One of the most often used phrases in training horses it that the horse should move straight. It is a very important element of dressage and one of the most difficult to achieve. To create a straight horse there are some qualities that need to be developed, the first of which is suppleness and balance.
When a horse is unbalanced they use their shoulders and neck to support themselves and impulsion that is created pushes them further into the shoulder. It’s the equivalent of running downhill, the faster you go the more unbalanced you become.
Suppleness and balance are linked, the horse starts with stiffness to one side, they flex and turn more easily in one direction than the other, and good training supples the stiff side and strengthens the easy side of the horse so they become equally flexible.
Working round correct circles teaches a horse many things; they give to the rider’s inside leg, stretching the outside of their body to the outside rein giving the “inside leg to outside rein” connection. This is not a connection the rider should take; the outside rein should be soft and accept the connection when the horse seeks it.
Correctly ridden circles also start to encourage the horse to bring the inside hind leg onto a slightly shorter step, tracking in the line of the fore leg and starting to engage the hock under their body. This creates a better balance, as the horse’s weight comes out of the shoulder and then the head and neck can release and stretch forward. The shoulder becomes free from supporting the horse’s weight, the horse moves straight and this raises the wither and neck position.
When I’m teaching I am constantly checking to see if the rider is correctly balanced. Sometimes it is very obvious; if the rider is out of balance it will make the horse unbalanced and result in a crooked movement. Sometimes it is much more difficult to see; a slight shift in the riders weight can have a big effect on the horse.
If you think about carrying someone on your back, it’s easier to carry them if they hold themselves straight. If they grip with their legs, lean to the side or backwards, sag with a round back, it makes it much more difficult for you to move and you will be constantly struggling against their weight to move straight forward. It’s the same for your horse.
A classical position allows you to feel what is happening in your horse’s back and then you can make precise corrections. This position also allows you to move with your horse, so when he is making a movement, you can sit with him and don’t disrupt his flow.
Riders with a good stable classical position can use this to help their horse, but if the rider’s weight moves unintentionally, it unbalances their horse. A good position allows you to give light, precise well timed aids, and to have a flexible lower back that will follow your horse’s back, so you start to ride by feel.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer