Renvers is an often neglected lateral movement. Travers by contrast is something most riders use a great deal. Why would this be? Well, I’m tempted to be a little cynical and say that Travers is easier (though not necessarily easier to do well). Done correctly these movements are identical; if you rode travers down a narrow corridor, just wide enough for your horse, travers relative to the left wall would be revers relative to the right wall.
So, if they are the same, why would some riders find Travers easier? It is often a perception problem. Naturally enough the rider often focuses on the one part of the horse they know must move off the line.
“One of the keys to dressage training is that the horse learns to move towards you weight and away from your leg.”
The two elements of this advice are blended together for best results but each also works in isolation. The first element, drawing the horse towards the weight, is the really valuable one. It is always a great feeling when a newly trained horse begins to understand this concept. The second element is the easier one for many riders to grasp in the beginning. Though it continues to be important throughout the training of the horse, and is in no way an inferior type of aid, it is also the more dangerous and can lead us into difficulties. We are faced with the issue that the hindquarters of the horse are generally far easier to displace than it’s shoulders. It is temptingly easy just to push one part of the horse or other away with the leg.
A rider participating in a clinic with me put it this way: “When I am asked to ride a lateral movement I still feel under pressure to get it right, to make it obvious. I feel silly if I don’t get ‘enough’ of the movement when lots of people are watching. I’m not thinking about setting it up properly. If you say Travers I think leg back and push. So thats what I do and I hope for the best.” Whilst some riders tend to panic a bit, because they don’t feel totally at home with lateral exercises, there are also a lot of experienced riders who fall into this fault for the opposite reason; they become blasé and can become mentally disconnected from the movement because it is so familiar.
That susceptibility of the horse’s quarters to displacement leads to a number of problems. These are just a few, off the top of my head.
- In pirouettes at canter a heavy outside leg can cause lateral steps. This looks like a little sideways stagger on the circle the hind legs are describing.
- In the counter change of hand, when we change direction, the quarters can start to lead even if they were not doing so in the initial half pass. This happened to me a lot in canter! My outside leg was too heavy in the change.
- Haunches flying all over the place in tempi changes – and in single changes for that matter. Again I speak from experience of committing the error and then patiently working to correct it.
So you get the picture! This a problem for a lot of riders at absolutely all levels. The answer for everyone is relaxed, focused preparation.
Renvers challenges riders in part because they have to move the shoulder mass of the horse away from the wall whilst keeping the bend towards the wall. Bottom line is, you can’t just push one end of the horse away from the line and hope for the best. In Renvers, just like in the Pirouette and the Half Pass, it becomes necessary to draw the horse towards your weight in the direction of interior bend. Relying on the ‘push’ element of the aid in not sufficient. The gymnastic value to the horse is only part of the benefit; I have found that getting good quality Renvers helps riders to make better Pirouettes and Half Passes. We get habituated to motion in the direction of bend and get better at drawing the horse towards the direction of travel with our weight aid.
There are two particular exercises I like to use in teaching this movement. One is to ride in shoulder in, then gradually change the flexion, change the bend, but keep the position relative to the wall. I certainly didn’t invent this one, its a classic! You can transition gently from Shoulder In to Renvers and back again; which is great for suppling. The second exercise is really a perception trick. Imagine that corridor, or create one with movable boards, a little wider than the length of your horse’s body. Ride Travers away from the boards. Now glance at the wall or fence of the school and you are in Renvers relative to that wall. Once you get used to the movement you can get rid of the boards but keep them in your mind if you ever feel confused or flustered by the exercise.
To create higher quality lateral work in general we need a whole body approach to the movements. Don’t think about one part of your horse. The positioning for the movement involves its entire body.
Here is a quick checklist to run through:
- As you prepare for the movement, have you got inside flexion?
- Check your body position and weight distribution.
- As you begin to deliver the aid which will displace the haunches or the shoulders, is your outside rein gently monitoring the degree of bend in the neck. Most importantly is it preventing excessive bend at the base of the neck where it joins the shoulders?
- Is your inside hip relaxed, your inside hand relaxed enough to let the horse step under with the inside hind, closing the stifle and enabling the quarters to sit around your softly relaxed inside leg?
- Does the gait you are in continue to flow forward in the same tempo?
“In all lateral work the quality of the gaits is paramount – once you have got to grips with a movement, forget it and focus on the walk, trot or canter that you are riding it in.”
If the gait is really deteriorating through the movement it is worth riding straight out of it and getting the quality movement back. When you try again go for a little less angle and/or a little less bend. Make it easier and let it flow. As you get more proficient and the horse gets stronger and more supple you can ask for a bit more.
This really isn’t designed to be a ‘how to’ guide; it is just a few reflections on the subject. If you have very little experience with lateral movements and want to do them I would recommend finding a good teacher, ideally one with a schoolmaster horse. In my opinion, riding regularly with a coach is the very best way to understand all of this. Books and articles are only really designed to support that practical learning.