What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-
- Get clear on the importance of straightness
- Understand your responsibility as the rider
- Begin using straightness from day 1
- Use your quarter lines to assess your horse
Straightness. It is one of the top elements of the traditional Training Scale when working with horses. Yet, is it also something that we touch on regularly here inside of the Daily Strides Podcast.
The question for many riders is ‘How can I work on straightness, if it is such a ‘high level’ concept?” In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast, I will give you a simple exercise you can begin working on today. It is an exercise you can use, regardless of where you and your horse are in your training.
Straightness is simply a way of assessing symmetry in you and your horses way of going. It is how the energy is brought into the ride and how it is distributed throughout the ride.
I have explained straightness in more detail on a previous episode of the Daily Strides Podcast. You can find that episode HERE and I strongly suggest popping on over if you are not fully understanding this exercise or straightness in general.
The symmetry comes from equal energy being created in both hind legs and propelling the horse forward. If one side is stronger, or weaker, than the other the energy input will be different, causing crookedness or excess tension in how the horse goes.
Straightness is also important when looking at how the energy is used, or the output of the energy. Again, any weakness or tension on one side over the other will cause the energy to be ‘spent’ differently. The result, again, will be crookedness or excess tension as the horse tries to constantly compensate or correct.
Your Responsibility as the Rider
So, that all being said, how can you begin riding with the intention of developing straightness? The key word to consider here is ‘developing’. Your horse will not go straight from day 1. In fact, if you have ever ridden a young or green horse, it can sometimes feel like riding an eel!
Their ‘speed-wobbles’ in straightness cause a lack of balance and a loss of rhythm. It can also cause excess tension as they try to ‘hold’ themselves straight, but lack the physical strength or development to do so.
In the previous Daily Strides Podcast episode, we spoke about your responsibility to create a symmetrical ‘mould’ in order to channel your horse’s energy. It is also important to remember that the sides of your arena, or the rails, are not what should keep you both straight.
Straightness is a way of travelling. As your horse develops more correctly, he will be able to travel more straight by just, well, travelling!
What is important is that you are all the time working toward the ideal. If you horse is weaker (which most horses are) on one side over the other, rather work on strengthening him in shorter but more correct sessions.
Straightness From Day 1?
This can be worked on in simple exercises performed as correctly as possible. Attention to detail is key when schooling horses, regardless of where they are in their journey.
Riding on the quarter lines, or just 2 meters in off the track will get you started when it comes to noticing straightness.
Ensuring that the hind quarters are truly behind the shoulders regardless of if you are on a straight line or a bend. Over time this will ‘switch’, in that the shoulders will be in front of the hind quarters. However, this takes more ‘feel’ on your part as the rider. It also takes more engagement and strength from your horse in order to lighten the front end.
If you are also just beginning to work on straightness for the first time, becoming mindful about what you can actually see – and what is directly in front of you – is often a little easier. Hence my recommendation of shoulders followed by hind quarters to get you started.
The Quarter Line
Let’s start with this simple movement. Riding down the quarter line with your horse. The quarter line is the imaginary line half way between the long side of the arena and the centre line. There are two of them in any arena!
Many riders will call the second one the three-quarter line. However regardless of which you ride and what you call it, riding on the quarter line means there is no rails, posts or fences to guide you and your horse.
What I have noticed is that most riders, as they ride the second half of the line, will begin to ‘fall in’ around the upcoming bend or corner. They ride a large oval or egg shape, rather than a rectangle.
Instead of riding to the end of the line and riding the 90 degree bend or corner, the blend everything together. The corner is no longer defined. The shoulders, followed by the hind quarters, just veer off track until they get to the short side.
The straightness on the quarter line was not defined, which resulted in the straightness through the corner not being defined.
Rather focus on riding straight, right up to the corner. From there, think about the quality of the bend. The suppleness through your horses body. The ‘tracks’ created by your horses inside legs and his outside legs. The ‘mould’ your body is creating for your horse to travel through the bend.
This can be started in walk and later worked on in trot and even canter.
Defining the Line using Poles or Markers
If you are still struggling to stay on track, I suggest defining things a little more using poles or markers. I will be running a free ‘mini-course’ in July 2018 where you can get the printable outline for this exercise and what it looks like. Of course this is just one of the exercises we will be using. You can sign up to join us HERE
My one tip for today if you are using poles or markers is to start with ‘wide’ poles. A less defined track. Then as your horse develops you can ask for a tighter and more defined track or line.
One of the greatest ways to develop straightness is to focus on increasing true suppleness. I personally believe that suppleness and straightness are directly related.
You cannot be truly straight without being supple – ask anyone who practices yoga!
You want to make sure that rather than your horse falling in or out through the shoulders or hind quarters, derailing, he is truly bending through his body. Through the 90 degree corner you are riding at the start of and the end of each quarter line.
Initially he may be ‘tight’. There may be a lack of bend and this is where you’re focusing on increasing the overall suppleness will have a huge effect.
Most horses ‘derail’ around corners because it is easier than bending through their body to remain on track.
Notice how, when you ask for the bend, is there any loss of rhythm or relaxation. This is a good indicator that your horse is not as supple as you think he is. Notice how well he transitions from straight to flexion to bend. Notice how well he cope if you add circles into the exercises at the corners.
Noticing the Difference
By defining what is straight and what is a corner. What is a rectangle and what is an oval. By consistently asking for better quality line and then allowing your horse to ride on those lines, you will begin to develop him more evenly through his body.
The result will be greater strength in propelling you both forward. Equal thrust from the hind quarters, which will lead to a stronger, more correctly developed horse.
Helping Your Horse
Many riders almost look like they are trying to ride the bend. They twist, contort, shuffle, pull, squeeze… You name it! They interfere with the horse as he is travelling and moving forward.
Your job as the rider to set things up and then allow the horse to actually ride through the bend himself. You simply facilitate him travelling through the bend.
Part of straightness is balance. Part of balance is finding the mid-point. Becoming stable. Set things up. Put your horse in the best possible position to make it correctly through the bend. And then simply allow him to do just that.
Will you have to step in and assist from time to time? Yes! However assisting is different from doing it for your horse. Assisting is first allowing him the space to try, and then gently guiding where necessary.
Have a line in mind and try your best to ride that line.
Links mentioned in the episode:-