Horse riding lesson: Horses that are tighter on one side
A year or two ago I rode a lovely little dark bay around 14hh at the Woodside Stables in Nottingham, England.
The horse was called Tara and she had a bouncy kind of side-to-side walk. She was very sensitive off the leg at first and just needed a touch on her girth, but as is to be expected with riding school horses, she tired after around 40 minutes of riding.
We started with working trot and kept a steady rhythm. We did a few circles and the instructor told me that Tara is much stiffer on the left rein.
The ‘left rein’ is horsey speak for when you are travelling to the left, in an anti-clockwise direction around the ménage.
It was difficult to get any inside bend on Tara’s neck as she turned her head to the right, the outside.
This caused her hind quarters to swing out. The teacher told me to ‘play’ – basically horsey speak again for gently pull and release - with the inside rein and apply pressure using my inside leg to correct Tara’s stiffness.
After we had done some turns across the school to change the rein I started working on keeping Tara’s head straight as she walked. She responded well to keeping the left rein a bit tighter and pushing her over towards the fence with my inside leg. Her body was very light which meant that I was able to keep her on the track. It was almost like doing a shoulder in to keep her head straight. She did also have the inside bend round the corners.
The only problem with tightening the left rein was that Tara did not like that rein contact and snatched at the bit and dropped her head a couple of times. I had to do it to straighten her neck though. Maybe if I could find a way to keep her head straight and get her to have inside bend on the left rein without pulling so much on the inside rein that would be better for her and the rider.
Towards the end, by pulling gently on the left reign while applying pressure with the inside leg, we were able to correct some of the stiffness in Tara’s left side.
My body position on Tara felt like too much of my weight was falling behind my vertical axis. This at the time was because my lower leg position moved forward as I attempted to correct Tara’s stiffness.
It was also important to remember to keep weight centred over the horse, and allow her shoulders and hind quarters, which were already stiff, to move freely.
One of the things can contribute to the stiffness that a horse is feeling, can be stiffness in the rider’s body. This might be caused by tension, or postural problems from life outside riding, such as driving or working at computers for long periods.
A relaxed body in the correct position is essential to allow horses that are already stiff to move as freely as possible. From there, the reins and legs can be used to flex the horse’s body in the direction of the stiffness.