Haunches in provides another element of control over the horse’s body. This comes after you have already established the basic cues and can yield the hindquarters from the halt, both with your horse’s neck bent and straight. Haunches in is one of the easiest lateral movements to teach and I like to teach this lesson to my horses first, followed by other exercises like leg yielding and shoulder in. Teaching haunches in is also the first exercise used to start teaching canter departures from a walk.
On the Rail
Start this lesson at a walk and work your way up to a trot and canter, only moving up to a faster gait when your horse is solid during slow work. Walk down the long side of the arena tracking right. Use the fence as a barrier to make moving the hindquarters toward the center of the arena the easiest option for your horse. Collect your horse up by shortening your reins and squeezing with your legs until your horse puts his head down and shortens his frame while still maintaining his pace.
Ask him to take one step over to the inside, when tracking to the right, with his hind legs by putting your left leg back behind the girth and your right leg resting at the girth; press with your outside leg. Once he gives you one correct step over release your cues and let him walk forward on a loose rein for a few strides. Slowly build up the number of steps your horse can take. Keep the horse’s shoulders against the fence at all times. If his shoulders come off the rail, hold your inside hand higher and press gently with your inside leg at the girth. Your horse’s nose should be slightly bent toward his hindquarters, this makes the horse’s body more supple as well as preparing him for more advanced maneuvers.
You should be able to feel your horse takes a step over behind. If you are having trouble feeling the step, have someone from the ground watch you and let you know when your horse is responding correctly. You can also have someone video tape you, or have an experienced rider try the exercise on your horse so you can see how it’s supposed to look. When you can consistently ask and get a couple of steps to the right, change directions and ask the horse to move his hip over the left (reverse your cues).
Off of the Rail
The biggest mistake riders make when they try haunches in off of the rail is taking the horse off of the fence too quickly. You should be able to ride ten feet with his haunches in before taking him off the fence. When your horse is ready to learn the lesson off the fence pretend that you are still next to it. Pick an object to focus on and stay straight. Start from the beginning and ask for one step of haunches in off the fence then build up from there.
Your horse must distinguish between yielding the hindquarters and picking up the correct lead in the canter. Have your horse go into a canter off of your voice and/or seat cues only; your legs mean move over and your voice and seat means move forward. If your horse is lazy going into a canter from haunches in you will have to increase you leg pressure and use a tap with the whip on the hindquarters if necessary. When the horse anticipates a lead departure ask him for haunches in instead. Always ask for the opposite of what your horse is anticipating, this way he will learn to wait for your cues.