Although the fundamental part of straightness is developed in the second year of training it should have already been a significant part of training in the first year.

We have patiently loosened the young horse, established regularity in his gaits and asked him to go in a regular rhythm. The development of the horse has been improved by his reaction to the forward- and lateral-driving aids and the collecting aids. As training progresses there will be a few issues to resolve along the way, for example further improving looseness to optimize the development of the gaits. In order to ride forwards with true impulsion we must ensure the straightness of the horse. The horse’s hind feet should follow precisely the tracks of his forefeet on both straight and curved lines. A good way to improve straightness, lengthen the steps and improve cadence is to ride on curved lines, especially rounded serpentines.

The natural crookedness of the horse stems more or less from birth. In many cases this is shown, for example, by the right hind leg stepping out to the right rather than into the right fore hoofprint. The horse is most commonly crooked from the right hind leg to the left foreleg. This means that the horse goes against the rider’s right leg and does not want to take a contact with the right rein. He tries to lean on the left rein and fall out with the left shoulder. Such a horse naturally finds left canter easier as the left hind leg can take more weight more easily, which then causes it to become more developed than the right hind leg.

For this reason horses often go cross-country and over a course of jumps on the left lead. With those horses who are crooked the other way, everything is reversed.

How do we recognize the natural crookedness of the horse and make him straight? We should understand that the natural crookedness of the horse is improved very little by attempting to ride on straight lines. He will only go straight on a straight line at this stage if the hind legs are not yet taking his weight.

In our experience natural crookedness is eliminated only by systematic schooling using serpentines, lengthening the stride on the open section of the circle and riding figures of eight to improve suppleness on both sides of the horse. When we are training our horses they respond best with the following principles: we drive with the inside aids into the outside supporting aids on a circle and on all curved lines. For example, in working trot on a circle left, the left (inside) leg drives the horse into the quietly supportive outside rein, so the horse takes the contact and therefore softens to the inside rein. The horse often snorts when he is loosened and softened in this way.

It can happen that the horse feels stiff to ride the day after a session which included many serpentines and circles. The muscles are unused to this new work and can ache, but this will pass after a couple of days (this is nothing to worry about; the trainer is doing a good job). The horse will gradually become straighter on the left rein once we achieve a contact with right (outside) rein. The same goes on the right rein for when the left rein is the outside rein. A softly giving inside rein ensures a contact with the outside rein, enabling the horse to be ridden forwards.

A similar exercise in further training is shoulder-in, or the milder version which we call shoulder-fore. Here, for example on the long side of the arena on the left rein, the horse’s neck is slightly flexed to the inside (left). The rider’s inside (left) hand gives slightly so that the contact is not tight, thus preventing the horse from coming behind the vertical. The outside (right) hand remains quietly in place. In this way the contact with the outside (right) rein is improved, together with the straightness. We use the shoulder-fore exercise to develop the connection between the inside hind leg and the outside rein. To achieve this, the forehand is brought slightly to the inside – sometimes termed riding ‘in position’ – a posture that will later be developed into shoulder-in on three tracks.

A more advanced exercise is leg-yielding in trot on the open section of the circle, which improves the connection between the rider’s inside leg and outside rein even more.

When we can keep the horse straight with our aids when working on circles and straight lines we have made significant progress. Improved bending can be achieved by riding curved lines with precision, so the inside hind leg takes more weight. The amount of weight taken can be improved by the exercise spiralling in on a circle onto a 10 m volte (on one track). We should ride this only for a short time before leg-yielding out again onto a large circle, and then ride some lengthened strides on the long side to maintain the rhythm and tempo. Another alternative way of riding out of the volte is to increase the circle on one track, finishing in rising trot (to release the horse’s back) to freshen the tempo. One should work out which exercise is most suitable for each individual horse.

The exercise of spiralling in on a circle on one track and leg-yielding back out is a difficult loosening exercise. It can often be confused with a simpler exercise of just making the circle smaller and larger. The loading of the inside hind leg is increased very quickly if this is used as a collecting exercise by riding travers when making the circle smaller and shoulder-in when making it larger.

We must always keep an eye on the improvement of the energy and quality of the trot. We especially want the horse to go straight forwards with increased engagement. There should be no resistance when working on circles and curved lines, the aim being to improve the movement of the horse and produce impulsion by using the inside driving aids into the outside supporting aids (inside seat bone and inside leg into the outside rein and outside leg without collapsing at the hip). It is important to notice even the slightest error, otherwise the horse ends up crooked.

If the horse becomes crooked when going forwards on straight lines, it can be beneficial to ride exercises such as circles, serpentines and figures of eight to re-establish the straightness, i.e. the hind feet must step in the tracks of the forefeet. Once this is achieved on curved lines, the horse should be ridden straight forwards again, lengthening the steps to refresh the rhythm and tempo. When riding straight forwards on the left rein the right hind leg is prevented from escaping (to avoid stepping under) by riding alongside the wall. Rising trot makes it easier for the horse to swing through from behind.

An example of correcting crookedness in canter is as follows: a horse who brings his haunches in on the long side is flexed more to the inside through the corner, as in shoulder-in, and then driven forward. This activates the hind legs and encourages them to spring forward under the horse and take more weight.

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