Tips from Trainers Who Teach
Katherine BatesonChandler shares exercises to help you align your horse for improved straightness
Lack of straightness is one of the most important issues I address with my students, whether they are professional or amateur riders. Straightness is an evenness between right and left. It not only applies when riding on straight lines, but on bending lines and in lateral work as well. Our job as dressage riders and trainers is always to make the horse as equal laterally as we possibly can.
Naturally, the horse is crooked and wants to carry the haunches to one side while on the other side he is stiffer to bend. In my experience, horses are stiffer to the right because we do all the training from the left side since they are babies. These horses go best to the left most of the time and might be stronger in your hand on the right rein than on the left.
The biggest benefit of riding your horse straight is that it promotes his health. If the horse is crooked, riding could cause uneven wear and tear on his legs. This can create lameness issues for the horse because he is always bearing more weight on one leg than another. Also, in competition the first movement you do in any test is to go down the centerline and the judge can see your straightness directly. If you go down the centerline with the haunches or shoulders off the line, right away you show the judge that you don’t have the horse straight, which is not a great first impression.
Everything in the test is set up symmetrically so during the test you must demonstrate the importance of straightness and evenness.
Stiff Versus Hollow
The stiff side is the side that is more difficult to bend. In the example I’ve offered, the horse is stiff to the right because he is harder to bend right. He is shorter through the whole left side of his body and it is hard for him to stretch it out on the outside of the bend. To the left, the haunches want to be more to the inside and the bend is easier. This is called the hollow side.
The Rider’s Role
You can think of the rider on the horse like a backpack on your back. If the rider is always leaning one way, the horse is always trying to put his weight under you like you would with an unevenly loaded backpack. Therefore, the rider’s evenness in the seat directly affects the straightness of the horse.
The best riders in the world sit square, straight and balanced on the horse. I like to remind my students that if you want the horse to be in selfcarriage, you must be in self-carriage. You should hold your own body weight balanced, without tipping one way or another, otherwise the horse will not be able to be straight.
Try Shoulder-fore, Shoulder-in and Haunches-in
The horse, by nature, is narrower in front than behind. You must narrow the haunches to make the horse truly straight. Start with the shoulder-fore, which is when the front legs track normally, the outside hind leg follows the outside front leg and the inside hind leg steps between the front legs. Practice riding shoulder-fore toward a mirror or toward someone who can tell you if the inside hind leg stays between the front legs. Then the horse is straight.
Once you have established shoulderfore, you can start working shoulder-in and haunches-in exercises.
Shoulder-in is an exercise of three tracks with bend, with the horse’s inside front leg on the inside track, the outside front leg in front of the inside hind leg and the outside hind leg on the track. To ride shoulder-in: s 4 HE INSIDE LEG ANDRE IN ASK FOR FLEXION
to the inside, but not a neck bend. s 4 HE INSIDE LEGS ENDS THE ENERGY DOWN
she outside rein controls the outside shoulders from overbending. shoulder in and to keep the bring the point the horse of the shoulder-in is to develop an outside rein that can control the shoulder. she outside leg is back and passive
the haunches-in is a three-track exercise with the inside hind leg on the inside track, the inside front leg in front of the outside hind leg and the outside front leg on the track. to ride the haunches-in: she outside leg is back to bring the
haunches to the inside. s he inside leg and rein ask for flexion
but, again, not neck bend. she outside rein keeps the shoulders
traveling straight down the track. she inside leg on the girth keeps the bend in the barrel.
Start at the walk with the shoulderin and haunches-in. Make sure you have control of both the shoulders and haunches and can position them where you want them and not where the horse wants to position them. Then try it from a quality collected trot or collected canter, but understand that the horse cannot perform shoulder-in in the canter, only shoulder-fore and haunches-in.
Work first on a big circle to make sure you can keep the positioning of the movement with the horse upright and not leaning to the inside like a motorcycle turning. From the circle, try the movement on the long side, making sure you can keep that body control. The next goal is to have the movements working equally on both sides because naturally one side is more difficult for the horse.
Your job is to make the horse as even on both sides as possible, therefore improving his straightness. This will improve all aspects of your ride as well as your horse’s health and your competition scores.
Katherine Bateson-Chandler and Alcazar demonstrate the importance of straightness on the centerline at Aachen.