I always think the best riders are those who are ambidextrous, and can use one side of their body as well as the other side. After all, the penultimate stage on the scales of training is straightness, so if a rider isn’t straight then they’ll never be able to apply the correct balance of aids to create a straight horse, which means that collection remains tantalising out of reach.
I often wonder if you ran some tests on professional top level riders, if you’d find a high degree of ambidextrousness. Perhaps some uni students would like to take up the challenge.
Ask yourselves a question. Do you favour one hand more than the other? Or is one leg stronger than the other? Is this reflected in your horse and your own riding? Perhaps you maintain a better right bend because your left arm is dominant so provides a more consistent outside rein.
How do you know if you’re ambidextrous? Start taking note of how you pick things up in every day life. If something’s on the floor, do you always use your right hand to pick it up? Can you clean your teeth using your right hand as well as your left? Can you stand on each leg comfortably, or do you wobble around precariously on one foot?
A good test I sometimes use on my clients, to highlight their asymmetry, is to get them to take one foot out of the stirrup and carry on rising to the trot. If their dominant foot is in the stirrup this is fairly easy, but if it’s their lazy leg then they find it almost impossible!
I think that’s the one thing that makes me go to Pilates each week. Yes, the exercises are all useful and I work hard, but I find the roll downs and resetting my body and developing my proprioception most beneficial. After all, once you start to overuse one area of your body you’ll be prone to strain injuries, and then will compensate elsewhere in your body.
I’ve noticed it this last week. Where I’ve been hobbling around (a note to the wise, don’t get between a Shire horse’s foot and the ground) I’ve noticed that as well as my foot hurting, I can feel muscles in my opposite hip aching from the added effort, and my opposite knee is definitely taking more of a load. As soon as my foot is healed I’ll be getting myself checked out by the osteopath to reset me and prevent any further aches and pains. Feeling myself compensate made me realise the problems a neuronectomy would cause Otis, because he’d be loading his limbs differently and whilst doing this is tolerable whilst recuperating, problems will occur if he, or any of us for that matter, over exert ourselves whilst compensating for an injury. Which also means that it’s a good idea to have your horse checked by a chiropractor if they have been off injured for any length of time.
But if we aren’t symmetrical; either from previous injuries or because we have a dominant side, then we won’t put pressure on the horse evenly. One seatbone may be heavier than the other, or one leg aid is stronger, or one rein aid is less consistent. This means that the horse will adjust their way of going to compensate for the pressure points. So they aren’t going to be straight, which stresses their legs and joints, making them more prone to injury. Out of interest, I wonder how many equine lamenesses are from an asymmetrical rider?
Of course, we aren’t perfect and our past shapes our present. If you’d broken your arm as a child you may have developed a protection mechanism, which still today causes the opposite arm to be more dominant. But I would say that in order to improve your riding, regardless of discipline, it is vital that you learn to use your body equally. Swap hands to do the washing up: so right hand holds the plate and left hand scrubs… although perhaps best not done with the best china initially! I would recommend Pilates as a method of becoming more away of tighter, or weaker sides, and then regular checks to make sure you are aligned, with no areas of tension on one side of the body, to enable you to sit level, apply even aids, and to create a straight horse who hopefully will have a longer athletic career as a result.