Unloading the Shoulder

I mentioned this last week, but now I’ll elaborate.

I was teaching the BFG and his owner/rider a month ago and they were struggling with right canter. No matter how well she set him up, or how correct the aids were, he kept throwing himself into left canter. The frustrating part was that on hacks he picked up right canter in preference to the left leg!

So I agreed to sit on, and immediately noticed how heavy he was on my left arm, even on the left rein. When I changed the rein I noticed the right hind leg was slightly weaker. During that ride I used left rein circles to balance the BFG before changing the rein and picking up right canter before he had a chance to throw himself into his left shoulder.

Conveniently I was booked in to school him the following week while his owner was away, so it was perfect timing as I could concentrate on overcoming his problem.

So the problem itself wasn’t that he didn’t understand right canter, it was that his right hind was lazy (he had knocked that stifle about two months ago but was fine now) and the BFG was compensating by loading his left shoulder and taking the weight off his weaker hind leg.

During my first schooling session I focused on cementing leg yield in his brain. We’d touched on it in lessons, but his understanding was a bit vague. Leg yielding from right to left would help strengthen his right hind as he had to bring it under and take more weight on it. Leg yielding left to right however, would teach him to unload the left shoulder and create a more even rein contact.

Once the BFG understood leg yield I used it to unload his left shoulder whilst working him in trot around the school. Even on circles, as soon as I felt him lean on the left rein my left leg pushed him off it. He began to understand fairly quickly so I introduced changes of rein with him staying balanced, and not throwing himself off balance. The right rein worked his inside hind a bit more, so I focused on ensuring that he stepped under with his right hind, instead of falling out of the shoulder so that the right hind didn’t take any weight. This meant he had to keep his body slightly straighter than he liked so that my outside rein was functioning.

We didn’t do too much canter in that session, and I got the right canter after a couple of tries; but each time he loaded his left shoulder I went back to leg yielding before trying again.

The next day I tried riding a few squares in my warm up, which had loads of leg yield in, to focus the BFG on the outside aids. He warmed up better than previously, with a longer frame and better balanced, so I also worked on staying straight during transitions, and pushing off his his hindquarters. I spent more time in canter today, doing lots of transitions, and working on him opening up the stride so it was more comfortable and active.

By the end of the week the BFG had forgotten about loading his shoulder, and was working much more consistently and evenly, with right canter strike offs. Even when he did get it wrong he stayed light in the left rein, which was a definite improvement.

Riding him helped me enormously, as well as helping his rider. We’d broken the right canter cycle; the BFG was straighter and better able to pick up right canter, so in the next lesson when he got it wrong we knew it was his rider overcooking the transition due to previous experiences. However, once she relaxed they got the canter easily. Additionally, teaching the BFG proper leg yield helped teach his rider it, and I could give her tips and pointers from my experience of him.

Unfortunately, the BFG has made a game out of picking up the wrong leg, so in today’s lesson when he decided he couldn’t possibly focus on the jump and right canter, I got my rider to make his life difficult. She confirmed that he wasn’t loading his left shoulder, and as you could see him start to pick up right canter and then change his mind, I knew he was being a teenager. So they rode a 10-15m circle, and when he picked up counter canter he had to struggle around the circle. However, as soon as he was on the correct lead he could go straight out of the circle.

If I hadn’t ridden him and suggested circling him like that we could have exacerbated the problem by straining his right hind leg which was weak. However, now we know that he is perfectly capable of right canter and much more balanced, we can be a little tougher with him when he gets difficult about it.

2 thoughts on “Unloading the Shoulder

  1. justjackandjess Sep 18, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    I have the same issue with my horse – favours right lead canter out hacking, but it’s a hell of a lot of effort to get it in the school! Will have a play around with some of your ideas, thanks.

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