“My horse hangs on my left rein and refuses to bend. Help please!”
My horse bends easily to the right but refuses to bend left! All her weight leans on the left rein and the left side of her body is like a plank – she just won’t bend around my leg. I’ve tried dropping the contact and kicking her off my left leg but it just makes her worse. I’d love to try some Preliminary dressage this year but not while she’s like this. Any tips?
A horse stiffens because it can feel tension from the rider, so your horse is tightening up because she can feel stiffness in your arm and body. Imagine someone putting solid pressure on your ribs on one side – you’d tighten up that side to try to reduce the pressure – which is what she’s doing by hanging onto your rein and tensing her body on the left.
Rather than focusing on bending her to the left, the first thing you need to do is get her balanced and even in your hand and between both legs. Instead of thinking she’s heavy in your left rein think about the fact that you have no weight in your right.
Start in walk; riding straight lines down the long sides, the centre line and the ¾ lines. Concentrate on keeping her head and neck straight in front of her shoulders and pushing her body up behind them with equal pressure from both legs. Move into trot and canter once you really feel you have her straight. There’s a great post on straightness here.
You need to be consistent in the way you ride so she starts to relax and trust that the pressure won’t come back – that way she’ll begin to soften in your hand and in her sides. Your contact needs to be constant but not tight. Check out this post for more details on that – there’s a simple way to make sure you don’t fix your hands. Another thing to try is riding with your left rein through your hand upside down – so the buckle end of the rein comes out through your little finger (not under your thumb). This stops you tightening your hand against her by mistake.
It’s very easy; when your horse is heavy in one hand; to start ‘dropping’ the contact on that side to try to relieve the pressure and stop your horse hanging on but all that will actually do is make her more tense because she’ll be worrying about you taking back the contact. Make sure you keep the contact on both reins, tapping your fingers against your palms (as if you’re texting) to stop yourself hanging on to the rein.
When you turn your horse or ride a curve use your body to show her how you want her to bend. Turn your shoulders and your hips to the line you want her to take and; once she’s more even in her body; she’ll mirror your body with hers and bend. When she does start to bend to the inside you must make sure you still have even pressure on both reins – never think you should have less in your inside – you need pressure in both to keep her shoulders together.
Remember that; whilst your hands are controlling your horse’s shoulders; your legs are controlling her quarters. You need to push with both legs so both her hind legs step up under her body and stay directly behind her shoulders – if one leg is stronger that hind leg will step up further than the other and she’ll be crooked.
Check out this post which explains how riders can unintentionally become one sided and affect their horse – it’s easily done.
I hope some of this helps and that your horse agrees with me! Best of luck and enjoy your schooling.