Greetings Gentle Readers,
In this series I am going to break down lateral work for you in such a way that I hope it will help you understand the whys and wherefores of this sometimes murky subject. This article we will be discussing the haunches, otherwise known as renvers or travers, haunches in or haunches out, haunches left or haunches right.
First and foremost, there really is no such thing as haunches in or haunches out. In reality, there is only haunches left and haunches right. Let’s pretend we hired a freelance wizard and had him magically remove the dressage ring and all other rails from reality, leaving us with a big green field (We also had him turn our horse into a unicorn and summon a floating platter of cupcakes.). So rider and horse (unicorn) are trotting about in this large empty field, now devoid of any reference rail. What is haunches in (also known as travers)? What is haunches out (also known as renvers)? The point is that we do not know. It is important to understand that travers and renvers DEPEND ON THE RAIL FOR REFERENCE. In from what? Out from what? We need the rail to know which of the two movements we are doing. In reality, here is only haunches left and haunches right. If in a lesson we turn up centerline and your instructor asks you to position the haunches, he or she will have to specify which direction because there is no rail. Ex: “Trot up centerline and ride haunches left.”
Most students first learn their haunches work in a dressage ring and because of this, separate renvers and travers into different worlds, when in fact they are sisters to one another. Renvers tracking left is travers tracking right. Travers tracking right is renvers tracking left. Get it? Got it? Good!
So now that we get that there is only haunches left or right, how do we position a horse’s haunches left or right? The first thing that most riders will do is begin kicking frantically with the opposite leg. Haunch needs to come right? Start drumming against the horse with your left leg. Haunches need to come left? Get a good work out with your right leg. Unfortunately this is not the first thing that needs to happen for a successful haunches left or right.
All lateral work is wrapped up intimate and snuggly-like with the concept of bend. Like a high school couple on the dance floor, they cannot be separated. Outside the world of tests and ribbons lateral work uses bend, along with the displacement of the shoulders or the haunches (or both), to strengthen and better engage your horse’s body and hind leg. Bend and lateral work are so intertwined that leg-yielding is not considered part of the lateral work brigade, because there is no bend of the body involved.
In all lateral work the first thing that MUST be established is bend. To read more on how to bend your horse, click here.
Are you back from reading the bending article? Great. Then you understand that the horse must yield from your inside hip and displace the ribs outward to create body bend? And you also understand that your outside hip regulates the haunches? Right? I got my eye on you, gentle readers.
The yielding from the inside hip is the first thing that must be established before the haunches move inward, because the function of all this haunches work is that the horse’s rear must rotate inward and articulate around your inside seat. If you inside seat is not present then the horse has nothing to articulate around and they will simply swing their bodies in without bend. That will create a different movement all together, often known as nose-to-the-wall-leg-yield, or nose-away-from-the-wall-leg-yield. This does not serve the same athletic function as haunches left or right, aesthetically it does not appear the same and it will definitely not be scored the same if ridden in a test in place of a travers or renvers.
So which hip is your inside hip? That depends, again our freelance wizard has shot our dressage ring into space and we are in our big, green field. Are you moving your horse’s haunches left? Then your inside hip is your left hip. Are you moving your horse’s haunches right? Then your inside hip is your right hip.
Once you have your inside hip in place then the outside, regulating hip swings into action. Pun completely intended. Without removing your inside hip, you apply your outside hip and leg and press the haunches inward (remember, inward can be left or right and the rail does not make a difference to this mechanic). The haunches then wrap around your inside hip and create the body bend we so desire. The horse should be on four tracks and the angle should be around thirty five degrees. Four tracks means that the horse’s outside hind is inside of the horse’s inside fore. Three tracks means that the horse’s inside fore and outside hind are in alignment. We want four tracks with haunches work.
So what about the head and neck? They should be moving up the rail, with slight inward flexion, undisturbed by all of those antics that are happening behind the saddle. A very, very common mistake is that the rider senses a lack of bend, or are yelled at to fix it by their red faced instructor, and rather than use all the all-powerful inside hip and leg, they pull on the inside rein to fix the problem. Gentle readers, this does not fix the problem. The horse’s shoulders, neck and head should be traveling straight into the direction of travel. If Dobbin’s head is pointing outside the ring sight-seeing then you have some serious bend issues, even if his bum is off of the rail. If he is looking to the inside of the ring then you are focusing on the wrong part of the horse to elicit bend. Another common mistake is the rider, when applying their outside leg and hip, will use the inside rein as a balance bar and pull as they push. This will cause the horse’s head to jackknife inward even if it is not what the rider intended, which can actually prevent the haunches from coming inward.
Remember that even if you are riding in the big, empty green field that our wizard provided for us, that there is always and inside and an outside to the horse. It is up to you to decide what are your inside aids and what are your outside aids. That will then determine if you are placing your haunches left or right. Have you decided in the field that your right hip is the inside hip? Well then you are going to place your horse’s haunches right. If you want to place your horse’s haunches left then you must first switch your aids to a new inside (the left) and a new outside (the right).
I hope this cleared up every single question you have ever had on the haunches work. If not, feel free to ask me anything that comes to mind in the comments section below. So get out there, gentle readers, and ride that unicorn haunches left or right, travers or renvers (depending on rail placement), and eat a cupcake for me. Don’t forget to tip your wizard.