Why Bother Straightening Your Horse?
“The horseman spends his entire life correcting this flaw through the perfection of his art.”
Jacques d’Auvergne (1729-1798) on correcting the horse’s natural crookedness
I’m sure you are all familiar with the concept of Straightness as one of the elements of the German FN Training Scale. Those of you who are rooted in the French tradition know it as one of Alexis L’Hotte’s three main training principles (Calm, Forward, Straight).
You have probably also run into its opposite - crookedness - as a tricky and quite pervasive issue. But has anybody explained to you what straightness is and why it is important? Why should you spend your entire equestrian life correcting the horse’s natural crookedness, as Jacques d’Auvergne wrote? Can’t we just go out and have fun on our horse?
Yes, we could just get on the horse and ride around without regard for straightness or balance. But the negative consequences of the horse’s crookedness would seriously diminish the amount of fun we would be able to have, not to mention the adverse effect that crookedness has on the horse’s soundness and wellbeing.
Why does crookedness have a negative effect on the horse’s performance, rideability, and health? It’s a little similar to a car whose chassis is bent after an accident or where the wheels are not aligned. If the misalignment is severe enough, the car will not steer well, it will veer in one direction, it will not hold it’s line of travel when you have to brake, and the tires will wear very unevenly.
On a crooked horse you can make very similar observations:
- He will make his turns smaller than intended towards his stiffer (convex) side and larger than intended towards his hollow (concave) side.
- He will tend to veer away from the line of travel towards the stiffer side.
- He will tend to stop crooked or with the hind leg of the stiffer side out behind.
- He will be difficult to bend towards the stiffer side.
- He may have trouble cantering on the stiffer side. He will find it difficult to sidestep with the hind leg on the hollow side.
- He will lean onto the rein of the stiffer side, while staying behind the rein of the hollow side.
- He will overload the legs of the stiffer side, making them susceptible to repetitive stress injuries like spavin, ring bone, and tendon injuries.
These are just some of the symptoms of crookedness that are caused by a misalignment of the horse’s feet. All these problems originate in the fact that hind leg of the so-called hollow side doesn’t step underneath the center of gravity, but travels next to the body, which means that it neither carries nor pushes the body mass effectively. This causes a chain reaction throughout the horse’s entire body.
One of the most serious consequences is that it overloads the diagonal shoulder, leading to a loss of balance, which leads to the horse using the rein of the stiffer side for support, and curving his spine permanently towards the hollow side. In other words, the horse carries too much weight on the forehand and on the so-called stiffer side of his body, which creates excessive wear and tear on the legs that have to carry more than their fair share of the burden.
Any imbalance also leads to muscle blockages in an attempt to prevent falling down. True relaxation and suppleness is only possible when the horse is balanced, and balance is not possible as long as the horse is crooked.
When the horse braces his muscles against the ground and against the rider in order not to fall down, his gaits will be uncomfortable to sit because the hind legs don’t flex and open their joints in an elastic manner. This creates tightness in the horse’s back and a roughness in the gait: the back won’t swing. It won’t take you with it into the movement.
The rein contact will not be light, steady, and even, when the horse is unbalanced. It will be significantly heavier or harder on one side than the other. On the stiffer side it will be difficult to get the horse to make contact with the outside rein.
When the horse’s hips and shoulders are not aligned properly on the line of travel, due to crookedness, the horse won’t be able to bend correctly, which has negative repercussions for his “throughness” (Durchlässigkeit), suppleness, rein contact, impulsion, and collection.
When only one hind leg steps underneath the center of gravity, the haunches will never be able to direct all their energy towards the center of gravity, which means that at best the horse will never develop his full impulsion and at worst he will get behind the aids.
Sucking back and hiding behind the aids often leads to shying and even dangerous behaviors like bucking, rearing, and bolting, which is why many of the old classical authors mention that crookedness opens the door for dangerous disobediences.
A crooked horse will not be able to develop real collection, either, because collection is not simply a slow trot or canter or a short-strided trot or canter. It is developed from straightness, balance, suppleness, and impulsion as prerequisites.
So when you look at the German Training Scale that consists of Rhythm, Relaxation, Rein Contact, Impulsion, Straightness, and Collection, you can see that four out of the six elements (Relaxation, Rein Contact, Impulsion, and Collection) are directly dependent on Straightness. And even the purity of the Rhythm can be compromised by a lack of straightness. A crooked horse can move so much out of rhythm that he actually appears lame.
It turns out that Straightness is the underpinning for all the other elements. It is in some ways the most basic part of the training scale which is why it should not be placed at the end, but rather at the very beginning, together with Rhythm. Straightness and Rhythm together enable the horse to find his lateral and longitudinal balance, which then allows the horse to relax, become “through” (durchlässig), find a light, steady, even rein contact, bend correctly, and to develop impulsion and collection.
These seem like pretty convincing reasons to me to study straightness and to try and improve it every day because the price you and your horse pay for crookedness is high, and the rewards of straightness are more than worth the time and effort.
p.s. The doors are open until Wednesday January 31, 2018 12:00 midnight CEST for our brand-new Straightness BETA course. What is a BETA course? What is this course about? How does it work? Click here for the details and get in on this course while you still can:
Answering Q's about our Straightness BETA course.
What is a BETA course? What is covered in this course? How does this work? What level of horse/rider is this for? And a bunch of other Questions are answered in this Q&A session. Click here to watch the video: