Longitudinal and Latitudinal Relaxation Exercises

The excerpt from Relaxation Exercises for Horses – A Guide to Soft, Supple, and Light, by Guillaume Henry, offers some key advice on getting your horse to relax and mobilize on the length and sides of its body.

When it comes to the education of the horse, the ultimate goal of training is the same for all riders: to be able to guide the horse in a way that makes the most of his potential. Relaxation exercises are an essential pre-requisite for any training program. There are many relaxation exercises out there, if only because basic stretching and suppling movements can be infinitely combined and recombined with each other. These exercises can be divided, theoretically, into two categories: longitudinal relaxation exercises, which mobilize the horse along the length of his body, and lateral relaxation exercises, which mobilize the sides of the horse’s body.

Longitudinal Relaxation Exercises

These exercises improve the flexibility of the vertebral column—and, as a result, increase the engagement of the hindquarters and the mobility of the hips—by enhancing the range of motion of the sacroiliac and coxofemoral joints. These joints are what allows (or doesn’t allow) the horse to bring his hocks underneath his body to support his weight, and they give the horse control over how much ground he covers, through an increase or decrease in the energy transferred from his hindquarters. Beyond serving as the source of impulsion, the hips become a genuine rudder that presides over changes in direction. The hindquarters are able to move laterally, and not through a passive “skidding” by the croup, but via the engagement of the haunches, and the lowering of the hip and flexion of the hock on one side.

The range of longitudinal relaxation exercises includes:

  • Transitions from one gait to another, or within the same gait (lengthening or collecting)
  • Halting
  • Backing
  • Extending the neck and lowering the neck
  • Counter-canter, and
  • Working on a slope (uphill or down)

Extending the neck

Lateral Relaxation Exercises

These exercises relax and soften the horse’s sides and help the horse’s muscles work symmetrically; they also give the rider a greater ability to direct the haunches, and, as a result, straighten the horse. The basis for lateral stretches is working the horse on a circle; they should be tackled only once the horse maintains elastic contact with the rider’s hand at all times (when he is consistently “on the bit”), and when he understands the meaning of aids given with one leg only. These exercises will let the rider confirm whether the horse is round, and assess his position and the way in which he’s holding his back.

The range of lateral relaxation exercises includes, above all, voltes and work on a circle (15 meters maximum) and on curving lines, and all the exercises that are derived from those basics:

  • larger or smaller circles, riding corners, serpentines, changes of direction, widening circles, and
  • lateral movements of the hips or shoulders on a circle—which serve as the basis for the turn-on-the-forehand and turn-on-the-haunches

Finally, lateral relaxation exercises also include the standard two-track lateral movements. In order of difficulty:

  • Leg-yield.
  • Shoulder-in and related exercises: shoulder-fore, shoulder-in on three tracks, shoulder-in on four tracks, counter-shoulder-fore, counter-shoulder-in on three tracks, counter-shoulder-in on four tracks.
  • Half-pass and related exercises: haunches-in (travers) and haunches-out (renvers).

Extended trot

The Benefits of Work on Two Tracks – Longitudinal and Latitudinal 

“Work on two tracks is any exercise in which the horse moves at an angle such that his forehand and hindquarters follow two separate tracks. This work aims to increase the overall mobility of the horse, to soften his loins and the upper joints of his limbs, and to allow the rider to direct the horse’s energy.”  (Manuel d’Équitation)

This work helps to refine your horse’s responsiveness to the aids, makes him more flexible as a whole, improves his rhythm and cadence, and helps develop engagement of the hindquarters.

If your goal is to have a horse that is soft, supple, and light, be sure to include longitudinal and latitudinal relaxation exercises in your training program.

This excerpt from Relaxation Exercises for Horses – A Guide to Soft, Supple, and Light, was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books. You can get more information or to buy a copy here