It’s the ultimate aim of all of us; to have a straight, symmetrical horse so that we can ace those centre lines, and not have a weaker rein to throw away marks.
Which means that we spend heaps of time and money into physios, chiropractors, osteopaths and the like. Treating our horses, that is.
But how many of you get yourself treated at the same time your horse is treated? It’s logical really; that if your horse is crooked they will send you out of alignment, and if you’re crooked you will misalign your horse. Like a vicious cycle, it needs breaking.
Frequent checks to monitor both of your crookedness, or straightness, will enable you to treat one or both of you as soon as an issue appears, and before a problem occurs. I always think that riders should consider their own bodies when treating their horse, even if it’s just a sports massage to release the tension carried in the shoulders.
There are other ways to monitor your straightness, as well as your horse’s so you can notice immediately if there’s a change. Firstly, you can use arena mirrors whilst riding to check you are both level and straight. Or a person in the arena, instructor or otherwise, to assess levelness. Then you can check your stirrup length regularly – don’t just assume that because both stirrups are on hole number eight that they are level. Stirrup leathers stretch! It may be that you need to swap your leathers over on the saddle. I know a lot of people mount from a mounting block so don’t think they put as much pressure on the left stirrup leather, so won’t stretch it. However, if you carry more weight in your right leg, or sit to the right, you put more pressure on that stirrup leather so will stretch it regardless of how you mounted.
Working evenly on both reins will help prevent either of you becoming one-sided, after all everybody favours one side of their body, and only by trying to be ambidextrous can you prevent the muscles on your dominant side becoming too strong. I personally have found Pilates really helpful for teaching me proprioception. That is, the awareness of where each part of my body is and the amount of work it is doing, or not doing as the case may be!
Has anyone seen those jackets with lots of horizontal and vertical lines on? They aren’t for fashion, but are a really good tool for identifying collapsed hips, dropped shoulders, and many other asymmetries. I always like teaching riders who wear stripey tops because it helps me identify their weak areas. Also, if they see a photo or video they will better understand your corrections.
You can study your horse to see if they are tending to put more pressure on one side of their body than the other. Do they rest one leg, dropping that hip, more than the other? Does the saddle sit square on their back or is it twisted? Does it shift as you’re riding? Does one side of the saddle panels seem flatter, or squashed, than the other? Does your horse have more sweat on one side of his barrel than the other, does it indicate there may be a pressure point from the saddle? Does he find carrot stretches on one side easier than the other?
A lot of physios will ask when the saddle was last checked, or recommend it is rechecked if the horse is significantly misaligned or has uneven muscle to try to prevent them losing this new straightness and to help them balance out the muscle.
So next time you think, or moan, about your horse being crooked, have a think about yourself to make sure you aren’t causing, or won’t cause, the issue to reoccur after your horse has been treated. After all, a pain-free horse who is straight will work better for you, perform better, and have a lower risk of injury.