I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it's true. Your horse's crookedness is all about you.
It's just that the more I know, the more I watch riders, and the more I ride horses, I can see that what "they" say is really true.
"They" say it's always about the rider. "They" say that the horse is the mirror of the rider, and it can only do as much as the rider can.
Of course, this means that everything the rider can or cannot do is reflected by the horse. Everything from tension, attitude, and yes... crookedness. Even for the long term.
In a way though, this is good news.
Because if the main problem starts with you, then you have the power to change yourself, right?
The tough part, of course, is to make the change happen. But with perseverance and effort, it can be done.
What does it take to actually change your "way of going?"
First of all, we need to identify what it is that allows us to keep doing what we're doing. How is it possible that we're so strong on one side, and so soft on the other, and how can we change it?
Obstacles That Keep Us "Blind"
There's a few reasons why changing the body's muscle memory can be so difficult.
- Muscle memory is difficult to change - you just don't feel or notice your crookedness. The body is so very good at duplicating old movements that once we've established the "neural pathways," we no longer feel what we're doing. This can be the case for the large, complex movements that we have to do as riders, such as inside-leg-at-the-girth-outside-leg-behind-the-girth-inside-rein open-outside-rein-neck rein... sounds pretty complicated when it's all written out!
- Unconscious movements: It can also be the case for those deep-in-the-pelvis core movements that you can't even feel - until they're sore later! In fact, these movements are the most difficult to change exactly because we don't have the same kind of intentional access to them. I mean, balance is balance. A baby learning to walk doesn't sit around and contemplate the many tiny muscle contractions and releases it will take to make that first walk step. The same goes for us in the saddle.
- Your horse's kind compliance can also be a factor. Horses often do what you want, as crooked as necessary, despite the discomfort or difficulties that may cause them. In my experience, horses work through the crookedness or lack of balance as much as they possibly can. So while you may notice signs of discomfort, it takes quite a lot of sensitivity and "listening" to know what the horse is saying.
The Good News
It might take a lot more effort than you think you should put into something you already "know", but at least, if you do make these changes consistently, you're sure to see results in the long run.
How? You can go through this mental checklist the next time you ride. Start with understanding the ideas and see if you can make the physical changes you need in order to become a straighter rider.
Feel For Straightness
- Can you tell if you're sitting on both seat bones evenly?
- Are your shoulders (and belly button area) pointing straight ahead?
- Are you looking through your horse's ears?
- Do you have even contact on the reins?
- Are your hands close to each other and parallel (one is not ahead of the other)?
- Do you have even (fairly light) weight in your stirrups?
- Are you pointing your whole body straight ahead?
Feel For The Turn
- Are you on your inside seat bone?
- Is your belly button (and therefore entire upper body) turned into the circle (or turn)?
- Are your shoulders pointing to the arc of the circle?
- Are your hands moved slightly in the direction of the turn, creating a slight open rein on the inside, and a neck rein on the outside? Are they STILL even and parallel to each other?
- Do you have your inside leg on the horse at the girth?
- Is your outside leg slightly behind the girth?
Of course, there's so much more to developing straightness. Once you have a handle on these basics, you will need to become friends with the more complicated lateral movements beginning with leg yields and moving on to shoulder-in, travers (haunches-in) and renvers (haunches-out). You'll need to know how to align the horse's shoulders and rib cage with your aids. If you're not straight for those movements, you will surely realize it because your horse will have difficulty doing them.
A knowledgeable eye on the ground will help a lot because she can let you know if you're on the right track as you ride. You can make adjustments based on the person's input and learn what the new "feel" feels like.
Videos help a LOT! See if you can get a friend to video you from good angles (ones that can show your body position clearly) and then watch it over and over again.
Mirrors are even better! I know most of us don't have mirrors but there really is no better way to get instant feedback than riding in an arena with mirrors. What you see can easily be changed and you can learn to rely more on your visual feedback and literally see what straightness feels like.
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