Lateral Exercises for Your Gaited Horse

You hear the term LATERAL WORK a lot in Dressage. 

However, Lateral Exercises are not only for the Dressage Horse! 

Lateral exercises can improve the natural gait in any horse,
no matter what the breed or discipline.

What exactly are lateral exercises?

Lateral exercises are movements done to strengthen a horse so he can be ridden in balance and suppleness.  They also add to the responsiveness of the riding aids.  Lateral (forward) work contains varying degrees of lateral flexion, lateral bend, sideways movement, and forward movement.

Lateral flexion occurs at the poll (throatlatch) area.

Lateral bend occurs from head to tail along the horse's entire spine.
Unless performing a circle, the horse will remain parallel to the arena rails.

Simply put, the horse is moving in a direction other than straight forward

Common problems...

Include overbending, shoulder bulge, losing balance and rhythm, rushing, excessive lowering of the head and balking.

Incorrectly ridden (or forcing the horse into a position), the lateral movements can cause more training problems than they solve.

  • Forwardness - Lateral exercises may cause your horse to slow his tempo or lose rhythm and freedom of movement.  This is typically expected when first doing these exercises.  So it's important to ask for forward movement once the exercise is completed and slowly work up to improving the horse's rhythm and freedom of movement before, during, and after the exercises.
  • Straightness - You should always keep the correct bend through the movements, with your horse moving off of your inside leg to outside rein. Incorrect bend, such as too much neck bend or the shoulders or haunches falling in or out, decreases the benefits of the exercise. It can also teach a horse to move in a crooked manner. The rider should be especially wary, as many horses will try to do movements with incorrect bend because it is physically easier. If a horse is having a very difficult time maintaining correct bend, it is usually an indication that the horse is not ready for a movement physically, and it is best to go back to a slightly easier exercise.  If the horse can maintain the bend for one or two steps, and then loses the bend, the rider should work slowly, gradually building a greater number of quality steps. Forcing a horse to do something before he is ready for it will never help his training.
  • Correct position of the rider - Some riders have a habit of riding crookedly when performing lateral movements, so it's often a good idea to have a person on the ground to help watch your position. Common faults to avoid include the dropping of a shoulder, raising or lowering a hand, collapsing a hip, leaning (rather than staying centered over the saddle), and twisting the body.  These may effect the clarity of your aids and cause the horse to move stiffly and discourage impulsion, suppleness, and forwardness.

Lateral Movements Include...

  • Circles
  • Shoulder-In
  • Haunches-In
  • Renvers
  • Half Pass
  • Piroutte  

The following diagram from shows the various movements.


In the following Video

Paul Belasik breaks down each of the lateral movements so you can understand how the horse is expected to move in each one of them.


In the Next Video...

Jennie Jackson shows how lateral movements help to work out stiffness and tension in the gaited horse and improve the flat walk.

There are many videos and articles on Lateral Movement and Exercises.  I highly encourage you to do a little more research and try incorporating this into your riding routine.



Wikipedia, Lateral Movement, Retrieved Nov 21, 2017.
Straightness Training Exercises, Lateral Movements, Retrieved, Nov 21, 2017.
DressageHub, Paul Belasik: Understanding Lateral Movements in Dressage, Retrieved Nov 21, 2017
Jennie Jackson Dressage en Gaite, Applying lateral exercises to improve flat walk, Retrieved Nov 21, 2017


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