There are many exercises included in dressage tests that enable the judge to see if the horse moves straight or is crooked – center lines, for example.
But how can you tell if your horse is crooked, and what can you do to make your horse straight?
Read on to find out more.
Is your horse straight?
Horses are born naturally crooked in the same way that people are born left or right-handed.
Through correct schooling, you are essentially seeking to make your horse ambidextrous, rather than one-sided.
Why bother making your horse straight?
Well, quite simply, a straight horse will produce better quality work and will be more coordinated and better balanced.
A straight horse will move as if on railway tracks, regardless of whether he is describing a straight line, moving around a circle, or negotiating a turn.
He will carry his weight evenly and therefore promote equal wear and tear on both sides of his body, therefore, reducing the risk of injury.
To check if your horse is straight, ride a center line in your arena, and look at the hoof prints your horse has left behind. You should be able to see two clear lines of parallel tracks; if your horse is crooked, you’ll see three.
Straightness within the Scales of Training
Why is this? Surely being straight would be something to teach the horse as soon as possible?
Actually, this is not the case…
The correct rhythm in all paces for a dressage horse is paramount and should be established first.
In that rhythm, the horse should swing through a supple back into an elastic even contact, and with active hindquarters.
Only when the rider can achieve all these elements of the scales, can they make the horse straight.
Making your horse straight
In walk, because the horse’s hindquarters are wider than his shoulders and the walk moves slowly, the horse can wiggle and crab.
Keep the walk moving forward and encourage the horse to work into the contact.
If the horse comes against the hand, this blocking action will cause the quarters to swing in, so make sure that the contact is light and remains elastic.
Keep the horse’s neck straight; too much neck bend will cause the horse’s shoulder to bulge out.
Related Read: About The Horse’s Walk Gait
It can be easier to keep the horse straight in trot because it’s easier to ride him forward.
First of all, make sure that you’re sitting straight and that your weight is evenly distributed over your seat bones. You can’t expect your horse to stay straight if you’re sitting to one side!
Keep both legs on equally and ride forward into an even rein contact down both reins.
Check that your hands are carried at the same height with thumbs on top. Now, ride your horse forward.
Related Read: About the Horse’s Trot Gait
Keeping your horse straight in canter can be tricky.
Horses that are unbalanced in the canter often compensate by bringing their quarters to the inside to avoid taking more weight on their hind legs.
Related Read: About the Horse’s Canter Gait
Keeping your horse straight around circles
Although it sounds slightly contradictory, you want your horse to remain “straight” as he moves around a circle, through a turn, or around a corner. As previously mentioned, the horse should move along one track, unless you’re riding lateral exercises.
Horses that are stiff laterally tend to push their quarters out or bring them in as they negotiate a curve to avoid bending uniformly through their bodies.
You can straighten your horse by riding through corners in a slight shoulder-fore position. As you ride around the curve, turn your shoulders slightly to the inside and ask the horse for inside bend. Place your inside leg on the girth to create the bend, and position your outside leg slightly behind the girth to control the quarters and stop them from swinging out.
As the horse becomes more supple, you can increase the degree of bend. Focus on placing the horse’s quarters in the right place before you position his shoulders. That’s a really useful exercise for encouraging the horse to flex through his topline, improving the expression of his paces, as well as making him straighter around curves.
You can ride the same exercise around circles, being careful to guard the quarters with your outside leg to stop them swinging out and controlling the horse’s shoulder with your outside rein to prevent the horse from drifting out through the shoulder.
Remember that the slower the pace, the more likely it is that your horse will become crooked.
Imagine if you tried to ride a bicycle very slowly in a straight line; the less speed you have, the more likely you are to wobble. Pedaling faster solves this instantly, and it’s the same with your horse.
- The Scales of Training: Scale 5 – Straightness
- How to Encourage Your Horse to be More Forward, But Not Faster
- How to Ride From Your Inside Leg to Your Outside Rein
- How to Get Your Horse to Bend