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 traveling 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:
- Tilting of its head to the side where one ear tip is higher than the other. (can be teeth)
- If a horse is heavier on one rein than the other.
- Two Tracking
- uneven rhythm (irregularity)
- Swinging of quarters around circles and turns
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 its rump.
The German Training Scale
comprised of the following six elements in that particular order: