Does your horse have a tendency to drift out through one or both of it’s shoulders?
This is such a common problem so please know that you are not alone. It can also show itself at the higher levels of training so maintaining your horse’s straightness is always on the agenda for training.
If you have been encountering some issues with losing the shoulders, then keep on reading as this blog post is packed with tips and exercises to help you improve your horse’s straightness.
Tip #1: Forwardness
One of the most common causes of a lack of straightness, is a lack of forwardness. As a result, you should ensure that your horse is off your leg. They should accept your leg, yet still yield / move away from it in a timely manner. (There are many ways to get your horse off your leg and often, it is a case of trial and error as to which works best for your horse – maybe this topic is worthy of a blog post on its own?!)
Tip #2: The Outside Aids
Make sure you are turning the horse using your outside aids. Many people overuse the inside rein to turn their horse and thus create too much inside bend. As a result, the horse’s shoulder is allowed to fall out to the outside. You should practice turning your horse using your outside leg and outside rein only. When you have established this, you will feel like you can come through a turn “straighter” and in better balance for what lies ahead i.e. a jump, an extended trot, whatever the case may be.
Tip #3: Move away from the Circles
Instead of riding circles where it is easier for a horse to subtly drift out through the shoulder, practice riding a square or a diamond (slightly more difficult). By adding straight lines and turns, rather than bends, it will help you identify the difference between the two and become more aware of any drifting.
Tip #4: YOU be the Rails
Practice riding 1m in from the track. Horses will often use the fence / boards as a handrail and quickly learn to “lean” on them for balance. They should be relying on the rider’s leg for this support and riding on the second track is a good way of ensuring that you have the horse on “railways lines”.
Tip #5: Shoulder-Fore
Shoulder-fore position is similar to that of a Shoulder-In but the angle is not as steep. Shoulder-Fore position ensures that the horse is carrying their weight over their inside hind leg and thus has hind end engagement. Unlike Shoulder-In, Shoulder-Fore is not a movement in itself – it is more of a consistent positioning of the shoulders which you should practice during all other movements.
Tip #6: Counter Flexion
Counter flexion is the flexion of the horse’s poll away from the direction it is going. The use of the counter flexion is a great supplying exercise and as you all know, a straight horse needs to be a supple horse. Whichever side to which your horse is flexed, you subsequently have more control over that shoulder. For example, you are riding a trot to halt transition and your horse is consistently stepping to one side and halting crooked at the last second. Whichever side that they are stepping to, if you have them flexed to that side, you will then have more control over their shoulder and be better able to control / maintain straightness. Counter Flexion is one of those micro-movements which I recommend be used little (as in briefly) and often as a maintenance tool.
Tip #7: Counter Canter
Tip #8: Assess Rider Asymmetry
Imagine having to run around an arena with an unevenly loaded wheelbarrow… Well that might give you an idea what a horse may feel like when carrying a rider which is harboring their own straightness issues! As horse owners, I know we strive to give our horses the best of everything and that should apply to us, the riders, too! Sometimes in order to help our horses, we need to help ourselves. Below are a few things that I do to help my strength and fitness OFF the horse. These are things that are intentionally quick on time but very effective and I have personally felt the benefits.
- I use the Activate Your Seat Bungie and program developed my Maeve Sheridan. Very quick and effective and specifically targeted for riders. Here is a TOP TIP from Maeve about how to test your straightness on the horse “A good trick for riders to check their straightness, is to turn down the centre line at walk, get straight, close their eyes and try to walk 15/20m in a straight line. Always interesting to see where you end up!! Obviously, this should only be done if it is safe to do so!! “
2. Pilates / Physio – I also work with Louise from Ready to Ride Physio who does online Pilates and Training Classes specifically targeted towards riders and their common issues and I have found them very beneficial with plenty of variety.
3. Walking / Running – this coincides with me walking my dog. It’s good cardio but what I make a conscious effort to do, is to be mindful of my posture while walking / running. No looking at the ground, keeping my head up, shoulders back, swing arms evenly, move hips evenly and what I find is the most beneficial, is to engage the core – this definitely keeps me going for longer.
Tip #9: Practice. Practice. Practice.
Not one of these tips or exercises will work entirely on their own. Some days you will use a mixture of two or three and other days you will have to try something else. And never be afraid to take a step back and analyze the situation. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes with horses, their training takes time and lots of repetition.
It is important to remember where you and your horse are with your level of training as it is a very personal journey. There is no “one rule fits all” and always seek advice and guidance from a qualified coach.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post and that you have learned or have been reminded of some helpful bits.
Sharing with your friends or on social media is always appreciated but don’t forget to tag me, sarahelebert_eventing or Equicoach_Online so I can thank you!
Best of Luck,