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Straightness is when the horse travels on a designated line with its hind legs in line with its front legs. That means on straight lines and on curved lines. In order for a horse to be in balance it needs to have the hind legs directly in the foot falls of the front legs. If a horse is stiff, which becomes obvious on a circle line, it will swing the hind legs either to the inside or outside of that circle.
Without suppleness, straightness on circles is not achievable. Hence on the German Training Scale straightness comes after relaxation and suppleness. When a horse brings its hind legs to the inside of its front legs on a circle, it needs to bend less and be made straighter throughout its body, this is called “hollowing”. If the hind legs swing outside of the circle more bend is required to correct the balance of the horse. It can be seen from the ground, if you watch the legs alone and where they land.
Even on straight lines like down the long sides of the arena or across the diagonals you can see if the horse is travelling with its legs lined up. When they travel with the hind legs to the inside it is called “two tracking”. A fault that needs to be corrected as when this occurs the horse is not stepping under himself and this causes a lack of engagement. It will never be able to collect if it is allowed to travel on two tracks.
You will often see a horse come down the centre line straight but then swing to one side at the halt. I think this is because they find it hard to stand in balance with their hind legs under themselves and hence they put their hind legs out the side to make it easier for themselves. This can be attributed to conformation. When hind legs are correctly under their bodies they will naturally come “uphill” which is the result of collection.
So the stronger and more athletically developed the horse is, the easier it is for it to be straight.
So let’s look at
conformation. If the horse is bum high it makes it impossible for
the horse to bring its hind legs under himself and lift the forehand
to achieve collection. If the hind legs are too straight the horse
can’t bend the hocks sufficiently to truly engage. These type of
horses avoid straightness as it is simply uncomfortable for them to
travel as a dressage horse. These horses should be pleasure horses
and not tormented in arenas as prospective performance horses.
Horses that have veterinary issues will always travel crooked. Specifically those with stifle or rear end problems like sacroiliac. They can’t “carry” behind because they are hurting and as an evasion they bend like a banana to avoid weight bearing on their hind end. If we make them straight they will then bring their heads up and not stay “round” and on the bit in an attempt to take the pressure off their top lines. Most horses try and please us and as a result some may only lift their heads for a split second to get a moment of relief but any horse that doesn’t have a head set has some sort of twinge somewhere.
Some ways to tell if the horse is crooked are:
Now horses are
born one sided, just like we, are right or left handed. It is the
responsibility of the trainer/rider to train the horse to be equally
supple on both sides. Only when this is achieved can the horse be
truly made straight. The horse has to be responsive to both reins
and legs of the rider equally. As it is the combination of these
aids that makes a horse straight. A straight horse will allow the
rider to sit central in the saddle and not shift their weight.
Straightness allows the horse to push with both hind legs equally
and thus it will have the same muscle development on both sides of
THE GERMAN TRAINING SCALE
comprised of the following six elements in
that particular order:
"An ordinary Trainer cannot hear a Horse speak, a Good Trainer can, a Great Trainer can hear them whisper and a Top Trainer can HEAR THEM THINK"
"Wear your Heart in your Hands"
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