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