Horses and people are all crooked. Yep, sorry folks. All you wonky ones out there, you are not unique I’m afraid! That longer leg you have? That dropped shoulder? Yup, we are all gloriously wonky, messy and imbalanced!
The same goes for your horse too. Whilst you have a dominant hand or leg, your horse will have his own dominant side and patterns of movement as well. Sometimes these will match yours, making for a spectacular show of crookedness. When you think about it, it is a wonder we get off a circle at all…
The difficulty we all have then is getting our bodies, and that of our horses’, straight or as I prefer to think of it; aligned.
- Train Straightness/alignment every day
- You make progress when you and your horse take more straight steps than crooked ones
- You are NOT making progress, or making your horse a happy athlete if you continue to strengthen INTO a dysfunction/crookedness
- Straightness = Balance = Ease of Movement = Injury Risk Reduced
So why is this so important?
The foundation of being straight creates BALANCE. We have all been in a café or restaurant where the legs on the table have been different lengths and it creates that awful wobble. Someone presses down on one side and gets a lap full of bacon and eggs or floods it with coffee. The table doesn’t feel stable. It is not evenly balanced. It is not aligned and there is a heightened risk that it will topple over. The base of support is not there. You get the picture.
Your horse has 4 legs (in case you weren’t sure) and it is the rider’s job to work towards getting your horse to use his 4 legs as evenly as possible. At this stage I’m not too worried about the 60:40 ratio that we are all familiar with, I am more concerned about each leg taking its own portion of the load. Every horse will want to have 60% of his weight over the front two feet and 40% over the hind two. The issue comes if there is a disparity of load between left and right sides. When this happens, it is an issue of alignment and it will mean that your base of support is not stable. This creates difficulty turning, going sideways, being even into the contact etc. It also means that one leg or one side of the body is working under greater stress than the other, and is therefore vulnerable to injury.
What often happens is these imbalances are ignored. The rider gets used to having a horse who is heavier in one rein, harder to circle one way and slow off the leg but pushes on, keen to get doing lateral work and more interesting movements. The horse scrambles to maintain balance, having to increase the dysfunctions by getting heavier in the hand, dropping further behind the leg and not bending one way. What is happening here is the rider is training INTO the DYSFUNCTION. Every crooked step you take strengthens the crookedness!
Training alignment/straightness is a never ending job. It should be part of everyday work because as we know, our crookedness is always wanting to be present.
Training the body to operate in a different way than what it is used to is demanding and requires a methodical process. The secret is to always be mindful of the crookedness in your horse, and in your own body. Remember your horse only has one hour (or thereabouts) of training each day. For the other 23 he is leaning into his crookedness.
It is the same for riders. Professional riders might be riding for the majority of the day, but if they don’t do this with an awareness of their own crookedness, they are strengthening the wonkiness of their body rather than moving it more into a place of alignment.
Progress is made when you start to take more balanced and straight steps than crooked ones. You want to be strengthening from a place of alignment. This means that your horse loads each side of his body with the same amount of weight. The left fore should carry the same load as the right fore, and the left hind should carry the same as the right hind. Get this weight distribution even on a lateral plane and you will start to strengthen INTO alignment.
It is only then that you will feel an even contact, that turning left is as easy and as fluid as turning right. It is at this point that you can start to introduce the next step of your training.
Contributor: Debbie Biles, Equine Health Specialist
Debbie Biles founded db Muscle Therapy in 2009 and since then has operated successful practices in the UK and New Zealand.
With a strong practical and academic equestrian background, Debbie draws from a comprehensive skill set to bring clients practical solutions based on sound, scientific principles.
Debbie holds a BSc (Equine), BHSAI, Diplomas in Human Personal Training and Sports Therapy and Equine Sports Therapy, all gained in the UK.
Debbie has been a rider with Dressage Grand Prix trainers in the UK and America, and has spent some time riding in Germany.
Debbie has worked as soft tissue therapist at the London Olympics 2012, and as Team Therapist for the NZ Para-Olympic Team at London 2012 and the World Equestrian Games 2014 in Normandy.
Debbie currently works in NZ, with regular trips to clients in Germany and the UK.