The more I try to ride my horse straight the worse he gets – please help!
“I’ve just got a horse on loan and either his shoulders are out or his quarters are in – I’m not sure which – but the harder I try to correct him the worse he seems to be. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!”
You’re right to be bothered about his straightness – without it no horse can do its best. I’ve done a lot of posts on straightness that I’ll put links to further down. Until he’s straight you can’t move on to anything else because the crookedness will affect his balance and his ability to push himself forward. There are loads of different ways to tackle it that should keep you both occupied. Here are the basics of what all my posts aim towards –
When you’re riding him – in the school or out – stay focused on the fact that your hands ‘point’ the way in which you want his shoulders to go. If they’re together and level his shoulders will have to stay together and keep heading in the right direction.
Make sure his head and neck are straight in front of shoulders (keep your contact equal on both reins while you’re working on this) and ‘all’ you need to do is keep his quarters up behind them.
Your leg pressure controls his quarters – if it’s the same on both sides you’ll keep both hindlegs moving forward under his body equally which will help him to stay straight.
Make sure your legs are in the same place on both sides too – if one is further back you’ll be pushing his quarters over without meaning to. That’s important after a canter transition too – always move your outside leg back as soon as he’s in canter, make sure it doesn’t stay back.
Your body weight – and the position of your body influences his hips. If you drop to one side he’ll drop the hip on the same side; if one hip is higher than the other his quarters will swing to the lower side.
To make sure you’re sitting straight check that the distance between your lowest rib and the top of each hip is the same on both sides – sometimes you think you’re sitting straight because your shoulders look or feel level but it’s what’s happening lower down that actually influences your horse. Imagine he’s copying everything you do with your body so if the distance between your left rib and left hip is shorter than on the right he’ll do the same and his body will be ‘scrunched’ on the left – meaning his quarters will twist to the left.
Always work in walk for longer than you think to make sure he’s straight before you trot away. Time spent in walk is invaluable, get things absolutely right before you trot – even in your warm up. Don’t think it’s OK to warm up crooked because you’re going to work on it from now on. If you need to spend a whole session in walk then that’s so much better than spoiling everything by allowing him to go crooked – that’s just going to confuse him.
You may be doing things that aren’t helping his straightness but there’s a strong chance he’s been going crooked for years so take your time and his muscles will even out. Use both reins equally to work the muscles on both sides of his body. The stronger he gets the easier he’ll be to correct and ride forward.
Best of luck!