Straightness: What?

Most horses possess a side that is stiffer than the other. This stiffness leads to crookedness in the paces. In dressage competitions, the judges deduct a fair number of points for crookedness. If the horse is stiff on one side, he will not be able to trot down the center line without drifting. In circles, his hindquarters will swing out and he will find great difficulty in bending through his neck and body. He may rush in his paces or he might go too slow to avoid stretching his stiff side.

For Example, if you were trotting on the right rein (your right hand is the inside hand) and you attempt a circle to the right, you horse does not easily bend and appears to be straight along the topside of his spine, that would mean that he is finding difficulty stretching his left side enough to bend properly, therefore, he is stiff on the left. Crookedness will occur when one side is stiffer, not if both sides are equal. Horses are naturally stiffer on one side than the other, but fortunately, this can be corrected.

Straightness: Why?

In all equestrian disciplines, equally developed sides in the horse is of great importance in order to maximize his performance. It is good to remember that stiffness on one side may cause injury to the horse if the muscles in that side are stretched beyond their limit.

In showjumping, for instance, where speed and agility is required, may bring injury to a horse that is not straight. A sharp turn could, in the least, cause pain and discomfort for the horse. In Dressage, required movements beyond the novice level may prove to be extremely difficult to perform on the stiff side. Such movements would include shoulder-in, travers and renvers, half-pass, counter canter, flying changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage, and all movements that require suppleness for bending.

Straightness: How?

To develop straightness in a horse, you will need to develop the strength and suppleness of both of his sides. The following exercises, performed at the trot, will help you supple the stiff side in your horse.

The Figure of 8: Ride a figure of 8 in trot, circling twice on the rein opposite his stiff side, i.e. if he stiff on the left, circle twice to the right to stretch his left side, followed by one circle on the left rein, since his rights side is well developed. The first two circles stretch the muscles on his stiff side without causing him discomfort while the second single circle gives those muscles a moment to relax.

The Serpentine: Serpentines make excellent exercises for suppling the sides on the horse. Begin with a two-loop serpentine (letter S) then gradually increase the number of loops until you can fit 4 or 5 loops in a 20m x 40m arena.

The Leg Yield: This exercise is relatively easy and very suppling for the horse. Assuming that the horse is stiff on the left side, trot around the arena on the right rein. At C, turn down the center line. Shift your weight slightly onto your left seat bone to encourage the horse to step under your center of gravity. Apply gentle pressure with your right leg behind the girth, and sponge the right rein to encourage the horse to bend to the right as he steps laterally to the left. He should take side way steps to the left, while maintaining a bend to the right to stretch the opposite side.

On the Lunge: I only recommend this exercise to the very experienced equestrian since any error may cause damage to the horse's muscles. You will need your lunging equipment: lunge rein, saddle, lunging caveson, side reins, and if required, a whip. First warm up the horse without the side reins for 5 minutes. Attach the side reins, yet keep them fairly loose, and lunge on both reins for an additional 10 minutes. Halt the horse to adjust the side reins as directed: tighten the side rein on his good side and leave the other side without further adjustment. Viewed from front, the horse's head should only slightly be looking to his good side. Now lunge him in trot on the rein of his good side (he should be looking to the inside of the circle.) Trot him for approximate 2 to 3 minutes, then halt, loosen the inside rein, and trot him to the opposite rein for 1 or 2 minutes. Halt, and take a break by walking the horse off the lunge for about 5 minutes. Repeat the pattern twice, and that's it for the day! Tip: Have someone time you with a stop watch.

You will begin to notice a difference within 3 to 5 weeks. The horse will bend more readily upon request, and you will be able to trot or canter down the center line of the arena without drifting. You might even strike some luck and get placed higher than usual in your dressage or jumping competitions!

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