Photo Credit: J. Boesveld

I don't like to get too heebie-jeebie about anything to do with horses and riding, but in a way, if there's something you want to go overboard about, it's straightness.

Straightness is critical to everything that has to do with horses and riding, but really, it's mostly for the horses. Because when the horse isn't straight, he's crooked. Which generally happens all the time, and is often not recognized. If we don't recognize crookedness, how can we even begin to work on straightness?

Now, to be fair, riding truly straight is not as easy as it sounds or looks. There is so much that goes into being straight, that it's yet another one of those things that riders spend their entire lives on: achieving some success, then falling apart, then getting even better, then finding new problems as they get better, and then re-establishing what they had before... it's never-ending. And the better they get, the more there is to learn.

But that's what makes achieving skills such as straightness so great! There's so much to it, until there isn't!

So how is straightness powerful?

Well, that's it, really. Being straight is being powerful.

TSF Aussie

The energy "goes through" - the power from the hind end can be transmitted all the way to the front end. Crookedness takes the power away.

The weight is evenly balanced - so every limb carries equal(ish) weight. This helps to alleviate stress on any one part of the horse's body, whether it's the shoulders, back, hips, or particular feet.

The straighter the horse, the easier it is for him to reach underneath with the hind legs, which means easier to begin to work on collection.

The body is in alignment, which allows the horse to maintain better balance all around. He will have an easier time with responsiveness.

The straight horse will have an easier time with rhythm and tempo. Both become more deliberate, more intentional.

And suppleness. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the odd thing about straightness is that it helps with left to right flexion and bend. And suppleness helps with straightness.

I'm sure there are at least another hundred benefits to straightness! But I think you're probably getting my point already.

Straightness Checklist

The intention of this checklist is to give you some concrete, practical points to look for when you're actually at the barn and riding. Print it off and take it with you!

While you're working on straightness, these are things you're looking for. Again, there's much more to be said about the topic. This is only a place to begin.

 

Rider's Position

Weight is even on both seat bones

 

Shoulders straight (or parallel to the horse's shoulders) - no leaning or collapsing

 

Head looking in the direction of movement (through the horse's ears), chin level to the ground

 

Legs evenly draped around the horse

 

Tall upper body

 



 

Rider's Aids

Inside leg to support the inside shoulder from dropping in

 

Outside leg to support the horse's hips from falling out

 

Inside rein slightly open for flexion as needed

 

Outside neck rein or direct rein to keep the horse's outside shoulder "in the body" (no bulging or drifting)

 

Seat, leg and appropriate rein (inside or outside, but usually outside) used for half-halts

 

Horse

Impulsion from the hind end (use two legs for go!)

 

Rib cage straight (not bulging one side or the other)

 

Shoulders are aligned with the body (not bulging)

 

Neck is straight (not over bent in one direction)

 

Head is straight and looking in the direction of movement (no twisting, or one ear lower than the other)

 

Horse is stepping straight with each step (legs do not deviate off the line)

 

Horse's hind leg footsteps follow along the same line as the front leg footsteps

 

Well, I think this should be enough to get you started. Even if you can improve on one area over the next little while, it will help you along your straightness path. For example, maintain your position while keeping the horse step straight with each step. That should take a fair amount of dedication to start with!

Now there is one thing I haven't mentioned yet.

Straightness is not JUST about travelling in a straight line. So you can be straight on a circle. You can be straight on a bend. You can be straight in a movement, like leg yield or walk pirouette. You can even be straight on a half-pass, even while the horse is bent in the direction of movement while travelling diagonally across the ring.

This is because straightness is about the alignment of the horse's (and rider's) body. So even while the horse is bent into a direction, he has to maintain "straight" alignment through the hips, ribs, shoulder, neck and head. If he isn't straight, then he'll have a bulging shoulder, or rib cage, or hips swinging out.

And now you can see how straightness permeates pretty much everything we do with a horse, from the beginning levels all the way up. And the secret is that it's not always necessary to work on trying to straighten single parts of the horse's body. In fact, you want to develop the prerequisites of straightness: rhythm (and tempo), suppleness, connection (and contact), impulsion... all of the basics that are discussed in the dressage Pyramid of Training. The better you get at the basics, the quicker and easier  it will be for the horse to move correctly, and eventually, straight. 

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If you like this article, read more here:

Riding Straight Through the Turn

The Three Basic Rein Aids Explained

4 Steps To Better Movement

How to Fix Your Horse’s Crookedness

A Simple and Effective Horse Riding Warm Up (Exercise)

2 Comments

  1. I find it ironic that the truly hardest time to straighten your horse is on a straight line; that it is easier to straighten him on a curved line because you have the tools of the bend to help you.

  2. Hi Guys
    I have published the full schedule of events for the World Equestrian Games in Tryon starting next week.
    I have also included a few links where you can get all the TV times in the UK and USA, as well as a few websites that will be streaming most of the events.
    So it’s pretty much all you’ll need to keep up with the action. I hope that helps ease some of the FOMO
    Here is the link, it’s yours to use as you please
    http://clear-round.com/index.php/2018/08/25/weg-tryon-2018-schedule/
    Cheers
    Dave

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