Many of us have chosen to pursue dressage training because it is mentally stimulating; dressage theory explains how we can positively influence our horses through correct riding. It is important to take time outside of our time in the saddle to consider what we are trying to achieve. Towards this end, here is some food for thought and exercises you can try with your horse to help achieve this riding goal. According to the dressage-training pyramid, straightness should be a focus of your horse’s training after you have mastered the lower levels of the pyramid to some degree. If your program has developed your horse’s rhythm, relaxation, connection, and impulsion, it will be easier to attain proper alignment and balance. But, at all levels, awareness of your horse’s straightness and natural crookedness will help you to achieve better basics.
I often hear from riders that their horse is heavy on the left or right rein. This uneven contact in the reins is usually a result of the horse’s natural crookedness, the fact that they use one side of their body differently then the other side. Whether the horse is strong or weak on a certain hind leg or stiff on one shoulder, you can improve your horse’s sidedness at all levels through training exercises. As with all dressage training, the goal of these exercises is to improve the horse’s balance and symmetry thereby making the horse a better athlete and easier to ride. So, no, it doesn’t help to pull harder on the left rein although we have all tried it!
Here are some exercises you can practice. The most basics exercises to address your horse’s alignment can be practiced at all levels from training through grand prix.
• First, ride a straight line down the quarter line of the arena. Try to feel where your horse’s balance and weight goes. For example, do the shoulders fall right while the horse continues to hold his head to the left? Does your horse drift to one direction or the other? Practice this straight line several times in both directions until you can stay on quarter line without too much adjusting. According to your horse’s level of training, small adjustments with your leg, seat, and reins can be made to help the horse travel on the straight line. Remember to allow the horse to go straight after each adjustment.
• As another exercise, practice riding 10 and 20 meter circles with the same principle in mind. In this case, your horse should be bent uniformly along the body in order to adhere to the curve of the circle that you are riding. Take note whether your horse falls in or out. Does your horse bend on the circle to the right or to the left more easily?
• Lastly, try to assess your horse’s alignment while riding shoulder-in down the long side of the arena in both directions. If your horse is ready for this exercise, you will learn a great deal more about their ability to engage and collect on each side. The horse’s ability or lack thereof to perform symmetrical left and right shoulder-in movements allows the rider to get a deeper prospective on the horses alignment. Making the same adjustments to your leg, seat, and rein aids to adjust the balance during the movements can help horse and rider fine tune alignment.
About Jacyln Sicoli -
Jaclyn has experienced "equestrianism" as a past-time and reason for living since age 10. After studying Biochemistry and a test run in pharmaceuticals, Jaclyn chose dressage training as her full-time career. Jaclyn's horses and students in training are near and dear to her heart, keeping life at a steady sprint from event to event. Jaclyn is an avid competitor, judge, and coach. Having achieved her USDF Bronze, Silver, and a few scores of Gold Medals, she is also a USDF "L" Graduate with Distinction and is helping her students earn their own medals, one slow dressage step at a time. Jaclyn and her husband, Luke, are happily settled in Frederick, MD at Peace of Mind Dressage with one amazing mutt and three well-bred horses.