The Elusive Pursuit of Straightness

In the classical riding schools, riders begin their education on the lunge line astride well-trained school masters to develop correct and effective positions.  In the U.S. however, this is rarely the case.  Most riders are trying their very best to make progress with challenging horses, limited financial resources,  limited time and limited access to instructors with school masters. This can feel endlessly frustrating.  I have prepared four articles to help and encourage you.

  • Part 1: Understanding crookedness in your horse
  • Part 2: Using groundwork to help supple, strengthen and straighten your horse
  • Part 3: Resources to help you improve your equitation off the horse
  • Part 4: Putting it together by getting the most out of your riding lessons

It’s often said that a crooked rider cannot fix a crooked horse.  Ground work however, can be an effective tool to help cleave a circular pattern in which crookedness in both horse and rider prevent each other from experiencing correct posture.  Ground work can help strengthen and straighten the horse by removing the disruptive influence of the rider.  The rider then has more opportunity to ride a better balanced horse and increase the likelihood of achieving proper alignment and develop positive muscle memory.

Just like people, horses are not symmetrical.  One side of the horse’s body is more elastic, meaning the muscles are able to elongate more easily.  Conversely, on the opposite side of the horse, the muscles are more constricted and therefore stiffer.  Science is suggesting this phenomena is due to brain lateralization  which refers to the fact that the two hemispheres of the brain have functional specializations.  In the horse, this likely includes side-bias.  The majority of horses prefer bending to the right and this side preference can be observed in foals.  Side preference is significant because the elastic side becomes stronger by virtue of the fact that the hind leg on the supple side can reach further under the horse’s body to support and carry more of the horse’s mass.  Over time this natural tendency becomes a postural habit as the horse learns to favor the stronger hind leg.

To discern the stiff side of your horse, lunge them without side reins on a circle to the left.  If he looks and bends to the right then your horse is likely stiff on his right side and supple on his left side.  To understand this further, imagine your horse’s body as a banana (illustrated below).  The constricted muscles on the right side of their body (the inside curve of the banana) pulls the horse’s body into a rightward bend.  You will also make these observations:

  • Your horse’s hindquarters will drift to the outside of the circle because the stronger left hind leg will move toward the center of the horse’s body to compensate and support the weaker right hind leg.
  • The right hind leg takes shorter steps.
  • Your horse’s shoulders fall to the inside of the circle.


Join me next time to learn about groundwork  that helps supple, strengthen and straighten your horse.

Suggested Reading:  The Rider Forms The Horse by Udo Burger and Otto Zietzchmann

Giving Honor To Whom Honor Is Due

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The weather may be dreary, but my spirit is brightened when I reflect on our client’s victories in 2014.   All three of Kroniek’s offspring, bred while on lease to Lazy J Sporthorses, had a fruitful year in the show ring.  Faberge Blue by Contango (owned by Lara Mitchelson ) debuted and won at training level under Michael Bragdell with scores to 78.4%.  Full brothers Grafiet Gabriel and Hancock by Rousseau, earned 8th and 10th place respectively in the Dressage at Devon breed show making their owner Cindy Mattern very happy! Continue reading

Monitoring Your Horse’s Vital Signs and Administering Medications Safely


I assembled this collection of veterinarian produced videos, to help you gain confidence monitoring your horse’s vital signs and administer injectable and oral medications safely.  By gaining these skills you will be better prepared to evaluate your horse in an emergency and convey key information to your veterinarian.  As always, be sure to consult with your vet before commencing any treatment. Continue reading

God Will Preserve Your Dreams During A Season Of Caregiving

My hope today, is to encourage those in a long season of caregiving.  Your riding goals may seem a distant memory, but they are not forgotten by God.  He greatly honors your commitment to care for your loved one.  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”  Matthew 25:40.   In such a season myself, the Lord is teaching me to rely upon His provision rather than exhausting myself overthinking every challenge.   Continue reading

Hope For Your Challenges

“My horse would be further along with another rider” is a sentiment I hear all too often from clients and friends.  This thought tends to coexist with the belief that their horse would have a better life with a better rider.  This grieves me because the truth is, horses don’t care if they’re at training level or FEI so long as their needs are being met and they’re stewarded with love and respect.  Through the Lord’s divine providence, He brought you and your horse together to learn, grow and enjoy each other richly.  Continue reading

Tristan Tucker Clinic

Tristan Tucker, Indoor Brabant, March 2014

Tristan Tucker, Indoor Brabant, March 2014

I have been using elements of John Lyons style groundwork for years, but have had difficulty transferring that work to the saddle in a way that is compatible with the dressage training scale.  Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend a clinic with Grand Prix dressage trainer, Tristan Tucker, based in the Netherlands.  His “conditioned response system” was developed out of an eclectic background as a games, eventing and jump rider and working alongside his mom in a racing barn before relocating to Europe.  His program progressively raises a horse’s tolerance for pressure, improves their proprioception, enhances suppleness and improves their fore and hind limb range of motion.  Tristan worked with each horse/rider combination 1 hour per day which began with mobility work then transitioned to de-spooking exercises where standing still was the correct response and finished with fore and hind limb range of motion exercises.  I found his communication style to be especially effective and was impressed how much he accomplished in a short time frame. Continue reading

Train your eye to better identify lameness in your horse

I came across this well done, five part video series, that helps us better identify lameness in our horses.  This first video discusses how lameness is diagnosed and the next four videos are actual case studies.  Each video is 1.5 to 4.5 minutes in length and was prepared by Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.  Enjoy! Continue reading