When I was first starting out as a rider, I thought that straightness was a simple and easy concept. I remember the first time someone told me that one of the hardest things to do on a horse was to ride a straight line. I didn’t believe them! However, turns out they might just have been right…
Keep in mind that whenever you are working on the lower steps of the scale, you are doing so with an eye on the top steps. And when working on the top steps, you are doing so through the filters of the lower steps of the scale.
What is Straightness?
It’s a bit of a trick question; the simple answer is ‘when I ride a straight line’, right? Well, yes… And part of straightness is definitely being able to ride and work on a straight line. But what about riding a straight line through a bend?
Straightness is less about actually being ‘straight’ and more about the developed strength to be very specific about where you are travelling at any given point. And the tracks you’re travelling on…
Imagine riding in a freshly harrowed sand arena with your horse. As you ride, you will be able to clearly see your horse’s hoofprints in the sand. Once you have walked, trotted, and cantered a few lines and circles, you halt and have a look over the arena. If you have been truly ‘straight’ through each movement, there will be parallel train tracks created by your horse’s feet, wherever you rode in the arena.
Your horse’s back left foot will have followed in the same track as his front left foot. And, similarly, his back right foot will do the same with the front right foot.
This is regardless of if you are traveling on a straight line, let’s say A to C. Or if you are riding a circle, loop, serpentine, or simply through the corner. The only place this won’t apply is if you asked for some lateral work with your horse. And yet, lateral work also requires a level of straightness, in the flow of the energy.
Straightness is Like a Train
Another way to think of straightness is to imagine a train. When it goes around a corner or a bend, the tracks remain parallel to each other all the way through that turn.
Regardless of how many carriages the train has, wherever the front carriage of the train travels, the back carriage will follow in the exact same place. If the back carriage swings out, or if the front carriage turns short the train will lack straightness and derail. Your horse is the same.
If you take the picture of yourself and your horse’s tracks in the freshly harrowed sand arena and superimpose the train tracks, you will have a good idea of what straightness is.
What Causes Crookedness?
What makes straightness confusing is figuring out if any crookedness is begin caused by the rider or the horse. It’s a little like the chicken and the egg. Which came first and is influencing the other! In order to achieve true straightness, it must be developed and strengthened in both horse and rider.
If you are noticing that there is any crookedness present through your horse, I am going to strongly suggest assessing yourself first.
Keep in mind that crookedness can come from both lopsidedness and a lack of strength. This is true for horses and riders. I personally find that yoga is a great way to identify any lack of symmetry and strength in my body. It also shines a light on areas of tightness, stiffness, or tension. A lack of suppleness.
If there is any lack of movement or flow through your own body, suppleness, it will show up in your horse, particularly when bigger questions are asked.
Strengthening Your Horse
Developing symmetry and strength is key to correctly train your horse. Horses are very similar to us in that they usually have a dominant side. This is just like how you may favour your right side if you are right handed. You may notice when you do a certain set of exercises with your horse, it is going to be a lot easier for him on one side, or the other.
Easier being that he can continue to maintain relaxation, rhythm, suppleness, and contact throughout the movement.
When we notice a weakness, there is a tendency to ‘double down’ on the ‘bad’ side. Unfortunately, this rarely works or helps in the long term. Imagine if someone kept making you do something you find difficult, you definitely wouldn’t enjoy doing it! You might even become a little ‘sour’😉
It is far better to ‘sprinkle’ the difficult things through the ride. Mix the ‘bigger questions’ up with things your horse enjoys and finds easy. This way your horse will continue to enjoy his work as well.
Knowing your horse’s dominant side is important when you begin to work towards true straightness. It allows you to become clear on any potential pitfalls that might show up, and how you can create a program to suit your horse’s individual needs.
Spotting Weaknesses in Your Horse
Sometimes, weaknesses are very obvious and easy to spot. It could be that your horse falls in on a circle. Or he might swing his hindquarters out. You might also feel or see a ‘bulge’. This can feel like he is pushing against or bracing against you or your aids. There may also be resistance to questions. All of this works against true straightness.
If we go back a few steps and look at how, by working on suppleness, we begin letting energy flow, we can often see how this leads to straightness. If your horse is not truly straight, you will feel an unequal thrust, which will result in crookedness or ‘buckling’. This affects the overall balance and performance of the horse.
Once the energy is flowing, we then begin to funnel it into a channel. When we are intentional about where we want it to go, noticing any that is going elsewhere becomes easier!
Start the next time you ride your horse by becoming more mindful about the simple basics. Perhaps go from a walk to a halt, and notice whether he is truly straight? Or if there is perhaps a ‘bulge’, a shift of energy, or even an actual shift of the horse’s body.
Notice all of the seemingly little things. And then use what you find out to create a plan to begin developing true, equal, strength in your horse. This will lead to straightness.
More, More, More… To Help You :)
- Find the Gaps in Your Horse’s Training
- The Training Scale for You And Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Intro – Putting the Pieces Together for You & Your Horse
- Training Scale Series; Part 1 – Rhythm
- Training Scale Series; Part 2 – Suppleness
- Training Scale Series Part 3 – Contact
- Training Scale Series Part 4 – Impulsion
- Online Community for Equestrian focusing on Planning and Mindset
- Equestrian Virtual Lounge Online Community
- FREE 2021 Equestrian Fitness Challenge – What You Can Do While You Ride
- Daily Strides Premium Newsletter