Do You Swing Both Ways?

Posted by in bend, Blog, how to even up both sides, stiff on one rein, Stiffness, suppleness on Nov 19, 2011

Is your horse one sided? Most have a stiffer side. He may choose one canter lead over the other, have a diagonal that’s more comfortable or go round corners on one rein with his head stuck to the outside but whatever it is don’t be so quick to blame him!

Think about the way you’re sat in the chair right now. Are your legs crossed? Which leg is on top? Is it always that way? 9 times out of 10 you’ll do one rather than the other. That means one hip gets more exercise than the other. If you have a drink at the computer which side is it on? Do you find it more natural to turn to the left or the right to pick it up? How about if you go upstairs? Or climb over a fence. Which leg do you lead with? (Chances are it’s the one you’ve got on top if you’re sitting with your legs crossed!)

How about when you’re riding? Doyou find it easier to turn your body to the left or the right? One way is always easier. When you warm up which way do you go to start with? Left or right? Do you go back to that rein for your first canter? Given the choice would you turn left to a fence or right? These are little things but things that you can change to help your horse.

Make a conscious effort to change the way you do things. Cross your legs the other way, put your mug on the wrong side of the desk for a week and lead with your other leg when you run up thestairs. By doing that you’ll even out your body and help your horse to even out the way he uses his. 

When you’re out hacking you probably carry your whip between you and the traffic. Why wouldn’t you? The problem with that is your horse will naturally bend around that whip putting him in a permanent right bend. Is it any wonder he’s stiff to the left?

When you ride out try to carry your whip in the left hand when you’re off road. Use both diagonals too. It’s too easy to opt for the ‘good’ one but use the uncomfortable one often enough and you’ll find it hard to tell between the two. You don’t have to be on the bit to do these things. There’s no need for your horse to even realise you’re schooling him. Keep it simple and he’ll even out without knowing you’re trying.

How often do you see someone bending and flexing their horse one way and then the other? It’s OK if you really understand what you’re trying to achieve but if you’re doing it because you think it will ‘soften’ your horse’s stiff side you’re unfortunately wasting your time.

If your body was stiff to the right no amount of neck bending would loosen it up. You’d need to bend through your waist and stretch the muscles on the other side which aren’t used to working. So does your horse.

Don’t think you can get rid of your horse’s stiff side by working on that rein the whole time. Imagine if someone stood over you and made you write with the wrong hand. You may start off with good intentions but it would be hard work and uncomfortable – eventually your enthusiasm would dwindle. 

Think about how you’d feel if you had to write with the wrong hand and you’ll understand why your horse needs to be schooled in stages on the stiffer side. You can’t just turn his head in that direction and kick him through the stiffness. He can’t bend because he’s struggling not because he doesn’t want to! You have to gradually increase the bend you ask for bit by bit.

In the school use serpentines so you use both sides. On a three loop serpentine ride it so the first and last loops are on the easier rein when you start off. When you turn onto the middle loop keep your horse looking straight forward in his head and neck and concentrate on pushing his body out. The more he stretches the outside of his body the more supple his back will be. Bending his neck won’t do that.

Riding your horse straight is more beneficial than riding with an exceptional bend on one side and stiff and stilted on the other. Figures of eight using long diagonals are ideal. This way your focus is on keeping him straight across the school, asking for a slight bend round the half circle and then straightening him up again. When he’s balanced you’ll be able to stretch his body from your leg without tension.

The slower your pace the better for your horse on his stiff side too. Imagine having to write a sentence with the wrong hand at speed? By concentrating and writing slowly most people could at least write legibly. Your horse needs you to be understanding and patient.Little and often will win the day. Change your ways as much as you want him to change his and you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. Nov 19, 2011

    That makes so much sense Lorraine!

  2. Nov 19, 2011

    Thanks for addressing a very common concern. Although I still have my "stiff" side, I try to do everything (including the cup of tea) on both sides – that has become my way of life!

  3. Nov 21, 2011

    Thanks for leaving a comment – it's always nice to hear people understand what I've written! This is such a common problem – and hopefully there will be a few more horses out there who will even up because of this post 🙂 Lorraine

  4. Nov 30, 2011

    I had never really thought about a horse having a stiff side or his stride being off, I have always thought it was more my issues but I guess getting use to how you move together is a delicate business, like getting use to new equine clothing or boots, it may take some time to feel altogether natural but we shall get there. I will try to consider these pointers on my next outing.

  5. Dec 1, 2011

    I hope it helps Sarah. I've ridden some who were so one sided they felt lame on one diagonal!I'm a great believer in sorting us out first to help them. Good luck with it :)Lorraine

  6. Alice Apr 15, 2013

    Have just discovered your website and think it’s great!
    One of the ponies I often ride at my riding school is fairly young (I think 5) and has only become one of the ‘school horses’ (used on lessons a lot) in the past year. He definitely prefers the right rein- on the left rein he is harder to get into canter, falls in on circles and is less willing to bend. As I only ride him once/twice a week and in lessons I can’t school him myself, but do you have any advice on how to ride him effectively?
    I am definitely going to try and correct myself by moving my drink/ crossing legs as well!

    Thanks 🙂

    • Lorraine Apr 16, 2013

      Hi Alice – thanks for the nice comments! This pony’s problem is quite common – especially in a riding school situation where he won’t get a consistent level of schooling by one rider but all is not lost! The best thing you can do is start to ride him straight on his bad rein. Keep both reins the same – pressure and length. Keep his head looking straight in front of him so you keep both his shoulders together. That will stop him dropping a shoulder and falling in or out.
      When you ride a circle break the curve of it down into short straight lines between each tangent point (a circle at A has 4 points = A, X and two points on the track 10m from the end of the school, not K or F which riders often think because they are only 6m from the end of the school) Straight lines will keep him balanced from front to back and side to side. This not only helps you to control where he is going – it also helps him too. Contrary to popular belief ponies don’t fall in or out because they’re being naughty. They do it because they’re out of balance and the rider hasn’t got quite enough control of them.
      Make sure too that your legs are working as a pair. No point having a great even contact only to be pushing his back end forward but unevenly!
      I’m glad you liked the post on swinging both ways. You will notice a huge effect on every pony you ride if you keep it up. Remember ponies can only do what you tell them to do so the harder you work to improve yourself the better the result when you ride.
      Thanks for getting in touch and don’t hesitate to get back to me if something doesn’t make sense 🙂

      • Alice Apr 16, 2013

        Thank you so much for your quick reply! It’s nice to have such specific advice. Will try this out next time I ride him and hopefully things will be easier for him and me.

        • Lorraine Apr 17, 2013

          I hope so Alice – let me know how you get on 🙂


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