Another view on horse's balance
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 01:07 PM
If you take any book on horse training you will read a lot about horse's balance. The back to front balance - how much weight is distributed between hind and front legs, lateral balance - is horse heavier on one shoulder or another, stiff on one side and soft on another, etc. I want you to look at a horse from a bit different perspective. The horse's body is positioned in space rather horizontally. His left and right sides are long and can have their own characteristics. This affects horse's motion and ability to turn, stop and go. We will assume that the left side of horse's body is longer. And his right side is shorter.
Turns and Bend:
Imagine your horse's body constructed out of two pieces of metal rods - left and right sides. They are attached to each other and they are flexible and even in strength. Now imagine one of those rods is substituted by a heavy, thick rubber cord. In our example it is the left side. This rubber cord is too unstable and constantly tries to fall off from the right side. It has too much inertia and is hard to organize and control. The horse follows its "rubber side" and falls into it's direction, left in our example. The rider is pulled forward and down on the left. During turns to the left it speeds up the horse and makes him fall even more to the inside. During right turns it makes the horse collapse to the outside. For most riders riding to the right will feel more balanced and stable, riding to the left will feel rough, fast and uneven. Plus, our own bodies have similar asymmetries. It can make a big difference in how things work depending on how rider's and horse's sides match up.
  • Spirals both directions: to the left asking for more spiraling out, to the right spiraling in.
  • Counter-flexion on the right rein
  • Leg-yields to the right anywhere, anytime, especially, if rider feels the horse falling toward the left. The horse needs to learn to stand up on his left side.
  • Shoulder-in left, traverse left - teaches the horse to bend left side, engage left hind, stand up on the left shoulder and stretch the right shoulder
  • Left canter with the tendency of leg-yielding to the right
  • Counter-canter on the right lead with and without flexion to the left
  • In canter leg-yield to the right on the right lead with flexion to the left
Rider is watching for:
- His/her left/right sides match each other in amplitude, balance and strength
- The seatbones and hips are level, torso is vertical, rider's shoulder line is perpendicular to horse's horizontal axel - Light contact on the left rein. Do not hold the horse and do not allow the horse to lean on your left rein. Correct and let the horse carry himself. If he makes mistake correct again. - Both sides of the horse working evenly in regards of suppleness, strength, push, lift, levelness, balance, etc

When such horse is asked to stop habitually it will stop his short side, or right side in our case, first. And his left long side will continue to move for a few moments. Rider will feel an increased contact on the left rein. If rider is quick enough to catch that most likely such horse will push his haunches to the right and "lean" into his strong and short right side which will hold and allow the horse to stop its body. To fix this problem, the horse needs to develop his sides to be equal, to have similar length and strength, and must learn to stop his left side in unison with his right. He must learn to engage ALL his left side muscles.
During upward transitions the horse will shift its weight onto his left shoulder and will use rider's hand for support. It is hard for such horse to use his left hind to push long, heavy and unstable left side of his body upward. During trot extensions such horse may develop unevenness in the stride to the point of braking into left lead canter because left shoulder will be moving ahead of the right.
  • Transitions within the trot on big circle to the left
  • Transitions within the trot during spiral in and out going left
  • Transitions between walk and trot on the left circles of different size and during spiraling out
  • Trot lengthenings with slight tendency of the leg-yield to the right
  • When riding to the right use outside aids to lighten and shorten left side of your horse's body. Downward transitions during spiral out on the right rein.
Rider is watching for:
- During transitions do not allow your horse to hang on the left rein or shift his weight over to the left by applying your left aids, all of them ( hand, leg, shoulder, seatbone, hip, ribcage)
- Use your left aids a bit earlier and a bit stronger than right ones during downward transitions.
- Watch the whole horse not just the head and shoulders - where is horse's ribcage, how level is his back, are haunches directly behind the shoulders?
- Do not allow the horse to pull YOUR left side of the body forward including arm, shoulder, ribcage, hip and/or foot. Use mirrors or person on the ground to see how square you are.
- Ride BOTH sides of your horse!
It sounds much easier on paper than on a horse's back :) However, riders benefit from introduction to this perspective even if they are not very advanced. Many try to ride by rules and by the book. It does not always work with horses. Books usually describe ideal situations, how it should be, not necessarily how it is. Laws of physics apply to everything and they rule horse's and human's bodies in motion. The more you understand how these laws affect you and your horse the more effective rider you will be.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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