My horse is not straight!
No he isn’t! This is one of the most common things I hear in teaching…My horse has one side more difficult…I prefer the left rein to the right because my horse feels different…Why does my horse only bend left…
Then, even worse, we see riders in top level competition and they do a lovely half pass to the left, and then a leg yield to the right! Why?
Because the rider has not addressed the fundamental part of dressage which is that the horse has both a concave and a convex side, and so yes, your horse is not straight!
Concave: having an outline or surface that curves inwards like the interior of a circle or sphere.
Convex: means curving out or extending outward
Nuno Oliveira wrote a lot on this topic, and it is something that you really need to think about, draw a picture if you have to, figure it out, and trust me if you can nut this one out the rest of dressage training is much easier!
A horse that is straight moves completely differently, and once you have felt it, well, you will understand why there is so much written about it.
“Example of a horse that is convex on the left side; he naturally bends right. When going on the left rein, his tendency will be to have too much weight on the left side and to resist on that side.
REMEDY: left rein lighter than the right, the left side will always be the difficult side, but without forgetting to keep the contact with the right rein. Use continuous vibration upwards on the left rein the entire life of the horse. To bend him left, replace the action of the left rein by the action of the left leg near the girth. Use the calf, not the spur. This will correct the problem at its source which is the deviation of the rib cage to the left.” (Nuno Oliveira)
“Example of a horse that is convex on the right side; he naturally bends left. When going on the right rein, his tendency will be to have too much weight on the right side and to resist on that side.
REMEDY: right rein lighter than the left, the right side will always be the difficult side, but without forgetting to keep the contact with the left rein. Use continuous vibration upwards on the right rein the entire life of the horse. To bend him right, replace the action of the right rein by the action of the right leg near the girth. Use the calf, not the spur. This will correct the problem at its source which is the deviation of the rib cage to the right.” (Nuno Oliveira)
Read this…Re read it…Go out and feel it, and then read it again!
It is not something that you correct in one lesson, but something as Nuno points out that you work on for the entire life of the horse.
Next time you watch a test, ask yourself…Does the horse bend more one way than the other? Or does it not bend at all to one side?
It is not just incorrect, it also adds strain on the horses muscles, ligaments and joints, as the horse is constantly putting more weight into one shoulder.
As a rider we often have a side that is more relaxed that the other too, and this can be made more difficult by the fact that our horse is built with a convex and concave side.
However, as riders it is our job to, with the use of exercises, correct this imbalance, and create a supple forward moving horse.
“It is by working the horse through different exercises in the same bend that we can often supple up the horse on the difficult side.” (Nuno Oliveira)
This is why it often helps to have eyes on the ground and if not a video camera so you can see for yourself if you and your horse are even.
You must ask…”Is my horse with the same amount of bend on the left and right rein.”
“Am I sitting in the middle of the horse”, because often because of this lack of symmetry in horses, riders tend to sit more to one side than the other.
Then gradually over time you can create a horse with even bend, who is supple even on a straight line.
But it has to be thought about and worked on, every single day.
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