One milestone to discover in your groundwork is the quarter-in (or haunches-in).
For beginners, this is often the biggest obstacle to tackle, for the advanced groundworkers a welcome opportunity to test bodywork and communication with the horse when lightening your aids. The experienced educator or more advanced rider, however, cannot picture a life without quarter-in.
While the work with the Versade (shoulder-in) empowers you to control the inside hindleg and therefore the lateral bending of the horse, the work with the outside hindleg opens the way to collection. If your first counter argument popping up is now: “But I can collect in shoulder-in shape, too.”
Yes, you can. But you still need to be able to be in communicate with the outer hindleg of the horse, and if it is only for preventing it from falling out of the frame in your shoulder-in collection. And for getting in contact with the outside hindleg, and for teaching your horse the outside leg aid, there is no way around the haunches-in.
From the ground….
Groundwork should not be a self-purpose. The education of a horse should never be set up as a dead-end road, but always to create a solid basis for the upcoming steps. In Academic Art of Riding, we therefore use the aids we have hold of as a rider in Groundwork & Lunging, too.
The most difficult aid to give from the ground is always the one you are physically the most distance from. In basic groundwork and lunging, that is the outside hindleg.
If you use the outside hindleg for teaching the quarter-in, or the quarter-in for teaching the outside leg aid – the outcome is the same.
If you are a beginner or already a little advanced, most likely teaching the outer leg aid is giving you a bit of trouble. Many riders struggle with this. Let me share my experience with you for how to get a smooth start.
First things first
Good tools are the basis for good handcraft. For groundwork, I prefer these:
- a well sitting caveson
- a long whip, a light wooden stick as used in academic dressage or a loooong whip with a short threat at the end as used in coaching
- a rope / rein with a light snap or a light lunge line
- a smile on your face, and a plan how to reward your horse when it is offering the reaction you wish for.
First things first
Don’t mix up the journey with the destination. First thing to do is to teach your horse the expected reaction to the outside leg aid, the most important aid when thinking about haunches-in.
There are different options to do this
Option nr 1
If you are yourself a beginner, and your horse is quite green in Groundwork too, most often this option is easiest for you:
When in halt, take a (long enough) whip and touch your horse at the outside chest or hipbone until it steps towards you, hindquarter first. Most horses will first offer a movement away from you. Remember that horses are masters of reading our body and mind. Therefore, stay calm, check if you are blocking the pony with your position by leaning into your horses space. If so: Give space and try again.
Some horses will get scared if you lift the whip over their back. That can have abusive backgrounds but it does not have to be so. Remember, a horse is a flight animal. Everything that is out of its sight and on its back creates the instinct reaction to flee. For a while it is possible to overcome that problem by only using your body, but believe me: Someday you need the aid, and then it helps to be understood.
If this is a problem for your horse, teach your horse first to not react on the movement of your arm / whip up. My advice is to move in slow motion, so that there is no surprises for the horse. Each human movement should be foreseeable for the horse.
Make sure your pony takes the step by using his outside hindleg first. You are teaching an outer leg aid, not an outer rein aid.
Ideally, the two of you are managing directly on a free line. But if you need help from the wall to frame – start there. The better you understand what to ask for, the easier it is.
Option nr 2
This option is using the haunches-in direction when closing a volt, a small circle. The hindquarter of the horse is than naturally already coming in a bit, so the outer leg aid just needs to strengthen this.
Option nr 3
This is my personal preferred way. This variation is for an educator who already has a lot of experience with groundwork, body language and aids. It is about working with the haunches-in direction of movement on the circle line. By using my body language, I do get in touch with the movement of the hindleg and invite my horse to come closer to me. If the horse understands, I simply can implement the visual sign of pointing with the whip and rewarding at the right moment. For this variation, the instructor needs to be exactly aware of what to search for and when to reward. It takes quite some experience and is not recommendable for a beginner, but a beatiful variation to refine communication.
Pro & Cons: The advantage of this method nr 3 is minimum pressure for the horse, the easy to understand build up for the horse and mostly little or no bending problems. The disadvantage of this method is a good level of education of the human who is teaching, and the ability to understand if the movement is redirected by a front or hindleg, and the back swings through.
Typical pitfalls you most likely come across when starting with haunches-in:
- The horse is running over you:
Stay calm. There’s a misunderstanding. Your pony believe it has to give full push forward. Teach it to take a step with the outer hindleg under the point of gravity. Most likely, it is either doing much to much, or is stepping forward instead of under.
- The hindquater falls out, not in
At the start, your horse (and you) are learning. Your horse is simply guessing and offers you a lot of different variations of reactions. Guide and reward the horse in the direction you want it to repeat. Remember: You will get what you train, not what you want.
- The hinquater does not come in at all
Well, there’s some biomechanics to consider, here it is bending and stellning. A typical pitfall is to try to get the horse stepping towards you by pulling on the caveson. What is meant as a help for the horse is actually creating quite some problems in the equine body. The neck is a very flexible part in the equine body, and by overbending here, the chest rotates wrong and the hindquater can only fall out. So, check your hand: Is it in front of the horses head or behind it? Can the pony move its skull freely? If not: give space. And don’t pull the head!
- You cannot leave the wall
Check your body position. For most humans, it is very difficult to not lean into the horse. Horses are extremly polite and masters of reading body language and intention. They are reacting on millimeters of space or leaning towards them.
- The horse is biting into the reins, shaking the head, or biting you.
Mistakes shown by the head very rarely created by the head. And never corrected there. It is always the hindquarter placing the chest, and with that shoulders and neck.
Well, I repeat: horses are masters in intention and body language. How is your relationship? Are you a good leader to follow? Are you overbending and pulling on the horse’s head? Is your horse maybe a bit annoyed because you are too slow, too rough or to fast? Let go of any expectations, take a deep breath, correct your distance to the horse and stay curious for each step.
Check as well the post about body postitions for refining your communication.
The whip is only a visual sign. Remember that the horse you teach is only a beginner in this, too. A beginner sometimes needs better guidance and leading than the experienced dancer. Touching your horse with the whip softly is fine. With repetition this shall become more and more a visual sign only.
The art in haunches-in is to first reach the outer hindleg, and then teaching the horse to lift its shoulder, not to drop on it or to fall over it. Inside and outside rein aids are helping to place the shoulder well in front of the hindquarter, and to get the typical banana shape of the quarter-in.
Value the understanding of the horse higher than the perfect shape. Most often, the correct bending of the horse is lost for the moment of teaching aids. As soon as possible, you should keep an eye on it again. Very often, this problem is solved by itself. By understanding the approaches, tension declines and the body softens. Shape than comes on its own.
If you started at the wall, a tricky moment will be to get independent of the wall afterwards. A good tip is to try to step away from the wall without losing the quarter-in shape. This is a great moment to test your teaching. I like to take some shoulder-in steps at the wall and try the diagonal in haunches-in. Most likely, the horse falls out of the shape after a couple of steps. This is a super-duper test of understanding for the outer leg aid. Is it easy to ask your pony to step back in under the point of weight? Or very difficult? Could you just show the whip and the horse understood? Or did the horse not manage at all without the framing wall?
Be smart, and use the exercises for teaching, not for showing off. Learning new reactions often takes more than a 1000 repetitions.
What is your experiences in playing with haunches-in on the ground? If you are more experienced – do you still remember the start? I do, and it wasn’t easy at all!
Welcome to share your experiences with the community.