Thoughts on Straightness
Emphasis is always on getting the horse straight. All the top trainers say make sure your horse is straight. So how do you evaluate straightness while you're riding? I find a useful measure is to assess the relative contact in both reins. If the horse is equal on both sides, then that horse is as straight as their symmetry admits. We can increase the balance on both sides of the horse through development, but I believe they will always have a dominant side, just like you. Back to equal contact on both sides, this contact is the willingness of the horse to hold you. Trying to apply equal pressure on both reins will only make the horse crooked as they respond to you by twisting away from their non-dominant side. So it's up to you to encourage the horse to hold you equal on both reins. The simplest strategy to get this is to lighten the pressure of the rein they are most intent on engaging. If you focus on straightness this way, you'll forget that you've been told to push the horse's body over with your leg. So what do you do with your leg? Well what do you use your leg for? I have found that it is possible to educate the horse to move their hind leg forward to respond to the encouraging leg pressure on the same side. If you train this, then the ability to fill a rein that is too light will come from the leg aid on the corresponding side. If you try to do this using the leg on the opposite side, a diagonal aid sequence, you'll not only encourage your horse to be crooked, you'll also build resistance to the diagonal rein. This is what "inside leg to outside rein" produces and it can only be addressed with more pressure to induce the horse to "submit" to the rein aid. This can work for a horse that is comfortable submitting. However, if you've ever ridden a horse who is fierce about resisting submission, then you'll know this technique has shortcomings. Perhaps everyone needs to have a horse in their life that won't be bullied, then they'll need to find a way to engage the horse's willingness. If you're pushing, or blocking, or flexing your horse to create straightness then I hope I've inspired you to try encouraging and releasing the pressure as you guide your horse to straightness. After all, straightness is important, but more importanter is how you try to achieve it.