Tag Archives: Keeping a horse straight

Straightness

StraightnessThe Law of Straightness says that everything must be straight or else the world will explode!  Whilst this is little tongue in cheek, for me getting a little obsessive compulsive about straightness is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your riding!

Every horse is naturally asymmetrical, just like every human they are left or right handed.  Every horse has a natural tendency to bend left or right, just like every human will favour leaning on one leg or another.

Every horse will naturally carry more weight on the front legs than on the hind legs, causing uneven distribution of the weight over the four legs.  It is down to you, the rider to recognize and correct these imbalances with the goal of developing the horse symmetrically because a crooked horse is an unbalanced horse and an unbalanced horse becomes tense and resistant.

When the horse feels discomfort or pain, automatically he develops compensation in order to avoid that problem and to maintain optimal performance.  Here is where you will begin to see short choppy strides, behaviour resistance, and disobedience in your horse.  Why? because it hurts.  The muscles become irritated and may spasm, losing the ability to function effectively over time.  Compensation occurs with the issue being passed to other muscle groups.   

It follows then that crookedness should be addressed so that each hind leg bears equal weight if we wish to avoid muscular compensation.  You cannot sit straight on a crooked horse, nor can a horse move straight under a crooked rider.

Without doubt, straightness is a quality that distinguishes the skilled rider from the average rider.   The good news is that analysing yourself for straightness and addressing it are relatively easy things to do.  You can observe the level of straightness in every rider you watch and in every horse you ride.  If the front of the horse (shoulders) or back of the horse (haunches) deviate from a true line your horse will lose impulsion, suppleness, lightness and flexion.  Straighten again and the purity of the gait will be restored.  Of course, this presupposes that you as a rider have the necessary skills to recognise the deviation and deal with these fluctuations whilst aboard your horse.  It can demand a strong seat and leg aids to prevent you simply being pushed out of the way by the horse.

Straightness is the perfect ideal.  So in order to ensure that you have straightness you must have control over the front and the back of the horse, however, if riding a horse straight created a straight horse it would all be very simple.  It is not.  The best way to ensure that your horse is flexible enough to move on a straight line with the hind Rider Asymmtreylegs following the forelegs, is to use lateral work in the form of shoulder-fore, shoulder-in, travers and renvers, thereby gaining the necessary skills to manoeuvre the shoulders and quarters of the horse and ‘place’ them where you need them to be in order to correct the horse should he veer off the straight and narrow!

Image reproduced by kind permission of Anne Bondi BHSI – www.saddleresearchtrust.com

Straightness Check List

This list can serve as a checklist in determining the horse’s natural crookedness, i.e. his hollow and stiff sides.

  1. Falling over the outside shoulder and going against the rider’s outside knee and thigh.
  2. Falling onto the inside shoulder.
  3. Over-bending laterally, creating a bulge at the shoulder
  4. Counter-bending on a circle, sometimes locking the jaw on the inside.
  5. Cutting corners.
  6. When you are on the center line or on the quarter line, he will tend to drift with his entire body.
  7. In transitions to the halt one hind leg will tend to be out behind.
  8. He will tend to show a faulty haunches-in, because his croup will tend to fall in against the riders’s inside calf.
  9. In the shoulder-in it may be difficult to get his shoulder to leave the wall.
  10. In the shoulder-in it is easy to get the correct angle, but it is more difficult to achieve the correct bend.
  11. Haunches-in and half passes appear to be easier on one rein than the other.
  12. In severe cases, the horse may not want to canter on one lead initially.
  13. When you lengthen the strides in the trot, the horse may frequently break into the canter.

Achieving straightness is one of the most fundamental demands in training horses, because a crooked horse will never be able to develop impulsion or self carriage.  But what may be worse is that a crooked horse will not remain sound in the long run, as any imbalance creates stiffness and bracing which translate into unnecessary wear and tear on joints, tendons, and ligaments.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

 

Let’s get this STRAIGHT – It might be you

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.

StraightI 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.

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com

S – IS FOR STRAIGHTNESS

S

There is nothing more difficult than keeping a horse straight!

A horse is said to be straight when its forehand is in line with its hindquarters and straightness is a precondition for improving all of the gaits.

So, when I first heard someone say to me you need to be straight on the circle, I thought … “I don’t like Dressage, they just talk gibberish!”  – Actually now my thoughts are not all that different, now I think “ I like Dressage – but they don’t half talk gibberish!” lol

StraightnessWhat is actually meant by this bizarre statement is that you need to ensure that the hind feet, step into (or over) the imprints left by the front feet and maintain the bend.  So the horse is following a line on the circle (he is said to be straight on the circle).

If you think about it, straightness is really important to ensure even weight distribution and whilst most horses are crooked to a degree, like right and left handed people ensuring that the exercises you perform are equal to both sides is a good way to ensure evenness.

Here’s what to do …

  • Maintain straightness with your seat and legs, do not rely solely on the rein
  • Look where you are going, focus on a point directly ahead of you
  • Be subtle with your corrections, or you’ll find your horse will drift in the opposite direction
  • Perfect your straightness at walk before you move on to trot and canter
  • Keep your hands level and carry them in front of you
  • Ensure your horse is forward at all times
  • Keep control of the shoulder and correct the horse if it is falling in or out through the shoulder

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster

help@likecrystal.com