It’s all about the rider!-Shoulder fore
Shoulder fore is one of the most important tools a rider can have when working with a horse and for helping to teach him straightness.
It is debateable that it is more useful than shoulder in for both developing the rider and helping to understand how to straighten a horse.
Every rider should have a good understanding of shoulder fore, and it should be used most of the time when riding in a school. It is something that every rider should be aware of and taught. It is not a lateral movement which means that it makes sense to the horse almost immediately and it is of immediate help to the rider. It also incorporates the fundamentals of aiding a horse correctly, and how to use the school and increases knowledge of the use of school patterns. It also has a big influence on balance and engagement.
Why is it needed?
Shoulder fore is needed for every horse and rider but it is based on the fact that horses find it hard to be straight once the rider has climbs onto his back. It is way too common for riders to use the track around the outside of the school thinking that it is helping with their horses straightness. This could not be further from the truth-it is difficult for a horse to be straight when consistently trained by using the track primarily because of how the horses body is shaped.
A horses haunches are wider than his shoulders so this means he does not have enough room to move unless he torques his haunches to the inside of the school and leans out through his outside shoulder.
The horses balance is immediately affected making it difficult for him to turn, circle or move away from the fence. If the rider is not skilled or has balance issues too, this means that the aid to turn in from the track will be primarily issued from the inside rein which then creates too much neck bend causing the horse to become very unbalanced.
Putting a horse into shoulder fore will help with balance and help the rider to understand how important it is to co-ordinate aids and start to learn how a horse feels when he moves in balance. I sometimes wonder whether riders actually know what it feels like when a horse is balanced.
Balance helps put the horse at ease and shoulder fore is not difficult , all that is needed is to bring the shoulders in slightly. This is not to be confused with shoulder in. Shoulder fore is not a lateral movement so the horse will not be asked to cross either front or hind legs.
This enables the horse to position himself to the inside of the school with ease and helps him to turn without losing his balance. His engagement is also increased and the rider is then encouraged to turn the horse by using legs, seat and reins and become less dependent on the inside rein.
The inside rein is an aid to turning, it is not the only aid to turning.
Reliance on the inside rein will always fail and will cause the horse pain and frustration.
In the picture below you will see how the horse’s poll has twisted and that he has extreme bend through his neck. He will now find it extremely difficult to maintain balance let alone turn into the school
Aids for shoulder fore.
The aids for shoulder fore are easy but should not be used in isolation. Shoulder fore should be coupled alongside the following patterns these include riding inside tracks,centre lines and circles. These patterns teach the rider where to ask the horse to place his forehand.
The aids are not complex and begin with the correct positioning of the outside and inside leg, the upper body has to turn in the direction the rider wants to go to and an open inside rein. The opening of the inside rein helps explain to the horse that the rider wants him to turn his forehand, and not just his head (which would lead to an exaggerated neck bend) and helps prevent the rider pulling back on the rein. By inviting the horses forehand towards the inside of the school this helps clarify the riders requirements of the horse. Horses are always happier when they get clear directions from the rider.
One of the other requirements of a good rider will always be to use the whole school rather than confine themselves to a particular area of the school, even if sharing the space with another horse and rider. To clarify this, every area of the school should be covered as you work, and the track should never be deeper than when you first entered the school. The school is like a gymnasium so make sure every part of the “equipment” is used!
This helps the horse as he can use his entire body and it helps the rider to explore the turning of the forehand without increasing bend.
The pictures show a “real horse and rider” that are progressing and learning, and also show that this is not always easy to be in balance and have a perfect position, but this particular horse and rider have a good understanding and the rider is working hard to achieve a longer leg and stability.
Please take a look at both picture 4 and 5 as the comparison couldn’t be clearer. It is easy to spot the difference in the horses positioning, but it is also very clear to see the difference in the riders positioning too. In picture 4 the rider is turning her body into the direction she is riding in, and this is really helpful to the horse, but in picture 5 the rider is sitting to the outside so the horse is not finding it easy to turn smoothly to his right. It is also very obvious which picture is showing shoulder fore.
Thank you to Sue Douglas and her lovely horse Alfie for demonstrating for the photos. It is not easy to ham things up and then put them right all in one session!