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Exercises to Help a Sensitive Horse Get Supple and Bend Left

Submitted by member: Montana

I have a mare who I have owned for 5 months now. It has been a big change going from my lazy gelding to a sensitive, forward-moving mare. I struggle to get her to bend on her left side. I have been told it is because she lacks muscle to contract on that side, therefore, it’s hard for her to bend on this rein. As a result, she is unbalanced, gets tense, braces against me, and speeds up. Even if I open my inside hand and massage the rein, asking for release from her head to bend, she just turns in. I try to counteract this using my inside leg, but she just ignores my leg. If I wore spurs I feel that it would stress her too much and cause her to go too fast. Instead, I just take my leg out of the stirrup, as she responds to my leg when it is not restricted. I was wondering, if this is the case, what are some exercises that would help me get her to build up the muscle, gain strength and hold herself more on a bend on the left side without turning in with a straight neck?

Answer by Bernie

Montana, most horses are born with a side that is more supple than the other.  A majority of them are born more supple or soft on the right side, so your mare fits into the norm. Part of our training process is to slowly practice exercises that enhance suppleness, with the goal of making our horses more even on both sides.

There are many exercises to practice; such as shoulder fore, shoulder in, haunches in, etc.  But before you tackle those, it sounds like you need to do some basic homework to make her responsive laterally to you leg aids, since she cuts in, as you say, and ignores the holding effect of your left leg when you open your left rein. Without response laterally from your inside leg the above exercises are quite difficult, to say the least.

Since you say she responds better with no stirrup, my suggestion is to first lengthen your stirrups about 4 holes and teach basic leg yield to her. Start at the walk, and once she is responding well, go to the trot.

Get her really nicely reactive to your leg laterally on both sides and use a small dull spur, if necessary, as an aid to your leg.  If you have control of your toe angle you can do this easily.  Some riders’ conformation results in them having a naturally wide/open toe angle where the spur can easily be on inadvertently.  Some mares are quite sensitive to the spur so no sharp edges.  The spur I like for sensitive horses and more novice riders whose leg perhaps is not ready for a spur is called Spursuader. Here is the link for that:

The above exercises can be found on in Fundamentals of Flatwork.  The exercise I think you will benefit from to supple your horse’s left side is on Fundamentals of Flatwork Part 3: Advanced, chapter one, The Warm Up.  She will have to respect your left leg for that to be effective, so do the basic leg yield first.

Video Recommendation:

Fundamentals of Flatwork Basic

Fundamentals of Flatwork – Part 3 – Advenced
Bernie Traurig
The Advanced level further illustrates Bernie’s modern, refined and simplified approach. If your goal is a higher level of performance or to achieve a greater brilliance and quality of gait, this video is for you.
Running Time:  51 minutes and 16 seconds

View Video

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Bernie Traurig

As a Horseman, Bernie is renowned for not only his riding talents but for his teaching and coaching gifts. As a competitor, Bernie has represented the United States Equestrian Team both at home and abroad on many occasions and reached the top of the sport in all 3 of the International Equestrian Olympic disciplines: Show Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing.After amassing 60 years worth of training and riding techniques and experiences with thousands of horses, Bernie is driven to give back to the sport that has given him so much fulfillment and success.

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