A common problem when riding circles or schooling in an unfenced field or paddock is ‘falling out’.
But why do horses fall out, and what can the rider do to prevent this from happening?
Why do horses fall out?
All horses lose their balance, or ‘fall’ towards one shoulder as a result of their natural crookedness.
Like humans, horses are not born equal on both sides, and because they are horizontally built (as opposed to humans, who are vertical, i.e. stand upright), this makes any differences between the two sides of their body more influential.
When a foal is born, it will often be curled quite extremely around to one side. Although during the early parts of its life, with play and general movement, this ‘curl’ will become far less noticeable, it will still be present.
As soon as you start riding the horse and expecting it to go in straight lines and conform to curved lines such as circles, this one-sidedness will reappear and manifest itself in the horse falling out.
In real terms, your horse will have one side of his body slightly longer than the other. This means he is constantly in a ‘banana’ shape, even if ever so slightly.
Taking the example of a horse that is longer on the right side of his body, this means he will find left bend easy (because that is the natural curve of his body), and right bend hard (what we often call, his ‘stiffer’ side, though in reality, it is actually due to his body being longer that side).
As a result, this horse’s body will always be trying to bend left, with the consequence that he is constantly ‘falling’ towards his right shoulder. Therefore, he falls out on a left-hand circle and falls in on a right-hand circle, often with the wrong bend (remember, his body wants to constantly stay in left bend, no matter in which direction he is traveling).
How to stop your horse from falling out
Remaining with this example, when on a left circle or turn, this horse falls outward onto his right shoulder. To correct this, you need to:
Step 1 – Straighten his neck using your outside rein
Do this by shutting your outside elbow tighter against your body, not by pulling backward on the rein. You may still have quite a strong contact, but the important thing is not to pull back or you will cause other problems.
Step 2 – Step more firmly into your inside (left, in this example) stirrup and shift your weight onto your inside (left) seat bone
This is done by straightening the left side of your body so that it lengthens downward from your armpit, not by leaning to the left, which will cause your seat to slide to the outside.
Step 3 – Turn your upper body to the inside, so that your outside shoulder and hand travel forward, and your inside shoulder and hand move back.
This brings your outside hand forward and inward towards the crest, allowing the bend but still containing your horse’s outside shoulder.
The inside hand moves back and opens away from the neck, leading the horse around the circle or turn.
This turning must be from your waist, not your hips.
Exaggerate these aids as far as you need to in order to gain control of the outward drift.
On a straight line, such as a center line, or along the track, if he drifts towards one shoulder, then simply keep the hand on that side closed in against his shoulder (also with your elbow shut against your body), and ride more positively forward to help straighten him.
Falling out can create serious problems for you when you’re riding a dressage test. Your circles will be lopsided, and your horse might even drift right out of the arena!
Use the tips given above to help correct the problem and keep your horse balanced and moving in a straight line.