The aim of every rider should be to have their horse confident and relaxed and moving forward with straightness. This doesn’t mean that your horse moves in a straight line. Neither does it mean that your horse keeps his body straight.
Straightness means that your horse is relaxed and confident and moving forward with an even bend through his body – from his nose to his tail- in the same arc as the circle that you’re riding. Straightness also means that your horse’s back legs follow in the same track as his front legs.
As a general rule, whenever your horse’s back legs are on a different track to his front legs, your horse isn’t straight. The exception of course, is when you ask for a shoulder-in or some other specific exercise. However, if your horse drifts his hindquarter out of the circle or drops his shoulder and cuts in on the circle, he’s not straight.
When your horse moves forward with relaxation and straightness, he’ll concentrate wholly and solely on what you ask him to do. Your horse will be so busy trying to work out what you want, that he won’t even think about shying or resisting or running back to the barn.
If your horse isn’t straight, chances are he’ll resist and move sideways and jog when you ask him to move from walk to trot. If your horse isn’t straight and you ask him to move from trot to canter, chances are he’ll canter on the incorrect lead.
Next time you see someone riding, watch and see if their horse is straight. If the horse’s back legs move in a slightly larger circle than his front legs, then he’s not straight. If the rider keeps the horse on the circle by pulling the horse’s head to the outside, then the horse isn’t straight. If the horse moves on the circle without any bend, then he’s not straight. If the horse drops his shoulder and cuts in on the circle, then he’s not straight.
You must concentrate on your horse’s straightness every step of the way, every time you ride. Even when you walk down the trail on a loose rein, you should still make sure that your horse moves exactly where you ask, exactly how you ask.
Performing a canter strike-off, a shoulder-in or any other movement will be easy when your horse is straight in the walk, trot and canter. If your horse doesn’t move with straightness, it’s pointless to ask for more advanced movements.
You must concentrate on teaching every horse to move forward with relaxation and straightness. It doesn’t matter if your horse has been ridden for twenty years or if it’s the first time with a rider on his back.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.