Is your horse straight? Are you?
Near the top of the tree in terms of the pyramid of training, but essential from the beginning you should always, always look to yourself when you have straightness problems. All too often I hear riders objecting because their horse ‘tries to get away with something’ or ‘is lazy’ when in fact the horse is doing exactly as the rider has been asking, only the rider didn’t realise it!
Take a step back … observe what is happening.
A case in point: A pupil was riding a beautiful relaxed, long and low walk on the left rein, when she switched to the right rein her horse contracted, quickened the pace, jogged a little and would not stretch down. I was asked to take a look at the horse because the rider felt that the horse was crooked and something was wrong – the horse was crooked and there was something wrong.
I asked the rider to relax everything down the inside of her body on the change of direction to the right rein thus ensuring she was sitting evenly in the saddle. The horse stayed relaxed and the problem was sorted. It was that easy! The horse was not crooked, but going quarters in and tight because the rider was asking for quarters in, she had a slightly collapsed hip (very, very slight, but this was a very sensitive advanced horse) and as soon as she addressed the imbalance the horse responded appropriately, as indeed it had been all along!
If your horse is good on one rein but not the other, it could be because you have trained him to be that way. First port of call for consideration must be the following:
- Inconsistent, or unlevel rein contact
- Posture issues, rider one-sidedness – get a friend to check you out
- Tension in your body (thigh, shoulders, arms)
- You are not riding forward enough. So many times I have been told that the horse doesn’t like schooling or is lazy in the school, only to find that the rider is blocking the horse’s forward motion by leaning forward and giving the aids to collect or slow down – only for the horse to free up and move readily when the rider stops blocking the movement! See my post on opening the hips.
- Bridle or bit fitting issues. Problems in the mouth will inevitably show through lack of straightness as your horse compensates.
- Confusing aids. Be very clear in your aids. Talk yourself through them as you do them, just so that you know you are not confusing the horse and asking him to move laterally.
- You are restricting the horse’s natural head nod. One of my favourite sayings “still hands move” – Yes, they move with the motion of the horse’s head.
This Dressage thing – it’s all about you helping the horse to be the best he can be. If you feel that your horse is not straight, look to yourself. 80% of the time I guarantee that you will be inadvertently asking for the unevenness or you will have trained your horse to be uneven – sad, but true!
Your horse’s needs are vast and complicated, he may think all he needs is feeding, but all equestrians know how ridiculous this statement is. You have far wider ranging responsibilities and his physical development is one of them.