From inside leg to outside rein
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, August 3, 2016 07:55 PM
Recently, I had a light bulb moment when it comes to the phrase - "from inside leg to outside rein". This phrase is one of the most used ones when it comes to dressage training. And I bet everybody has their own view of what it means to have your horse connected from inside leg to outside leg. My moment happened when I was watching my instructor Sharon Merkel-Beattie ride my horse for the first time since I started lessons with her 3 years ago. Clearly my understanding of the concept of "inside leg to outside rein" was wrong. Watching her ride and listening to her comments was very much an eye opening experience plus I got on Santo after and felt the results of Sharon's work.
When the horse is truly in front of inside leg he doesn't run from it, doesn't stiffen or ignore, or fall into it. The horse lifts through the ribcage, the back and whithers and that lift is felt in outside rein. The horse steps more actively, more under himself because of the lift and neck becomes rounder ad longer. Outside rein becomes a framing rein that can shape the energy of the lift into more compact arc of collection or a little longer arc of extension. It can direct the horse to go straight or to turn.
Humans unfortunately are very hand task oriented. When a horse feels stiff, heavy or tight on inside rein human's brain seeks solution in the inside rein. Pulling or holding or even asking with inside rein is such an obvious idea that is very hard to resist.
Because inside rein cannot fix horse's ribcage that is falling in - the root of the problem it's action only masks the problem inviting horse to be crooked by shifting his head or neck inward from the base and falling out to outside shoulder to compensate. The horse's balance "appears" to be improved because different parts are counterbalancing each other. However, mobility has suffered because the horse is not straight and not engaged.
The challenge for a rider to recognize this issue and work on fixing the ribcage by the means of inside leg at the girth. The seat does not help to fix but helps to assess when it is correct or not. For this a rider must sit centered, deep and quiet. Rider's seatbones must travel forward on intended line without shifting sideways. It is very common for riders to lose their seatbones during corners or circles, their seatbones shift either to outside or inside instead of staying exactly on the bending line. If that happens the rider cannot assess properly if the horse dropped ribcage in, swung the haunches slightly out or tilted it's shoulders/hips. Also, tipping too much weight onto one seatbone disconnects the other and prevents the rider to feel the horse's alignment.
The other challenge, rider's legs are not equal in their coordination or strength. One leg can be much better as inside leg than another and make a rider feel more effective going one direction compare to the other. Usually, handiness play a role in it and more coordinated dominant side has better luck to be effective at being on inside than the other side. Nondominant leg is used to bare weight, support the body, not be active. It will rather hold then ask by means of touch, bump or kick. Even if the rider manages to use that leg to touch, or bump the horse the movement of the non dominant leg my affect the seat by pulling it inward or making it move. Whip at this point is not very effective because it strikes behind the leg closer to the horse's haunches and does not explain to the horse that ribcage must shift and lift. Spurs can help as long as rider's legs are in correct position and quiet so using spurs is a consciouses effort not accidental kicks.
- When bending a horse there are a few principles that must be observed carefully:
- The base of the neck must be absolutely straight.. The neck muscles will appear as two round pipes coming right from the shoulders
- The shoulders and hips must stay level at all times. Inside shoulder and hip must not shift in or out or drop down
- The ribcage gives in, shifts slightly outward and upward. This is the most important aspect of the bend. That is how a horse learns to go from inside leg to outside rein. Unyielding ribcage blocks the energy and the back, nothing goes through
- When ribcage shifts slightly it allows inside hip to come more forward and inside leg to step more under
- When a horse's base of the neck is straight flexing the horse inside requires very little effort on rider's or horse's part. At first a rider may not even realize his/her horse is flexed already. Riding toward a mirror is invaluable tool to have.