Riding Both Sides of your Horse — 5 Thoughts
by Dr. Mike Guerini, Ph.D. (www.dunmovinranch.com)
Does your horse have a difference in response on one side as compared to the other side?
As we become better riders, we must develop the ability to ride both sides of our horse – as the horse needs.
To do this, we need to feel the different sides. Do you know which side of your horse is stiff, which side is hollow? The stiff side has more tension and the horse’s jaw and poll is tighter and more resistant. The body might feel like one giant solid 4 x 4 post. Horses often lean into the stiffer side, fall (drop shoulder) into a circle, or make tight and abrupt turns. On the hollow side, the horse has no resistance and you might have to work to keep contact on your horse because it gives so slightly to pressure. As you move in the direction of the hollow side, the horse may drift to the outside or overbend.
There are reasons for a horse to have a difference between sides. A horse can be right or left handed (scientifically proven based on in-utero implantation) and this creates a difference between the sides, uneven muscle development, and rider related issues (balance, rider asymmetry, etc.).
Here are five thoughts about how you can make sure you ride both sides of your horse.
- Determine which side is the hollow side and which is the stiff side. When you know this, you can make certain that through correct exercises you help the horse become more balanced/even on each side. Work with your coach to develop a plan so that you actively exercise both sides of your horse.
- Do contralateral training for the rider. Make certain you are doing the right exercises for the rider – these should include contralateral exercises (exercises that rely on movement of body parts on the opposite side of the body). This is important so that you can effectively use (for example) inside leg to outside rein (opposite parts of your body need to work in harmony).
- Improve Rider balance. Work on rider balance with Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, or other programs that help you strengthen your balance and core. Along the way, make sure your exercise program includes some good cardio work.
- Learn how to apply the aids correctly and as needed. You may need a stronger aid on one-side verses the other (early on in your training). Know this and make certain you adjust to the needs of your horse as you bring him into balance. This will take time and it really benefits from riding with mirrors in your arena and even more so when you have a coach or video your rides (or video rides and review with your coach…even better).
- Learn to feel the balance in your horse. This takes time but it is very critical. Have an observer help you develop the feel. Learn how it feels when your horse bulges out on one side, drops its shoulder on another side, has its rear end fall out of the circle or square. Feel comes with time and it really helps to have someone coaching you (eyes on the ground as we say) so that you can have them tell you what is happening and you can develop the knowledge and feel….with this and your own rider preparation – you can then ride both sides of your horse to put him into balance and achieve rider to horse harmony.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share.
Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at www.dunmovinranch.com. Dr. Mike is also part of Coach’s Corral (http://www.coachscorral.com/), an online Horsemanship Coaching program that specializes in video coaching and the 5 Ride Program. Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (http://www.hydrot.com/).