[dropcap]I[/dropcap]s your horse stiff to one side? Are you struggling with bend and contact on that same side? Do you feel that you can’t sit straight in the saddle because the saddle slides to one side? Does your horse always move with his hindquarters in to one side? Are you having difficulties controlling the outside shoulder? If you answered yes to most of these questions, it’s highly likely that your horse is crooked.
All horses are naturally asymmetric. Many training problems are rooted in the natural crookedness of the horse. Understanding the natural crookedness of a horse helps to analyse your riding problems and enables you to solve problems at the root instead of addressing the symptoms. Straightening your horse not only solves many training problems, but also prevents your horse from getting injured due to this natural crookedness. Therefore, straightness should always be an area of attention in the training of any horse, regardless of the horse’s level of training.
In the first part of this series, the rider’s seat and position were addressed. In order to advance with this series about the basics of riding, we assume that the rider is able to sit straight and balanced with the weight evenly divided over two seat bones, without influencing the horse negatively.
The dream of every rider: a completely straight horse
A straight horse is a horse who puts equal pressure on his four legs. The hind legs fall into the print of the front legs and the spine is straight. A straight horse has muscles equally developed on both sides, and has a regular gait. Exercises are just as easy to the left as to the right. A straight horse also accepts the aids without hesitation and is equally responsive on both sides.
The source of crookedness
Both horses and humans have uneven development in the body. Just like humans have an obvious dominant side, a horse’s body is naturally also more bent to either the left or the right. This bend in the body can lead to uneven hooves, unevenly developed muscles, stressed ligaments, and even the carriage of one hip higher than the other.
Why is every horse naturally asymmetric?
So far, there has been no proof as to what causes crookedness in the horse’s body but some possible explanations are:
- There are theories that assume that crookedness is due to the position of the foetus in the womb. Other theories suggest that the crookedness develops when foals are trying to eat grass or hay. By standing on one front leg, the foal will develop a difference in muscles, which can lead to crookedness. These theories are not scientifically proven but can explain why horses are naturally crooked.
- We do many activities only on the left side of the horse, such as tacking up, handling and mounting. This could lead to an uneven development of the horse’s body and could possibly explain the crookedness.
How to straighten your horse
These three steps will assist you with straightening your horse. It is a very difficult part of the training so the help of an experienced trainer is recommended.
- Firstly, make sure that your own position in the saddle is correct. Your stirrups should be equal in length and you should feel the same pressure on both seat bones.
- The second step is to learn to feel when your horse lifts up each leg. If you can’t recognise this feeling, you can’t correct your horse correctly. If you are able to feel individual leg movements, then you can correct the horse at the right moment. Over time you will develop more feel and you won’t need someone on the ground to assist you anymore. It’s important that you either have someone next to you or mirrors to see if your horse is straight. If you don’t have a mirror you can consider asking someone to film you and watch it afterwards. This also helps you to monitor your progress.
- The principle of straightening your horse’s spine is ‘putting the forehand in front of the hindquarters’. Ultimately you want to end up with equal pressure on both reins and a horse who turns and bends easily. One of the most common mistakes is pulling on the horse’s stronger rein. This actually enhances the crookedness because the strong rein blocks the hind leg that already makes shorter steps.
You want a situation where the horse takes more pressure on his weaker side so he can become lighter on the stronger side. You can encourage the horse to become lighter on the stronger rein by asking him to step under himself with his leg on that same side. Always ask the horse to bend around your leg instead of pulling on the rein.
Text: Equine Support International
Read up on corrective exercises in the July (112) issue of HQ.