Lateral Elasticity, by Alison Short

Monday, March 25th, 2013

What is lateral elasticity? You may think it’s something that you don’t need to be working on until you are moving sideways or laterally, this is a common misunderstanding of the term lateral elasticity.

  • Lateral is to move side ways such as half pass, shoulder in or leg yield, but this also covers the elasticity of the horse side to side while only working on two tracks.
  • Lateral elasticity is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
  • Lateral elasticity is the development of the horse’s suppleness and ability to follow the lines of circles, turns and corners of the arena without carrying a proportion of that balance on the rider’s aids.

For example falling in means your horse is falling against the riders inside leg, this can lead to incorrect bend which means that the horse is either balancing against the inside rein or the riders is trying to prevent the horse from cutting in by using the outside rein to steer. All of these problems mean that the horse has no lateral suppleness causing not only a loss of marks in your test, but ultimately an inability to improve all of the following:

  • Suppleness through the back
  • Balance and lightening of the forehand
  • Engagement of the hind legs
  • Consistent impulsion
  • Suspension in trot and canter
  • Rhythm

Because of the way the horse is made, with out lateral elasticity his range of movement is limited, in turn leading to a multitude of problems ranging from stiffness issues to lameness.

I see many horses out competing who show longitudinal roundness which is purely from front to back, their lateral elasticity that is missing will show so clearly how the horse is unable to remain balanced through the corners, with the outline being lost during transitions due the his inability to be able to use his pushing power from behind effectively.

As an example if you are riding a 20m circle at A and over X made a transition into canter, your horse would be leaving the track after the first quarter of the circle and lacks lateral bend to follow the curvature of the circle, the more novice horse will appear to be following a line that is almost diagonal travelling towards X, the rider then places their body on the line of the circle at X.

The riders weight is now more to the inside, combined balance is now lost and at worst will result in an incorrect lead, at best the strike off will be achieved but the horse will hollow as the rider now leads the horse to the circle line with the inside rein, whilst trying to achieve an active reaction to the leg aid.
Hollowing has taken place because the hind legs where not able to push up underneath the rider, the horses back has stiffened due to lack of lateral suppleness.

When you put it like that it all sounds so simple!!! But how do we improve lateral suppleness?

In the early stages of training the use of bend can be difficult to master, falling in if the rider is not effective with the inside leg and out if the knowledge and balance of the outside rein contact is poor.

Let’s keep it simple, as a rider we should always be in balance with our horse to enable him to have the best chance of his own balance, but also so that as a rider we can develop our feel and learn to understand what reactions are required from our horse.

This exercise will bring to the fore just how important our equality in the saddle is, it’s all about training yourself to asses what you can feel.

Start off on the left rein in trot on a long contact using your lower leg to steer him, if your horse is very forward going and you are not happy on a long rein then start with him on a comfortable contact. At this point it does not matter if he is hollow but try to use the corners of your arena as best you can.

Now have an image in your head of a speed boat with two engines one on each corner behind you, each engine has to have the same out put.

For those of you who have a long arena you have more time to asses what happens on the long sides, any deviation of the power will cause the horse to be crooked on the long side, to start do not try to correct him, remember this is an assessment of what wrong feels like. As you begin to use the corners see if your horse keeps the same degree of activity, if he is allowed to deviate from the apex of the corner then he has evaded the need to push through the corners and you will need to set him up more for the next one.

Now start to take more contact and ask him to travel to the contact, if he becomes evasive be consistent with the contact you wish him to go towards remaining elastic, remember try not to be restrictive with other parts of your body but remain supple if he becomes tense. The goal is to keep him using both his engines (hind legs) in rhythm, as you near the corners you will probably find that he becomes slightly less responsive to the inside leg aid, this is the point where you must encourage him to use his inside engine power.

Once this has been achieved equally on both reins then you can ask for bend through the corners, keeping your outside shoulder straight, by doing this you will maintain a steady outside contact enabling you to flex your horse elastically through the inside rein.

The use of the inside engine will now be tested even more, this is because as the rider asks for greater suppleness the bend creates more weight over the inside hind leg and so the weight it has to lift to reach truly under is greater, this in turn also fills the criteria of inside leg to outside rein. Your horse may in his attempt not to engage his inside hind encourage you to move out of your central position, leading to a loss of outside contact or tipping forward in an attempt to push him along. This is when you must feel what reaction you are achieving from your engines and react accordingly, either with a sharper leg aid of a gentle tap with a schooling whip in the inside hand.

Once your horse flows through his corners with suppleness and energy you have touched on your lateral suppleness.

This exercise can be adapted to many levels, other exercises to progress to are being able to achieve the same level of bend and power from both engines on circles.
Canter transitions over the apex of your corners monitoring the smoothness of the engine power to the transitions and to the canter. For the more advanced try exiting your corners with the same angle of bend, this will lead you to the first few steps of shoulder in.

Try and keep both you and your horse’s level of progression a comfortable challenge, by doing this you will build combined confidence to progress. Never be afraid to be seen to go back over basic exercises to pick up that extra bit of balance, impulsion or engagement needed to attain a higher percentage.

Always keep a note book for what works and how it felt, it can be invaluable to review those words just before your next schooling session.

Lastly, enjoy your training and remember a short fuse is often over something you can’t control, learn to live with the things you can’t physically change and compromise with those you can!

Alison Short is a freelance trainer as well as a British Dressage Judge, 07719 900275,

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