In Hand Work Part 2

In the first article Nuno showed you how to get started with your horse using a cavesson and a snaffle bridle. Teaching your horse to walk calmly alongside you, on a straight line, on a circle and standing in a square halt.  Now that you have achieved this it is time to begin lateral work.

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These articles are regularly published in top quality International  magazines.  Here you see first page in ´Baroque Dressage Horse Magazine´

There are many benefits to lateral work both ridden and in hand which include –

  • Improved agility and movability
    Better attentiveness and responsiveness to the aids.
    Improved suppleness and balance.
    Improved straightness.
    Release your horses’ hips by the crossing and engaging of the inside or the outside hind leg.
    Release your horse’s abdominal muscles as a result of the required lateral bend of the spine.
    Strengthen the muscles on the inside and outside of the hind legs and front legs.
    Improves the shoulder freedom by the increased engagement and flexion of the haunches

In all In Hand Work like Ridden Work you need to understand and perform the ‘Half Halt’

The half-halt is best described a bracing of the horse’s back, a halt and release that is made within a stride. This increases the horse’s attention and balance before the execution of a movement or transition.  It checks the engagement of the hind legs and the balance on the haunches improving the lightness in the forehand and therefore the horse’s overall balance.
Nuno regularly uses a half halt when working horses in hand for instance asking for the shoulder in as the shoulders move in he half halts the horse to prevent him carrying on in a circle instead continue forward. To achieve a half halt in hand you can use the outside rein against the neck to ask for the half halt. It is a very slight movement to check your horse mid-stride.

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Let´s begin with quarters out on the next slide.  Nuno is working with a 11 year Iberian horse Acarus.

Quarters Out on a 10 metre Circle (Renvers)

To begin position yourself beside your horse’s shoulder facing his hind quarters.  Your goal is for your horse to cross over the inside hind leg with the outside hind, his hindquarters move off the line of the circle outwards hence quarters out.  You achieve this by tapping him very lightly on the belly where you would ask with your leg when riding the movement.  However with young horses sometimes you will need to tap lightly on the hind quarter somewhere between the hip and down the inside leg. This depends on your horse’s reaction to the whip and sensitivity. Eventually you can move this aid to the position of the leg when ridden.

Walking slowly ask horse to continue on the circle with quarters out.  You are walking backwards so that you can observe how your horse is moving, where he is placing his inside leg and his overall position and you are maintaining the shoulders on the circle.

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Image Nuno is asking Acarus to move his hindquarters out of the circle. You can see that Acarus is crossing his hind leg in front of his outside hind leg and that he maintains an inside bend.

The  aim is the beginning of collection and achieving a more supple top line.  You don’t want your horse to cross too deeply, you are softly asking for a greater suppleness, elasticity and more seated movement. More experienced the horse the more they can cross. In an older horse with a back that has dropped this can help to strengthen it again and encourage more flexibility.

“throughout all your work you are looking for looking for softness and correct posture, softness can be identified by no tension or bracing, lightness, relaxed bouncy muscles and willingness”.

Do this exercise on both reins and when you are ready you can move to the arena walls or to the quarter or centre line.  keep the work equal on each side. Don’t do it for too long remember it is about a correct slow dynamic, precise action for better the long term benefits to your horse.

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Image – Quarters out from behind here you can see Acarus’s inside hind leg crossing more clearly while maintaining an inside bend

Shoulder In –

In shoulder-in you are aiming to have your horse walking in a forward-sideward movement, in which the body is bent gently and laterally from neck to tail. Shoulder-in is a side movement on three or four tracks.  The ‘shoulder in’ is considered a straightness exercise.
Nuno trains ‘shoulder In’ on the long side wall of the arena as you are working on a straight line. The aim is to move your horse’s shoulders off the track to the inside with a slight lateral bend to the inside.  It is very important that this exercise is through the shoulders to tail and not just a bending of the neck. The horse is bending to the inside, away from the direction of travel.
To begin the shoulder in you need to take your horse onto the short side of the arena wall.  You are positioned alongside his inside shoulder facing his shoulder or facing to the hind quarters. Ask him to walk calmly forward on the arena line with a slight inside bend as you reach the corner coming to the long side you use the outside rein to move the shoulder in asking him to move his shoulders onto the inside track, then ask a half halt and tap your horse on his side behind the girth asking him to move forward.  The hind quarters stay on the track. Once again this is a slow dynamic exercise keeping your horse relaxed and soft. Travel down the long side if your horse breaks stop the exercise and begin again.  Work equally on both sides ensuring not to do it for too long.

Image  – Garboso a young Lusitano Stallion beginning shoulder in. You can see his hind legs stay on the outside track, his shoulders are on the inside track and his step in quite dynamic

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The Leg Yield

Leg yield teaches the horse to move sidewards off the leg or whip when working in hand. The aim is to move your horse laterally staying parallel to the arena long side wall from the centre line.
To teach the leg yield you come from the short side of the arena onto the centre line positioned at your horse’s shoulder (his left shoulder if you are going right and visa a versa). You begin the leg yield as you come onto the centre line with the aim to finish on the wall at the other end of the arena on a diagonal. The movement needs to be even through head,neck and hind quarters not one leading the other basically moving parallel to the wall. Facing your horse’s shoulder you ask the horse to laterally bend his neck slightly towards you then use your whip along his side to tap behind girth where you would position your leg to ask him to begin moving laterally.

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Image – Zagal performing leg yield

Keep an eye all the time on the position of his head, neck and hind quarters they must remain parallel to the wall. Do not force any movement and try and keep the neck straight out of the horse’s shoulders, look for a defined reaction of the hind leg yielding away from the whip.Perform the exercise on both reins.

Image Fado a Lusitano Gelding is just beginning in hand work and is starting leg yield. Fado has a tendency to over bend or come behind the vertical, when he does this Nuno always gently asks him to lifts his head until vertical and pats him when he is in the right position.

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We hope that you and your horse enjoy training these exercises, performing this work every week will greatly improve you and your horse both in communication and performance. For the next addition Nuno covers Half Pass, Quarters In and rein back.



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Testimonial by Emma 16 year rider – She joined us in Portugal to ride Classical Dressage and learn about working in hand for the first time.

I really enjoyed the In Hand work it was so interesting.  Working from the ground at close quarters to the horse I found I really saw and experienced the reaction from the horse to my every move, even the slightest movement of the reins. Also how they reacted to the touch of the whip in different places. It has really made me aware of how careful and precise you have to be when using your aids to achieve the correct response from the horse.  This is directly related to my riding.  Thank you for a great week!

Image of Emma and Zagal by Bruno Barata

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I have had the pleasure to have lessons with Nuno whilst on a riding holiday at Quinta Do Rol in Portugal and watch Nuno do in hand work in the UK. My confidence and ability as a rider improved a lot thanks to Nuno’s teaching. Nuno is both very calm and patient and at the same time very precise and consistent. Each day we built a little more on what we had worked on the day before. I learned a lot, in particular the importance of good preparation to any exercise and above all, work with the horse so that the work is a pleasure for both the rider and the horse. That means understand them, their individual personality, how nervous they are or not, their weakness, strengths etc and adapt the “conversation” with the horse accordingly. Thanks to Nuno I am able to be more confident with my own horse and communicate better with him so that we are more relaxed, effective and harmonious together.

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Nuno Cavaco

Classical Dressage Rider & Trainer

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