Most horses are naturally crooked – some a little more, others a little less. This is comparable to the right- and left-handedness in humans. As a rider, you can easily notice this, for example, if the hindquarters don’t stay on the outside track, if the horse leans on one shoulder or if the rein connection is uneven. The physical causes underlying this crookedness are a little different for every horse, however, a typical pattern is that horses are slightly “banana-shaped” or “hollow” to one side and “stiffer” on the other side. If a horse is hollow on the right side, for example, this usually means that the right hind leg doesn’t step in the track of the right front leg. The left front leg often carries more weight. The horse wants to compensate the crookedness by shifting the base of his neck to the left and his head to the right side. This creates a heavier contact on the left rein, while the horse avoids the contact on the right rein. The horse’s (and rider’s) weight aren’t carried evenly, putting strain on the horse’s body.
To keep the horse fit and healthy, the goal of dressage training is to balance and straighten the horse – aligning the forehand with the hindquarters so that the horse tracks up evenly on both sides on a straight line as well as on a bend. The longitudinal axis of the horse’s body should be straight and the muscles on both halves of the body used evenly. A straight horse can perform dressage movements, lateral work and turns equally well on both hands. It can develop impulsion, true collection and self-carriage. “To me, straightness means that my horse responds well to my aids on both sides and that it feels like I’m riding on rail tracks, that the energy is contained within the body and doesn’t leak. I want to be able to feel on the left what I’m doing on the right and feel on the right what I’m doing on the left,” Jessica explains. And the most important thing: straightening a horse means keeping it healthy!
Straightening means keeping your horse healthy
Straightening your horse is an ongoing process. It starts at the beginning of training and does not stop at advanced level. A horse can be straightened through bending, lateral work and diagonal aids, i.e. through circles, small and large turns and serpentines. At a more advanced level, straightness can be improved by lateral movements like shoulder-in, shoulder-fore, travers and renvers. Counter-canter is also a great way of training your horse to balance itself. “I also like to use a little leg yielding with no bend or flexion, for example moving the horse a few steps to either side while remaining parallel to the outside track,” Jessica explains and adds: “And if possible, I do this exercise riding towards a mirror so that I get a good feeling for the straightness.”
The rider should also be as straight as possible
“If we want our horses to be straight, we have to make sure to sit straight and in balance ourselves. It’s important that the rider is correctly aligned and can use her body equally well on both sides. Also, a crooked horse will always tend to put the rider slightly off balance or shift her to one side, and that’s where it’s really important that the rider can resist this and remain centered to allow the horse to become more balanced and straight with time. “Both horse and rider should regularly be checked by a physiotherapist or osteopath,” Jessica points out. “And for us humans, too, straightness is not a final state, but something we are allowed to work on continuously. That’s why the DressurFit® programme provides personal corrective exercises and regular tests to check for imbalances and to achieve correct alignment and balance in the saddle. Because with our own crookedness, we throw the horse off balance and make it extremely difficult for him to be straight.”
Do you want to work on your muscular imbalances and side differences in order to straighten yourself and also your horse? Become a DressurFit® member and improve your riding seat! Join our programme now by clicking here!