Travers

mmtraversIn this article I thought we would look at the second of the lateral movements – travers (also known as quarters-in, haunches-in or croup-in). As with my article on shoulder-in, I thought we should start with a quick glimpse of the history of this highly controversial movement before looking at the reasons for doing (or not doing) travers and then finishing with the ‘how-to-dos’.

Travers was first written about by the Duke of Newcastle (1592 – 1676). Newcastle introduced haunches-in along the wall to work the horse’s haunches. In his book ‘William Cavendish, A General System of Horsemanship’ he said that “The inside hand combined with the outside leg works the croup because the inside rein pushes the inside hind leg outwards, at the same time that the outside leg pushes the outside leg inwards. By combining these aids, the horse must bring his hind legs underneath himself.” He went on to recommend that the horse should be worked in both directions in this manner before starting haunches-in on a volte (small circle) at a walk.

renvers-shoulder_in-traversSalomon de la Broue (1630-1610) and François Robichon de la Guérinière (1688-1751) both had doubts about the value of travers and recommended the use of renvers (haunches-out) instead. In fact, Guérinière stated that he thought a horse trained in haunches-in relied on the wall to prevent the outside front shoulder falling out rather than the rider’s aids. De la Broue was of the same opinion but thought that haunches-in was beneficial for horses that were heavy in the hand. These two masters had a profound effect on the French school, and neither Boucher, whom mentions the movement in passing or Fillis wrote much about haunches-in.

Gustav Steinbrecht (1808 – 1885) felt that travers should be taught once shoulder-in was established. He believed that travers was extremely beneficial in developing true collection as correct travers “requires greater flexion of the forehand than the shoulder-in” and that travers was unsurpassed for improving the trot.

Alois Podhajsky (1898 – 1973) on the other hand, questioned the use of travers. He thought that travers encouraged the horses’ natural tendency towards crookedness and that any advantages obtained from the exercise were outweighed by the disadvantages. He advocated the use of renvers, as he felt this offered all the advantages of travers without the disadvantages.

traversSo if the disadvantages of travers are to encourage crookedness and to overweight the outside shoulder, what are the advantages of travers? Firstly the movement teaches the horse to engage it’s outside hind leg through correct flexion of all 3 joints. Secondly it lightens the horse’s shoulders and finally by stretching the outside of the horse it increases suppleness. In fact like shoulder-in, quarters-in is the equivalent to a Pilates work out for the horse and helps develop the horse for collection.

Obviously if you are competing in dressage you will need to perform travers by the time you get to advanced medium level in BD or second level in the States. The FEI Rule Book states in article 412, that the “main aim of the exercise is to develop and increase the engagement of the hindquarters and thereby also the collection”, and this is fundamentally why I believe we should all teach our horse the movement, as it helps the horse develop the correct muscles to carry a rider.

The rules go on to describe the movement as follows: “The Horse should be slightly bent round the inside leg of the Athlete but with a greater degree of bend than in shoulder-in. A constant angle of approximately thirty five (35) degrees should be shown (from the front and from behind one sees four tracks). The forehand remains on the track and the quarters are moved inwards. The horse’s outside legs pass and cross in front of the inside legs. The horse is bent in the direction in which it is moving”.

Under FEI rules travers can be performed either in Collected trot or Collected canter, however, the walk should be used for introducing the movement and one should refrain from practising the movement in canter as much as possible as it can lead to a crooked strike-off.

Yet another important benefit of travers is that quarters-in prepares the horse for the half pass. Basically travers and half pass are almost the same movement; it is just that they are done on different lines and with a bit more angle required for half pass.

traver_yaf_inhandSo having considered the pros and cons of the movement, how do we go about teaching travers to our horse? As with shoulders-in I like to teach travers to the horse and rider separately. With the horse I teach the movement either on-line (using a cavesson) or in-hand. There are a number of methods that cover teaching travers to the horse with simple ground work exercises. I will be producing an article on this shortly but details can be found on the Straightness Training website. If you are not a Straightness Training student and would like more information Manolo Mandez has some great ground work exercises that can be rented through Vimeo and Bent Branderup has some downloads for purchase in his on-line shop.

As far as the rider goes, I believe the best way to learn what do with our body is to ‘play act’ travers without the horse. At the Rider Biomechanics clinics I often use pool noodles with handles to help the students feel the movement. These work brilliantly as they are able to give the student an immediate visual reference as to whether they are getting the movement right or wrong. If you want to give this a try and haven’t got a pool noodle don’t worry, just try walking the movement anyway. Make sure your hips are pointing forward and that your head and shoulders are facing forward and are level. Ensure that your upper arms are close to your torso and bent at the elbows as though you are holding an imaginary tray of drinks. Now start to walk in a straight line (preferably by a wall). Then bring your inside hip forward fractionally and take your outside hip back, ensuring that you keep your upper body pointing straight ahead and your head over your sternum. Be very careful not to collapse to the inside as you turn your lower body, or as is more common turn your shoulders to the outside. Try walking a couple of steps in this position. Feel how your outside leg starts to step further under. That’s the equivalent of your horse starting to engage his outside hind leg more. We need to be able to do the movement easily, without tension and without turning our torso to the outside or collapsing to the inside before we think about trying to do it on horseback!

traversatbhOnce we can do the above exercise without thinking about it and our horse can happily perform travers down the entire long side of the arena on-line or in-hand without losing rhythm, then it is time for us to try to ride travers.

You should always begin asking for travers in walk. Ensure that you have a relaxed horse and that the walk is active and free-flowing. It is important to be conscious of this so that you do not lose the rhythm or tempo and the gait is not be impaired in any way as the travers begins.

  • Use the corner before the long side of the school to help you set up. As you start down the long side check that your horse’s head is pointing straight ahead. Look forward yourself, so you are looking between your horse’s ears.
  • Bring your inside leg and hip forward and move your outside leg (and hip) back slightly to ask the horse’s hindquarters to move inwards towards a 35 degree angle. At this stage it doesn’t matter if you get the correct angle, just the try.
  • Keep your inside leg on the girth to maintain impulsion and flexion to the inside.
  • Your inside rein will maintain a soft contact and flexion.
  • If necessary use a small touch of the dressage whip on the horse’s outside hip.
  • Look for one or two strides only and then continue straight and reward your horse. Do not ask for too much, too soon.
  • DO NOT …Look behind at the horse’s quarters – although this is a cheat’s way to initiate the movement and can be deliberately utilised to get the feel of quarters-in, it should not be necessary if both you and your horse have practised this movement separately. If you look over your shoulder at your horse’s quarters your horse will bring his head and shoulders to the outside, and you will need to correct with more inside rein.
  • DO NOT …Collapse your inside hip.
  • DO NOT …Allow your upper body to become crooked.
  • DO NOT …Swing your outside lower leg too far back.
  • DO NOT …Allow the impulsion to wane. This can and does happen when you are teaching the movement. It probably means you are asking for too much, too soon. Straighten up, reward your horse and next time ask for just one step.
  • DO NOT …Ask for too much angle. If this happens the chances are you have looked to the outside, turned your shoulders to the outside or taken your outside leg too far back. It is important that the horse continues to step under his point of mass with his outside hind and not behind it.
  • DO NOT …Allow the horse to look to the outside. This will move his whole body into a sideways movement.

haunches-in-1So, there you have it, the do’s and do nots of travers. Take it slowly, really think about your body’s position and how it affects the horse, be quiet in your aids and expect it to happen.

A COMMON MISTAKE is for the rider to lean away from the movement in travers. The horse (unless specifically trained to the contrary) follows the rider’s bodyweight and it will naturally go in the direction the rider’s body leans towards. If the rider’s weight and his rein aids are giving conflicting signals to the horse, the rider is setting up the horse to fail. Instead, ride the horse in travers and if you need to, weight your inside stirrup as the inside hind leg comes forward. That way, you and your horse will move forward in the movement TOGETHER. This creates more expression and better flow and movement.

Look for a few quality strides only, then straighten your horse and ride away. By asking little and rewarding frequently you will soon be able to maintain travers along the whole long side of the arena, easily and in rhythm.

Once you can do this try:

  • Travers on a circle
  • Travers in trot
  • Ride shoulder-in along the long side to E or B, then do a 10m circle followed by travers for the rest of the long side.

The travers (haunches-in) is the first movement we teach a horse in which he bends in the direction of the line of travel. Learning travers is a prelude to teaching half pass, which requires quite a lot of lateral suppleness and cadence. These movements are the only two in dressage where the forehand is on the line of travel with the haunches displaced.