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The Importance of Riding Straight

29 Nov

Lots of riders don’t realize they’re riding crooked until they get the luxury of riding in front of a mirror, or if they’re used to riding only one horse, riding an unfamiliar horse and feeling the imbalance of their bodies. The most important thing to remember about this is; a crooked rider makes a crooked, one-sided horse.  This can cause problems with lead changes, lateral work, and in severe cases, the inability to ride off the rail of the arena in a straight line. If you can feel your horse drifting left and right, leaning on one rein, having trouble with his leads, etc, then one of your issues could be that you are inhibiting your horses balance by riding crooked.

So how do you tell if you aren’t riding straight? The most effective way – a pair of experienced eyes on the ground. A good instructor can tell where your body may not be in proper alignment, for instance if one shoulder is lower than the other, if your hands are uneven, or if you’re having a problem bearing equal amounts of weight into the stirrups. If you’re working by yourself, try these tips:

* As you’re riding, be conscious of where your hands are, is one hand continually lower than the other? If so, concentrate on riding with the low hand even with the hand aligned with your horse’s bit or slightly above, and stretch your ribcage during your warmups. Most of the time, a low hand will also cause the shoulder on that side to droop oe slouch as well. Take your low side and raise your hand up over your head. feel how this broadens the ribcage and lifts the shoulder. When you return your hand to normal position, keep the shoulder back and square.  This should help reposition your hand.

* Be conscious of the amount of weight distributed into your stirrups. Does one leg feel heavier than the other? A great fix for this is to take whichever foot you have less pressure in the stirrup on, and take that stirrup away. work at walk, trot, and canter leaving the “light” leg out of the stirrup. This will help you develop a “feel” for needing more weight in that stirrup. I recommend doing this for a couple of weeks at warmup.

* How is your head and neck positioned? Most of us lean our head to one side while lungeing, but this is definitely a no-no if you want to become a straighter rider. Practice looking ahead between your horse’s ears. Keep your ear in line with your shoulder. Remember that your entire body’s alignment starts at your head and neck.

 Here are some very effective exercises to do with your horse to help you become a straighter rider.

* Riding without stirrups. This immensely helps balance you and helps you develop a better feel in your seat. Remember, when riding without stirrups, to not perch your upper body forward. Instead, relax your lower back and seat to absorb your horse’s movement.

* While riding without stirrups, take both feet and place them behind the saddle, leaving only your thigh to balance with. This will also reposition your seat so you are sitting very deep into the saddle. Practice at a walk first, then at trot and canter. One word of caution! Some horses will be more apt to buck during this excercise, so please use extra caution as your horse will need to get used to this as well.

* Ride off of the rail by about 4 feet on the long side of the arena. Remember, if your riding is crooked or your horse is used to a crooked rider, this will take a while to perfect. Riding off the rail like this enables you to remember how important your outside hand and leg is in keeping your horse balanced and how much most people rely on the rail to keep their horse from falling to the outside.