Challenges of riding a crooked horse
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, May 17, 2021 07:07 PM
All horses are inherently crooked. Their left and right sides are different. The so called "stiff" side of the horse is the one that does not have a mane. It is also convex one. The other names for it are heavy, strong, pushing and leaning side. The opposite side is hollow, weak, soft, unstable, cannot push.
70% of horses have their left side as stiff, their mane falls to the right, they lean on the left shoulder, hard to bend left and push more with left hind. In other 30% these signs are reversed.
For the rider's education it is very important to ride horses of both types. Even better to ride these horses one after another and alternate which one is first on daily basis. Observing your reactions and horse's responses can be an eye opening experience!
The Seat:
Sitting level and centered on a crooked horse is very challenging. Horse's stiff side usually pushes a rider over to the hollow side which falls away from the rider's seat and leg. A rider will falsely think he/she sits heavy on the stiff side and instinctively "look for" the hollow side. This leads to the rider's seat being shifted across the saddle toward hollow side even more and being dropped down on the hollow side. Hips/seatbones are not level and not centered any longer. A horse's tendency to lean into turns with a stiff side exacerbates the problem inviting the rider to lean further toward hollow side in attempt to "pick up" the horse. Going other way feels much better because not only the horse's body follows the curve better but also because the rider is sitting more into hollow side which is inside at that moment making the rider more secure and stable into the turn. Always look for an even feeling in your own body instead of simply trying to sit with even weight in your seatbones. If your horse's back is not level you will end up crooked.
Rein aids:
Many riders fall victim of the horse's crookedness when it comes to rein aids. They will pull more a rein on the stiff side and fail to create consistent contact on the soft side. Even though the goal is to teach a horse to stretch evenly into the reins and it has to happen from back to front the rider must provide a horse with a "frame" to work with. This is not the frame of a horse but frame of the reins. The horse's frame will develop if it is ridden forward into the frame of the reins. Loose, unstable, ringing reins will not help a horse to understand contact. Being able to recognize that a horse avoiding the contact on one side and leaning on the other is very important.
When a horse wants to lean, a rider "wants" to hold and very often the rein on stiff side will end up pushed against the neck or even worse across it. This gives the horse all the means to lean on it. When stiff side is outside it is a lesser problem even though the horse is not supposed to lean into outside rein. However, when stiff side is on inside the rein pushed against the neck will fail to flex the poll or bend the neck. The rein on the stiff side must never be pushed into the neck regardless of the direction!
On the hollow side that doesn't want to take contact and neck often is curved by itself the rider is afraid to take contact because it feels like the horse is collapsing instead of taking the contact. The rider must initiate contact provided he/she is riding the horse forward from the leg and framing it with BOTH reins.
Leg aids:
When it comes to lower legs position, horse's asymmetry creates a challenge by making a rider feel that on one side the leg does not feel enough of the horse, sits in a niche. On the other side side the leg is pushed away by the horse, unstable, cannot find it's place.
The first situation invites the rider to push the leg down in order to find the horse which may be counter productive making the horse drop even more. Or, the rider does not use the leg enough and does not engage horse's hind leg, regardless of the direction/bend. The rider must use the leg on the hollow side to invite the horse to "fill" the side up and step under himself!
The leg on the stiff side often slides backwards, grips, or swings back and forth. Coupled with the rider's seat being slightly off toward the soft side it makes it super challenging to use the leg correctly and effectively. Shifting the seat over to become centered is the first step, then making sure to use the leg near the girth instead of back. The rider must not be tempted to grip and hold, Keeping the leg "alive" will prevent the horse from leaning on it. A spur or a whip in this situation can be very helpful to get his attention.
Remember: if horse's or your own actions change your dynamic frame for worse without you knowing (leaning, stiffening, twisting, changing leg/hand position, etc) it is you who got half halted, not the horse!
When it comes to horses no rule is written in stone! LOL Above situations are common, however, horses are very adaptive creatures and riders are also crooked, so between all these variations things can reverse or be more complicated then described in this blog. Learn to observe your own and your horse's tendencies, reactions and habits.
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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