Published October 2016 in the 4th edition of TeenEquine Magazine www.teenequine.co.uk/magazine/#p=1
Does your horse:
These are common challenges and very often they come about because the horse is out of balance. They are all symptoms of natural asymmetry.
This is not a problem for the horse in nature. In fact having a strong preferred front leg and pushing back legs can be helpful when you need to move fast to get out of the way of predators. But when you add the weight of a rider the imbalance can cause pain, lameness and emotional problems.
If you are experiencing some of these challenges, learning to recognize and correct this imbalance will make a huge difference. Straightness Training can help by providing a logical and progressive system of exercises which will develop the horse symmetrically in body and limbs and straighten him.
The first step is to learn to recognize your horse’s natural asymmetry and to understand how it affects his movement.
Dimensions of natural asymmetry
The front legs, with their fragile bones are not designed for taking the weight of a rider. The back legs are much stronger with big muscles, heavy bones and joints that act like springs.
Just like humans horses are right or left handed in their front legs. The preferred leg is stronger and better co-ordinated and, if he is not taught to move in balance, the horse will tend to put more weight on the favored front leg. This can cause problems like navicular disease or sprain injuries.
To find out whether your horse is right or left handed in front, notice which leg he usually chooses to put the most weight on when he is at rest. When he is in the field grazing his preferred leg will probably be the leg that he points forwards the most frequently.
Another good test is:
A. If your horse places the left foot forward most of the time he is likely to be left-handed.
B. If your horse places the right foot forward most of the time he is likely to be right-handed.
C. If the outcome is 50-50 it could be that your horse has no preference and is ambidextrous.
Horses are also left or right handed in the hind legs. They will have one pushing hind leg and one carrying hind leg.
Did you ride a scooter as a child? Without thinking about it most people put the same foot on the scooter every time, and that is their carrying leg. Then they use the other leg, their pushing leg, to push back to make the scooter move forward.
The principal is the same for the horse. A strong carrying hind leg bends easily like a spring, steps under the horse and carries weight. A pushing hind leg is weaker and straighter and pushes backwards.
Pushing hind leg Carrying hind leg
The spine can bend to the left or to the right from the head to the tail.
From birth almost all horses either bend more easily to the left or to the right, and a horse can be right bent or left bent.
For a left bent horse:
Left bent horses tend to be right handed in front and right bent horses tend to be left handed in front.
A right handed left bent horse falls through the outside shoulder on a circle to the left and falls through the inside shoulder on a circle to the right.
Left bent, right handed
When I started training Moon he was very stiff in his body because he was strongly right handed and left bent. This meant that when I asked him to lower his head and neck forward down and bend to the right it was very difficult for him. A circle to the right was much more difficult than to the left because he wanted to fall on his right shoulder. He would rush and fall forward, getting faster and faster, and he would trip often. When I was able to control the point of mass and move it back and out of his right shoulder he was able to bend and carry himself in balance.
Moon on the more difficult right rein. Left bent and right handed and falling in to me onto his favoured right shoulder. Notice the unhappy facial expression and hollow back.
Moon’s natural asymmetry causes him to lean to the inside of the circle, like a motorbike, and to speed up. This is called vertical imbalance.
This is better. Here Moon bends around me on the circle. He steps under with his inside hind, his shoulder is more upright and he has a forward and down tendency of the head and neck.
Moon finds his balance with a little bit of collection in the trot.
Helping the horse with physical imbalance is vital but it is so important to also work on the mental, emotional and spiritual areas of imbalance. Very often correcting the physical imbalance will help with the mental and emotional areas but it can also work the other way around. With this in mind we must provide a tailor made solution for every horse.
In the next article I will talk about the exercises we can use to straighten the horse.
You can find out about the other dimensions of natural asymmetry and how to solve them on Marijke de Jong’s Straightness Training website at straightnesstraining.com.
Published 23 August 2016 by riderfitness.com.
As riders and trainers we should strive to be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually in balance.
A horse that is in balance physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually will be a willing partner. He will be comfortable to ride and there will be no fighting or struggling for control.
A trainer that is in balance in all four areas will be able to help the horse find balance, and a horse that is in balance will give confidence to a nervous rider and bring joy, health and harmony to the combination.
There is nowhere to hide emotionally with horses, they can read us instantly, and there is no faking it. Horses go where they find sincerity and authenticity and if we are in balance in all four areas we will be able to build a good relationship. The horse will be relaxed and self-confident in our company and will accept our leadership.
Horses are not naturally built to carry the weight of a rider.
A horse that is physically in balance will have learned to carry weight equally on all four limbs and will be able to bend and move equally to both sides. He will be able to perform all Straightness Training exercises equally on both reins and he will be developed symmetrically in body and limbs.
Here Whoopy has learned to move in balance and to turn on the circle. Whoopy is owned and trained by Carolin Moldenhauer, ST Instructor
The mental state of the horse can range from actively resistant to ignoring pressure, obedient, searching for a reward or release of pressure, to figuring out what we want and ultimately to being in synchronicity with us.
As trainers we need to bring the horse to a state of mind where he is ready and willing to learn, so that he knows there is something in it for him and that he enters the arena feeling good about himself and thinking ‘what am I going to learn today?’.
EmotionsThe emotional state of the horse will change when he carries his point of mass in his shoulders.
Moving unsupported around the trainer on the longe, with the point of mass on the inside shoulder will often cause unwanted behaviours ranging from simply an unhappy expression, with ears flat back, to quite extreme emotional responses, panicking, bucking and taking off.
The same will happen under saddle if the natural asymmetry of both horse and rider are not addressed.
Negative emotions in the horse can also be triggered by inconsistent training, too much pressure or badly timed aids, frustration, or anger from either the horse or the trainer.
SpiritThe spirit and dignity of the horse can so easily be lost when trainers don’t give the horse a voice. A horse that is constantly corrected for any small misdemeanour and not allowed any self-expression will eventually give up and shut down.
We need to be careful to preserve the spirit of the horse while giving him what he needs to grow in stature and self-confidence, to become a proud horse who enjoys his training.
Taking long breaks and spending time hanging out with your horse brings huge benefits to your relationship, it gives him time to process information and helps to preserve his dignity.
Horses will mirror the trainer’s emotional and mental state and they will also reflect our physical state, so it is important for us to be as healthy and fit as we can be.
Sports like tennis or golf will build up one side of the body more than the other, so are better combined with exercises that will help us develop in a symmetrical way. Pilates or yoga are ideal for core strength, flexibility and body awareness. Swimming, running, skipping or walking are also excellent. Martial arts like tai chi or aikido are a superb way of building core strength and fitness and they can also be hugely beneficial in teaching us to be grounded, an essential ability for a trainer.
Here Moon moves in balance, mirroring my energy and body language
Think first, act later. As the horse’s personal fitness trainer we should know the theory and have a clear inner picture and a well-thought out plan, so that we can go to the arena each day knowing exactly what we are going to teach our horse.
We need to be very grounded and to take care to offer the horse positive and empowering energy, thoughts and emotions.
Horses go where they find sincerity and authenticity so instead of constantly seeking approval, or worrying about the past or the future, we should learn to be in the present, to be true to our authentic self.
A mental state of growth and contribution to others, and not of achievement or significance, will give us meaning and fulfillment.
“One can have no greater mastery than mastery of oneself” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Find out more about all of these topics at Marijke de Jong’s Straightness Training website http://straightnesstraining.com.
Wendy Poore, Licensed Straightness Training Instructor with Marijke de Jong