shoulder-foreThe shoulder-fore is the like the little sibling that always plays second fiddle to the shoulder-in. But don't discount its power.

When left to themselves, most horses will travel crookedly up a line. In fact, they may also be crooked on circles.

On a straight line, they tend to lean outward toward the rail with their front end. So, if you watch a horse go up a rail from behind, you will clearly see the front end traveling on a line closer to the rail, while the hind end drifts somewhat off the rail. There might be a tendency for the horse's head and neck to point outward, away from the direction of travel. So if the horse is going right, the head and neck point left.

Sound familiar? If so, you're not alone. Most horses start life with a stronger side and a weaker side, and if left unchecked, that crookedness can maintain itself or even become more pronounced through riding. So it falls to the rider to become educated and sensitive enough to feel the crookedness - and then correct it over time. As with all other skills, if the horse is ridden in a manner that encourages suppleness and flexion, the horse will overcome the crookedness.

The rider, too, has a significant role in the process. For if the rider just follows the horse's movements, she will also be riding in a way that points her core to the wall, travelling with a crooked seat and imbalanced posture.

HL Five Years
HL Bundle
HL Goal Setting
HL Book 3
HL Book 2
HL Book 1

What is the shoulder-fore?

Although we often hear about the shoulder-in, we tend to overlook the shoulder-fore as a less worthy exercise. This is far from the truth. The shoulder-fore is easier to learn for both horse and rider and sets them on their way to becoming straighter and more supple.

The shoulder-fore is a movement that positions the horse's shoulders slightly to the inside of the hips. The way you know the horse is "in" shoulder-fore is by looking at the horse's footfalls. Simply put, the horse that has hind footsteps falling into front footsteps is straight. The horse that has the front footsteps landing slightly to the inside of the horse's hind footsteps is travelling in shoulder-fore.

The shoulder-fore requires the horse to "articulate" more with the joints in the hind end, encourages a deeper stride length, and helps the horse balance better, allowing the energy to come over the topline and release the muscles over the back. It is a movement that should be in your riding vocabulary from the beginning to the end of the ride.

How to shoulder-fore:

1. Negotiate a turn or corner in the same manner as usual. Position your body on the bend to the inside, with your seat weighted slightly to the inside, inside leg at the girth, outside leg behind the girth and rein aids following your shoulders toward the turn. 

2. Then come out of the turn.

3. But keep the horse on the same mild bend, going straight on the rail.

4. Feel for the horse's shoulders. They should feel slightly off-set to the inside.

At this point, the novice horse tends to want to fall into the middle of the ring, coming off the rail. It is the job of your inside leg, seat bone and rein to keep the horse on the line. Your outside rein can also help to keep the straightness by half-halting to counter the horse's momentum toward the inside. It can also keep the neck fairly straight.

Get a friend to monitor your horse's foot falls and let you know about the angle of the horse's body. She should tell you when you have it right so that you can memorize what it feels like to have straightness in your horse's movements.

Shoulder-fore everywhere!

When you get good at it on the rail, try it off the rail. If you go straight up the ring on the quarter line, you will have enough room to your outside so that you have to really use your outside aids to help maintain the shoulder fore, but not so far that you can't use the rail as a reference point to see and feel the position of the shoulders.

Then try it on center line. It gets harder to feel the angle when there is no wall to gauge your position with. But eventually, you should be able to actually feel the angle of the horse's body regardless of whether or not you have a wall to refer to.

For more shoulder-fore fun, start up the center line with a right shoulder-fore, then as you cross X, switch to a left shoulder-fore. 

Finally, give it a try on a circle. At this point, you should be able to identify the shoulder position on a bend. So when you feel that your horse is pointing his shoulders to the outside of the circle, be a responsible rider and bring those shoulders into the shoulder'fore position, even while you are travelling on a bend around the circle.


See what your horse thinks about it. If you get a snort, be happy! If you get a softening of the neck and jaw to the inside, be thrilled. And if you get bouncy-bouncy, rolling gaits (do this in walk, trot and canter) and the feeling that you are spending more time in the air than on the ground, then celebrate! 

For helping the horse to release tension, swing through the back, stay straight and energize is the goal of all riding!

*P.S. All the above is also equally relevant to the shoulder-in. But that can be a topic for another time.

Try the shoulder-in during your next ride and let us know how it works for you and your horse.

Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!

Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions. 

This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.

Click here to read more and to join one of the most complete programs on the Internet!


Horse Listening

Don’t miss a single issue of Horse Listening! If you like what you are reading, become a subscriber and receive updates when new Horse Listening articles are published!  Your email address will not be used on any other distribution list. Subscribe to Horse Listening by Email

Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

Available as an eBook or paperback.

Horse Listening The Book

If you enjoyed the above article, you might also enjoy the following:

Bend: How to Drift Out On Purpose: When it's ok to let your horse drift to the outside.

4 Steps to Help Your Horse Through A Turn: How to prevent an abrupt turn.

A Question of Imbalance: Can You Tell? All the different ways your horse can lose balance.

Here's How (And Why) You Should Ride With Bent Elbows: Improve your elbows to improve your contact with the horse.

Why You Should Ride the Left Side of Your Horse Going Right: In order to help straighten the horse (and elongate the muscles on the right, and help the horse bear more weight on the left hind leg), we need to work on the left side going right.


  1. This just showed up on my email tonite. Don’t know why I’ve started getting it, but these emails are good.

    Sent from my iPad


  2. I am not well versed in dressage and am confused as to the difference between the shoulder fore and shoulder in. Can you please enlighten me?!
    Thank you and Merry Christmas!
    Carol R

    1. Hi Carol,
      A shoulder-in is essentially a shoulder-fore with a more pronounced angle. It is a true “three track” versus that two tracks that indicate that the horse is moving straight. It’s actually a pretty involved discussion. Maybe I’ll do a whole post for it later.

  3. I ride with an instructor who says over and over, “Shoulder fore is your friend.” She has shown me how to use it for improving my own feel as well as for straightening the horse. And a comment to Sharon above: I started getting Horse Listening the same way–it just “showed up” in my inbox and I’m very glad it did.

  4. Wonderful post. My instructor has started helping me with this recently as my second level horse suddenly decided that he wanted to be really crooked in his right lead strike off. It has helped tremendously and we have started expanding the exercise to maintaining shoulder fore and using the seat bones help the horse separate his hips from his shoulders by shifting them from the inside to the outside so they move independently of one another. The quality of my horse’s gaits has been improved significantly and he is working so much better over his back. Love your posts have been reading for a couple of years now 😀

  5. Great post! It has been a process teaching my very large (17.1 hands who already wears an 86 inch blanket as a five year old), young horse how to move properly. It is amazing what a difference positioning a horse in shoulder fore can make in your dressage scores even at the lower levels.

  6. A friend shared this with me a few years ago. Works great! Also works on horses who “cave” on a circle.

  7. Your blog is phenomenal! I swear you and my trainer must talk before your next post, because the timing of your topics is uncanny. We were just working on shoulder fore last week in my lesson, as my guy pops the left shoulder and turns his head to the outside when going to the left. Shoulder fore helps us be straighter. I look forward to your posts and always find gems of wisdom to bring to my next ride. Thank you! Carol

  8. Begging to differ on shoulder-in vs. shoulder-fore. Shoulder-fore should be thought of as the preliminary version of shoulder-in. Generally, leg-yield is the first lateral exercise a young horse should become familiar, with, followed by shoulder-fore, where you introduce some bend in addition to some sideways motion. In shoulder-fore, however, you’re not all that fussy about the DEGREE of the lateral-ness, and you’re generally on FOUR tracks (not two, that would mean you’re travelling straight ahead) in shoulder-fore. Once the horse has the concept of shoulder-fore down and can perform it without losing rhythm or length of stride, you can refine it into true shoulder-in, where the horse travels on a consistent three tracks (inside fore on its own, outside fore and inside hind on the same track, and outside hind on its own). Generally, what that takes is “more bend, less angle” (as I’m always saying to my students) … IOW, you’re making the movement less like the simpler leg-yield and shoulder-fore, and asking for a degree of bend which makes it more challenging (and way better at suppling and engaging the inside hind). The most common fault in shoulder-in is to have too much angle and not enough bend, making it shoulder-fore.

  9. Really good article. …”try it every where” it says. I do it every where….and by that I mean out hacking too! We call trail riding hacking out in the UK.