Bending the concave side.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Friday, February 28, 2014 10:01 PM
Before you continue reading this article I strongly recommend the following ones:
It will be only fair to talk about challenges of bending properly the concave side of a horse. The problem with it is the horse gives his rider an impression of correct bend when in reality it is not so. The bottom line is a horse likes to carry his neck too much to the inside, his outside shoulder too much to the outside and his inside hind leg too much to the inside thus looking more like a folding knife. If a rider does not catch these evasions the horse will be unbalanced in his shoulders, falling out and having hard time turning. The inside hind will not be properly engaged under the horse's body. The horse will encourage the rider to hold on to the inside rein as this helps him lean into outside shoulder even more.
The previous blog about convex side of the horse has general rules on bending. They are true for the concave side as well. The difference is in the emphasis on what to watch and correct if necessary. Although, as with everything regarding horses there is no rules that set in stone. The rider must adapt to the situation and deal with problems at hand. I personally know several horses that switched their balance and feel opposite of what is expected due to their asymmetries because they were ridden by very asymmetrical rider for a long period of time. Horses are living creatures and like trees that must grow around rock or other tree they adapt to constant pressure applied to them be it a stiff unyielding rein on one side or a rider's weight that is very uneven and forces the horse to step under the heavier side all the time.
Here are few things to pay attention to while bending the concave side of the horse:
  • Very often the concave side of horse's back is dropped down and the convex side is pushed up. The rider may not recognize it because it feels secure and stable during turns, the horse "helps" the rider to stay on inside of his back. However, that much unevenness in the back creates unevenness in the shoulders and hips. The horse drops on outside shoulder and steps too much across with his inside hind during a turn creating a leg-yield appearance.
  • Turning with concave side on inside very often creates a sense of hesitation and inertia in the horse. This is because more weight is on outside shoulder and it is not easy for the horse to lift it up and turn. Many riders try to fix it by pulling more on inside rein. This action allows the horse to lean more on outside shoulder as he feels support to lean from. You can experience it if you hold on to something with one of your hands and lean away from the prop. As long as you are holding firmly you can lean very confidently. The moment the prop gives in or you let go you fall.
  • Another tendency to pay attention to is horse's inside or concave side during turning has a tendency to shorten longitudinally and outside or convex side has a tendency to elongate and sort of "fall" away from the horse's center. The faster the horse is going the more this plays into dynamics of horse's balance. Riders must pay strict attention that their bodies feel these tendencies and then restrict the horse from falling apart by being aware of muscle tone in the outside and inside of their bodies, how square they are, where are their seatbones and if they are "plugged-in into the saddle well" (Mary Wanless).
  • The bottom line is "less is more". Riders must be very careful bending concave side of the horse. In the beginning of horse's riding career it is much more advisable to rather straighten and use less bend that required to teach the horse to stay balanced in his shoulders and learn to engage his inside hind properly. Using outside rein as indirect rein and bringing horse's shoulders in front of his haunches even if it happens to the expense of the bend is important stage in horse's education. When the horse learns to coordinate and balance his body during turns asking for correct bend will be easy. Otherwise, the horse will simply collapse to the inside not bend.
  • One more thing to remember is rider's own asymmetries. If the rider also collapses to the inside he/she will be exaggerating the problem and will have very hard time knowing why. The rider will not feel that his/her shoulders and hips are turned too much to the inside, the seatbones sliding outward, inside rein will become a prop to hold on to for the rider's balance and outside shoulder will be unstable and advance forward so much the rider has no means of using it to create a correct boundary with outside rein.
The exercises to work on to develop lighter shoulders, better bending and more engagement:
  • Riding circles with no bend or counter-flexion in all gaits. Making your circles into octagons
  • Leg-yield with the concave side leading. For example, if right side is concave, leg-yield more to the right
  • Counter-shoulder in, especially, on a circle
  • Renvers, on a straight and circle
  • Turns on the haunches with true and counter-flexion
  • Counter-canter
  • Changing from true flexion to counter-flexion on a straight line and circles
  • Changing from shoulder-in to renvers
  • Changing from counter-shoulder-in to travers
The exercises above are also very good to execute on the other rein. The difference in number of repetitions - doing more where it counts more, what to watch for during executions and also remembering that the horse can "switch" and start to give you problems you thought you don't have on this side. The horse is a living creature and it adapts to the pressures and demands put on him to the point of flipping his sides. Never forget that!
Plus, learn more about your own asymmetries as they always complicate the situation making you think you are riding two different horses on the left rein and on the right rein. If that sounds familiar do not blame it all on the horse. Look at yourself!
Happy riding...
Comment by Ruth on Sunday, March 16, 2014 05:44 PM
Wonderful article and so to the point. I can fully identify with the symptoms and recently realized that I allow my left (outside) side open and elongate while trying to "fix" the odd feel with too much inside rein and bend. At first "straight" feels too much to the left but when the outside long back muscle comes up - it's so telling! Thank you!
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