the right hind leg is grounded so he isn't going to be seen swinging it. In my phase-two frame, the horse is upon the right diagonal and the animal is very clearly untracking.

It is extremely important to note that La Gueriniere ALSO equated untracking with engagement of the hindquarters. To engage the hindquarters, to this classical-era master, did NOT mean "bringing the hocks FORWARD", i.e. not BOTH hocks. It meant ONE hock and the motion was OBLIQUE not strictly forward.

When the animal does this, several results obtain:
(1) It forces him to displace weight from the inside pair of legs onto the outside pair of legs. That is, when in a right shoulder-in to carry MORE weight upon the outside (left) pair of legs (front and hind) than on the inside (right) pair of legs (fore and hind).

(2) It induces him to bend his spine laterally, especially through the posterior thoracic and anterior lumbar segment, i.e. to bend more deeply right under where the rider is sitting.

(3) It induces him to roll his inside hip downward. The inside hip drops because the animal is reaching obliquely under his body in order to untrack. The lowering of the inside hip induces still more lateral bend -- the two things go together. Also linked is the raising of the outside of the ribcage and the dropping of the inside, all part of a 3-dimentional change in the shape of the animal's ribcage which occurs as the lateral bend deepens.

(4) The increase in lateral bend causes the horse to snug up on the outside branch of the bit, to seek and take a more thorough contact, and to bow his neck into the outside rein (a bearing rein -- a bearing rein is not to be created by the rider taking up slack on the outside, but instead by the horse filling the rein). Concomitantly, the inside rein, while not losing the connected feel between horse and rider, becomes draping as the horse "throws" that rein back to the rider.

(5) Because the horse is asked not to untrack just once or a few times (as he would, say, for a turn on the forehand), but instead for many steps; and because he is not being asked to leg-yield, i.e. the outside rein blocks him from that; and because he steps into this rein and is supported by it, the untracking hind limb begins to push down against the ground more firmly, in other words, it starts working harder and bears more weight than it would if he were not shaped up to perform shoulder-in. This may seem paradoxical in light of the fact that I've said above that the lateral bend, which is the result of the untracking, causes the horse to start carrying more weight on the OUTSIDE hind limb. However, the untracking INSIDE hind leg is stepping at, or near, the horse's midline and is thus in an optimum position to push the whole body up, so that BOTH hind limbs also begin taking some of the weight that the forehand formerly bore. The downrolling of the inside hip assists this, which is a very nifty and sophisticated way to teach the horse to coil its loins and 'sit' for collection by addressing the hind limbs separately, and schooling and strengthening them one at a time (i.e.the hind limb you're addressing changes when you change hands).

In short, there are two key things that happen when you are schooling shoulder-in: First, the horse gets more laterally supple and more capable of fully matching the arc of his spine to 10M circles or smaller; and second, he starts carrying more weight upon the hind limbs.

In the process of teaching shoulder-in, normally one begins with a rather stiff horse. You teach him to untrack, and that's fine but it ain't gonna be a shoulder-in until one fine day when he figures out not just to step sideways but to turn loose of the intercostal musculature. So you can ride leg-yield head-to-the-school all you like; that's the "cheater" thing they do in competition because they're afraid the judge sitting at the end of the arena isn't going to "see" that the horse carries himself at an angle to the wall of the manege or the rail of the arena. But that is not a shoulder-in. The instant, however, that the horse turns loose of the brace that almost all horses hold in that section of their body which is directly below the rider -- the instant he does this, the leg-yield head-to-the-school will transform into a shoulder-in.

So you see from this that shoulder-in depends crucially upon lateral bend through the spine. A stiff horse will have difficulty so long as he remains stiff. A horse with a short back will tend, also, to be a stiffer horse overall, even after much schooling; and for this horse, the three-track version will always be easier and may in fact be all he's able to do. Which is just fine, because the three-track version is just as effective as physiotherapy for him as the four-track version would be for a long-backed horse. Once they are supple enough to produce a correct 10M bend, with their midsection turned loose, long-backed horses can produce either a 3-track or a 4-track shoulder-in, simply because they can deploy more body length out in front of the untracking inside hind leg.

Now horses come in all lengths and with all sorts of different spots along their length where they are stuck, and every knowledgeable and sympathetic rider must know her own horse and make a judgement, every day and sometimes fifty times during a single ride, as to what to ask and how much to ask. But please don't waste your time with anyone else's ideas of what is "correct", because there is no such thing. The master horsemen of the Enlightenment were not concerned with correctness as the word would be understood by competitors, for the simple reason that they were not competitors. There was no word for "physiotherapeutic riding" in the 18th or 19th centuries, but that is most assuredly what those old boys were fascinated with. They were just trying to help their horses, figure out how to get them into collection, how to get them to raise the base of the neck so that the feel coming up through the saddle and the appuy -- the feel the horse puts on the bit -- would be right.

Have a look at the images below. Worth some study I think. -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: LaGueriniere Untracking Shoulder In 2phase SM.jpg


Joined: Thu May 7th, 2009
Posts: 187
Status:  Offline
Posted: Thu May 2nd, 2019 04:29 pm
Dr Deb, thank you for the comprehensive explanation and diagrams of the shoulder in. There is something about understanding what is happening inside the horse as you are asking them to execute a movement which changes your perception of how to arrive at your final destination of actually being able to do it.
Indeed, it seems to be the only way to get to any kind of truth in horse training. Both sources of information are European trainers who are very good riders, and are from the classical school, with no kind words for the international competitive world of dressage. So I have paid some attention to them, and indeed have taken away bits and pieces which I have found to be good and useful. I find that I have to tease out what I like from what I don't like depending on how the horses react to their particular techniques. Having a blueprint of how a horse should look and feel, physically and psychologically, while in school helps a great deal. This is not to say that when working with a horse, there are not going to be difficult times when things get worse before they get better.
I have noticed that there is a tendency towards cult like following, even down to dress and ways of speaking, in the horse world which makes me uncomfortable and skeptical at the same time. Even among good trainers who in no way encourage this sort of following.
I have also noticed there is some wonderful work being done with horses by individuals who are applying the classical theories with breath taking results, and I applaud them!
Thank you for all your good, forthright information, Dr Deb

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