Schooling out of the arena. Straightness.

Schooling on a hack.


Due to having no schooling arena at home, I do a lot of the schooling of my horse, Charlie, on roads and tracks. Recently, I have been working on his straightness;
Keeping my intentions really clear to where he is walking, focusing on whether Charlie's shoulders and long back muscles are equal and balanced.

Notice how straight is your horse when you are out hacking;
Does your horse continuously drift across to the right hand side of the road? Or hug the hedge?
Often in our efforts to keep them to the left side of the road, away from the traffic, it is easy to push the left shoulder over to far to the left, therefore the horse learns that this is what we want and before you know it when in the arena, your horse is falling in on a left circle and bulging out through his left shoulder on a right circle!

Encouraging your horse to stay straight means that he is going to be more balanced, this will enable you to gain more marks in the dressage arena and help him jump more successfully.
If your horse is continuously crooked, it is going to cause more wear and tear on his body. Helping him/her to straight should allow him stay sounder for longer.

When traffic is passing, the main priority is to be able to keep the horse to the side of the road and safe from the traffic. Being in control of your horses straightness can help this.
If you are lucky enough to ride on traffic free roads and tracks, this is the time to notice how straight your horse is through his neck, shoulders and back, as being aware of this is the first step to improving things.

If you imagine your horse as a stuffed toy, would the horse have equal stuffing in the left and the right shoulders or would one of the shoulders have more stuffing?

Are his nose and withers travelling along the same line? Or is his neck and head bent one way and his withers the other side?

Notice how the horses back feels under your seat bones; do you feel like you have more to sit on one side? Some horses give you the feeling that on one side the long back muscle seems like a flat shelf, with plenty to sit on and the other side drops away like a slope or slide, sometimes taking the saddle and rider with down the slide!
Unlike we humans, the horse does not have a collar bone to stabilise the rib cage. It is held in place by soft tissue. The rib cage very subtly swings either way when the horse turns or bends his neck, helping the horse to turn quickly when loose. However when carrying a rider, the horse has to learn to use his core muscles to stabilise the thoracic girdle, allowing more straightness and balance through his body. Unless the horse can stabilise his thoracic girdle, when being ridden, it is going to be very hard for him to balance through his shoulders.

When in a quiet place on your ride, ask your horse to halt; does he stay straight through his neck and shoulders, parallel to the fence you are riding beside?
As you walk forwards again notice how he moves onwards, is it directly forwards or does he wobble or step his fore legs slightly sideways on the first few steps?

How straight is he in the transitions from walk to trot and trot to walk?

Imagine that you are riding down a corridor, keep your focus and intentions clear about where you wish your horse to go. If you are schooling on a traffic free track or an open field, aim to ride directly for a certain marker; this could be a tuft of grass, a different coloured stone, perhaps a pole or other marker directly ahead of you.

If you are concerned about your horses straightness, ask your riding coach, or a body worker to check your horse. Remember too that none of us riders are totally symmetrical, so you may need to check your asymmetry, possibly get a body worker/coach to check your straightness too!

Most importantly when ever you are out hacking remember safety first, be aware of all other road/track users and be courteous.

Happy schooling.