• VOLUME 50 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
The Search for Straightness by Philippe Karl From the text Twisted Truths
“On the left side, the neck muscles are stiff, contracted and refuse to release. This is considered the stiff side. However, the difficult side is the right, hollow side. The right-hind escapes to the right, the horse pushes against the rider’s right leg and refuses the contact on the right rein. The aim of the work will be to bring this hind leg to engage under the body. Straightness must always be achieved by aligning the forehand with the hindquarters and not the other way round. For example, if the horse’s haunches escape to the right, the rider must stop this tendency by acting with his right leg. His left leg, close to the girth, will increase the engagement of the left hind. The left hand must be kept low, with the left rein containing and controlling the left shoulder, whilst the right hand brings the forehand to the right until there is alignment of the right-fore with the right-hind.” (FN Guidlines for Riding and Driving, German Equestrian Federation vol. 1, p. 147.)
This diagnosis is very superficial. It omits the deep rooted causes and their major consequences, those involving balance.
The approach falls short in two respects: it deals with the effects rather than the causes, and it supposes that the horse is already well advanced in its schooling; however the problem appears from the start.
We can look at this in more detail.
Foals are crooked from birth due to the foetal position that they grow in: shorter on one side than the other. Not all horses are bent to the right, far from it. Whether due to genetics or to chance, does not really matter, statistically the proportion is something like 50-50%.
Nature seems to be more inventive than the dressage manuals.
But never mind! We can take the case of a horse which is hollow to the right and analyse the causes and consequences of this crookedness. This will give us information on how we should approach this in our work.
• The deep rooted and original cause resides in the natural bend of the neck to the right. The main cervical ligament is shifted to the right and the mane falls to the right. The horse tends to carry its head to the right and tends to weight its left shoulder to compensate.
• Since the bending of the neck has an impact on the rest of the spine, in movement periodic dorso-lumbar waves produce bends, of greater amplitude to the right than to the left. Consequently the horse’s haunches escape to the right.
• Therefore the right hind is more advanced than the left hind, but it escapes to the side. It reaches more than it pushes.
As opposed to this, the left hind is in a position to provide the majority of propulsion, but its engagement remains limited.
• In movement, the inert parts of the body (thoracic and abdominal) move more to the left than to the right. This naturally increases the weighting of the left lateral pair.
• Overall, the whole spine is bent to the right, especially the neck. The horse relieves the weight on its shortened right lateral pair (con-cave side) and weights its open left lateral pair (convex side).
Impact on our work
• The horse turns comfortably to the right and tends to enlarge the curves through its shoulders by bending its neck to the right.
• Conversely, to the left, the horse turns short, falling on the inside shoulder with its head carried to the outside.
• The horse canters more easily on the right leg, but with its haunches in. It is not uncommon for the horse to disunite its hind legs when cantering on a circle to the left.
What the rider feels
• The horse is willing to take a contact on the left rein whereas it refuses to take a contact on the right.
• The rider’s seat drops more to the right than to the left on each stride and his right leg is nearer to the horse’s hindquarters (concavity to the right) whereas his left leg tends to be pushed away from the left hindquarters (convexity on the left).
• Since the horse weights its left shoulder and advances its right hind more, if the rider is not careful the horse will automatically