Straightness Training is a programme based on the wisdom and techniques of the old dressage masters: Francois Robichon de la Gueriniere, Antoine de Pluvinel, Francois Baucher and Gustav Steinbrecht to name a few. It takes this knowledge a step further by incorporating more modern concepts like learning theory, behavioural science and biomechanics.
It is a method onto which can be added any form of training to improve a horse’s natural asymmetry or it can be explored in depth as an art on its own.
The foundation of Straightness Training
Marijke de Jong, founder of the programme, has an amazing gift for simplifying and presenting complex topics in a way that is easy to understand and practise. She has created a group of what she calls ‘frameworks’, which provide a ‘map’ of Straightness Training.
Her first two frameworks, which she explains at length in her free videos on her website, are called ‘Eight dimensions of natural asymmetry’ and ‘Six keys of Straightness Training’. These lay the foundation for understanding the purpose of Straightness Training.
Dimensions and keys
The eight dimensions of natural asymmetry address the areas of the horse that are naturally out of balance and, if not addressed correctly early on, can cause problems in the training process.
The six keys of Straightness Training explain the logical progression of exercises which lead to the horse being able to carry his own weight on powerful and bendable hind legs, which is the essential ingredient to finding true self-carriage. The keys are explained in detail in her free e-book. They are listed as:
- Lateral bend (creating a correct bend through the spine and poll)
- Forward tendency (having the horse seeking and creating the contact)
- Stepping under (preserving the forward swing of both hind legs)
- Bending the inside hind leg (putting weight on the inside hind leg in shoulder-fore and shoulder-in)
- Bending the outside hind leg (putting weight on the outside hind leg through travers and renvers)
- Bending both hind legs (putting weight on both hind legs through pirouette and piaffe)
The five pillars
The next framework falls under the title of ‘Five pillars of Straightness Training’. The five pillars include: groundwork, lunging, work in-hand, riding, and liberty. All five pillars are started in a simple cavesson. At a more advanced level, when both horse and rider are more balanced, a bit may be added but it is not required.
- In groundwork, a single lunge line is attached to the middle ring of the cavesson and the handler works in close proximity to the horse standing anywhere between the head and shoulder.
- In lunging, the handler also uses a single line attached to the middle ring of the cavesson but will work on increasing the space between them and their horses.
- In work in-hand, the handler uses a pair of reins attached to the side rings of the cavesson and stands close to the horse but further back than in groundwork, between the shoulder and mid-back.
- In riding, the handler uses the reins attached to the side rings of the cavesson. Marijke encourages riders to ride often in a bareback pad to learn how to develop an independent and observing seat.
- In liberty, the handler only has a stick which is used as a conductor’s baton – to direct and shape the horse’s body and movement.
The Straightness Training sequence starts with exercises in halt and progresses to teaching LFS (lateral bend, forward tendency, stepping under) in walk on a circle and on a straight line with transitions to halt and rein-back in groundwork, work in-hand and lunging.
Next the horse is taught shoulder-in, travers, renvers, half-pass and pirouette in walk in groundwork and work in-hand. Once established, these exercises are taught in trot in groundwork, work in-hand and lunging, and exploring the walk exercises in riding and liberty. The same follows when introducing the canter work.
As we teach, advance and master the exercises on the ground we can add them to our ridden and liberty training. In this way the horse is given a comprehensive foundation in groundwork, work in-hand and lunging, which offers him the best chance of understanding and executing the exercises successfully in riding and liberty.
Just a taste
These are just a taste of four of the various frameworks which Marijke has included in the Straightness Training programme. The Straightness Training Mastery programme coaches you from the fundamental concepts through to the advanced techniques and is a source of information which every equestrian should have.
Text: Zaneta Georgiades