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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Riding the Straight Curve

Did you vote for me in the Equestrian Social Media Awards? Thank you. I made the final 10! If you enjoy this blog please take a second to give me your vote again at Find me in section 21 Lorraine Jennings

Now back to business -

Can you ride a straight line? How about a straight curved one? Straightness is important whether you’re on a curve or a straight line. It’s essential to everything you do. If your horse isn’t straight on a circle he’s not on one circle at all. He’s on two!

Your horse is straight when his hind feet follow the line of his front feet. (With the exception of some lateral movements) Look at him from the front and you should only be able to see his front legs. He’s said to be on two tracks. If he gets out of line – or crooked – you’ll be able to see two front legs and one or both of his hind legs. He’s on three or four tracks. On three tracks he’s crab-like - his quarters will be following one circle while his shoulders are following another.

Your horse is at his strongest when he’s straight. His hocks are directly behind his shoulders and the energy they create can drive his body forward. If his hocks are slightly out of line then some of that energy is wasted or worse they push his body in the wrong direction.

There are many causes of crookedness in horses. Most are easily solved. Before you reach for the phone and call a dentist, saddle fitter or chiropractor have a good look at your own position to see if your horse’s problems could stem from you.

Your hands control your horse’s shoulders. Did you know he doesn’t have a collar bone? That means both shoulders can move independently of each other. Keeping your hands together keeps his shoulders together as one unit.

Whatever you do with your hands your horse will do with his shoulders. If one hand is further back than the other his shoulders will mirror them. If one shoulder is further back than the other he’ll be crooked. If one hand is lower than the other he’ll drop the same shoulder. If he’s falling in he’s not straight.

Without pressure from both legs your horse may swing his quarters one way or the other. It’s important that you drive him forward from even pressure from both legs in their usual place near the girth. Your legs only come back to correct or order. Use one leg further back than the other and you’re unintentionally asking him to move his quarters to one side. He’ll be on three tracks at least and be crooked.

If you have problems feeling if your horse is straight check out this exercise which makes it more obvious and shows you how to correct him if he’s crooked -

So a straight line is easy. You push your horse with both legs in their usual place to a steady, level and even contact and he drives himself forward. Simple. It is until you have to turn the corner at the end!

Imagine riding down the centre line and having to track right at the end. How would you ride that turn? Inside rein for a bit of bend? Or up to stop him falling in? Outside leg back to bend his quarters round the curve? Outside rein to get hold of the shoulder? There lies the problem. What happened to the straightness? Try this –

In any pace work on the centre line turning either way at the end unless you’re in canter. Then stick to the same rein to avoid too many changes.

Ride down the centre line using both legs in their usual place. Keep your body square to the front and push on. There’s nothing like a lack of energy to create crookedness.

Your turn at the end requires two things. Straightness and balance. To maintain your horse’s balance don’t leave the turn too late. It’s the same with any corner. Don’t make your turn so sharp that he loses his balance. No horse can do a right angled turn. Start as you pass G or D and ride a smooth curve to the track at the point here the ¾ line finishes. It’s a corner with the end rubbed off.

As you make the turn ride it as you would a straight line. Push with both legs in their usual place. Keep your hands together and level. In this way your horse keeps his hocks directly behind his shoulders, he’ll stay balanced and be able to drive himself round the turn.

Of course you need him to bend to the inside. So what should you do? What you don’t need to do is pull your inside rein. Pulling it will change the pressure in his mouth and move your hands apart. You’ll get him out of line and unbalance him.

Another common mistake is pushing his quarters around your inside leg by putting your outside leg back. Think about it. Why would you want him to move his quarters in off the track? That’s what your leg behind the girth means.

Your body shows your horse which way to bend. Turn your shoulders and your hips to the inside and he’ll do the same. Keep your legs in their usual place but increase the pressure from your inside leg to move his barrel out. Now you have his shoulders and quarters on the track where they should be. His hocks can drive him forward but his body (matching yours) is turned to the inside.

Try riding circles and turns around the school. Keep your hands together and push your horse’s hocks behind his shoulders. Don’t get obsessed with inside bend. When you turn your body he will bend through his. Trust him. He always copies what you do with your body. That’s what causes most problems in the first place!

Good luck and enjoy your schooling. 

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