You know how water will flow along the gutter easily when it’s following the side of the building, but when it turns the corner at the end the water slows and the debris collects here first? Well it’s exactly the same with horses.
When a horse is straight through their body their energy propels them forwards much for efficiently and easily. I saw an excellent example last week when I was teaching.
This dun gelding had a driving accident years ago which has resulted in treatment in his neck and poll this year, so after lots of hacking over the summer his owner has started taking him into the school again.
Over our few lessons I’ve focused on this rider being straight herself, having a correct length of rein and even contact. Then we’ve worked both reins evenly to establish preparation for transitions and movements, and the horses response to the correct aids. One lesson was spent doing numerous changes of rein to try to reduce the change in both horse and rider as they moved onto their harder, right rein.
Last week I noticed a real improvement in the horse on the left rein at the beginning of the lesson, he was no longer short and tight in the neck, but trusting the more consistent and even contact. His strides had gotten longer and he was really swinging through his body. It looked much more effortless for both horse and rider, as well as being more harmonious. Energy was flowing, like water in a gutter, straight through the horse’s body so propulsion was easy.
However, when they went onto the right rein the strides became choppy and the neck became tight. The water was turning the corner in the gutter. With them trotting large, I asked my rider to focus on the straight lines; ensuring her horse’s neck and head was straight in front of her, not to the outside as he liked to do. To do this she needed to use her inside leg to push him over to the track, not use her outside rein, but also ensure her right rein was supportive of his right shoulder so he wasn’t inclined to fall in through it. Round the corners the right rein still needed to support that shoulder and not open too much on the turn. When he is a little stronger and straighter the inside rein can open more to encourage him to bend right, but as he chronically bends left, we need to establish straight before right bend so he isn’t outfaced.
As she rode one corner correctly, suddenly the strides matched those on the left rein, and they almost flew up the long side it was so effortless.
Obviously this horse needs lots of little and often to build the correct muscle, and then when he can maintain a quality rhythm, length of stride and relaxed frame on both reins the we can look at more supplying exercises to improve right bend and engage the right hind leg.
We will be continuing to focus on finding that straightness in trot, and when riding large circles. On the right rein he falls in, so the inside rein needs to support his inside shoulder while the inside leg reminds him to stay out. The outside rein may need to give forwards slightly more than ideal to help the horse realise he can stretch the muscles over his left shoulder and not look so much around to the left. On the left rein, they tend to have too much inside bend so the right rein still needs to support the right shoulder, and remind the horse that he can’t bulge out through it. Then my rider doesn’t want to try to create too much inside bend on the circle, as riding him slightly straighter will encourage him to step under with his left hind leg and not throw his weight out of the right shoulder, but rather learn to carry himself. Having a straighter horse makes this easier for him initially as he strengthens his inside hind.
I’m looking forwards to seeing this combination progress as their confidence and knowledge increases. By taking these baby steps and finding the straightness of his body first we can reduce the chance of his old injury flaring up. Then we can work on suppling him with the hindquarters working correctly, which will further improve his muscle tone and fitness.