To understand straightness better, let’s first think more about the horse’s natural crookedness. After all, if we’re going to make our horses straighter, we need to understand the problem we’re up against. If you think about the above description of the naturally crooked horse, you can also see how that equates to a “stiff” side and a “hollow” side in your horse. Your horse is going to have a stiff side, usually the left side – and a hollow side, normally the right side. Occasionally this can be vice versa, but for the purpose of an example in this article, let’s stick to the typical stiff to the left, hollow to the right.
At clinics, I often ask the riders if they have any specific problems they would like to work on in the session. I would say the No. 1 thing people mention is that their horse is stiff to the left! The same riders are often happy with the way the horse will bend to the right and be light in their right hand. So, here’s a little exercise that you can do at home to try to feel the natural crookedness of the horse. The exercise is to simply ride a 20-metre circle on the left and then on the right rein. If in trying to create the correct bend and flexion for the circle to the left you find your circle has a tendency to become smaller, and then to the right your horse happily bends and flexes but your circle has a tendency to grow larger, you are feeling something that’s normal. Horses are not the same left and right. It’s important to accept this and not think of it as unusual or specific to you and your horse.
If we look again at the description of the crooked horse in our definition above, it says the right hind leg lands to the right side of the right foreleg. Another way to think about what’s going on here is to imagine the horse likes to have his shoulders to the left. If his shoulders are left, you can see that the right hind leg would land to the right side of the right foreleg. The right hind leg does not like to travel under the horse’s centre of balance. The joints of the right hind leg are reluctant to bend, and he avoids taking weight with that leg.
So, to make the horse straight, one of the first things we must understand is that the right side is actually crooked. The horse finds it easy to bend on the right side because his shoulders are pushing left. His hind legs are not pushing forward towards his centre of gravity. This is why it’s described as the “hollow” side.
There are plenty of other examples of how crookedness shows up in different movements. In shoulder-in to the left, there is often not enough bend through the horse’s body but plenty of angle. To the right there is often too much bend through the neck and too little angle through the body.