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Stop Your Horse From Falling In On One Side

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Submitted by member: Harriet

I have a rider that is weak to the left, so the horse leans and falls in with the left shoulder on a left turn. I was wondering if the fix is in the shoulder or the rear end, as I’ve often heard, “Ride the rear end and the front end fixes its self.”

Answer by Jim Wofford

When your horse consistently takes an asymmetrical posture, it might be from a lack of training, or it might be a defense against weakness or injury. First of all, have your vet take a look at your horse, to make sure that you know your horse is sound. You can then approach your horse’s problem with confidence. I want you to reverse your thinking about this problem. Your horse is not just falling over his left shoulder, and heavy in the left rein. He is also long on his left side, which means he is short on his right side. What you feel in your left hand is not resistance; it is a lack of contact on the right rein.

We use lateral exercises to supple, strengthen, and straighten your horse. The first lateral exercise we teach any horse is the simplest…turn on the forehand. If your horse is leaning against your left hand, you must improve his response to your left leg. Although long term we want to develop an ambidextrous horse, in the short term we need to unbalance our work in order to balance the horse. By this I mean that you should do 60-70% of your exercises away from your left leg, and the remainder off your right leg. So, turn on the forehand to the right (away from your left leg) is your first exercise. During your turns on the forehand, make sure that your horse’s hind leg crosses over in front, never behind the other hind leg. For example, when you ask for a turn on the forehand to the right, his left hind leg should cross over in front of his right hind leg.

Once you and your horse become proficient at turns on the forehand, move on to leg yielding. I ask for these with my horse’s head to the wall, not on the diagonal, because it is easier to control his direction. In your horse’s case, I will emphasize left leg yielding. Visualize yourself walking on the right hand. When you enter the long side of the arena, reach back with your left leg and move his hindquarters in off the wall. He should now be moving on four tracks, with all four tracks parallel with the wall. The pressure of your left leg will create the correct bending, sufficient for you to just see the eyelashes of his left eye. You should have the sensation that he is in contact with the right side of his mouth, while the left rein is soft and quiet. When you change directions, the opposite will occur. (If he leans on the left rein and pops his left shoulder, he will find the right leg yielding much easier.)

The next step in the educational process is to ask for inside leg yielding down the long side, where he moves on four tracks, but his shoulders are off the wall while his hindquarters remain in the track. This exercise can be done at both the walk and the trot, but never the canter. From this position, your horse is ready for shoulder-in, which can be done at all three paces. Once you develop a correct inside leg to outside rein connection, you have the keys to the kingdom of the horse at your disposal. Left shoulder-in through the corners will solve your problem with a horse who wants to lean on his inside shoulder during the turn.

More Learning

For blog posts on similar issues:

Exercises to Help Improve a Horse Who is Stiff on One Side of Its Mouthby Julie Winkel and Geoff Teall

Tips to Help Riders Who Favor One Hand or Leg More Than the Otherby Bernie Traurig and Robin Marinez

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Jim Wofford

James C. (Jim) Wofford, 71, was born and raised on a horse farm in Milford, Kansas. He is a graduate of Culver Military Academy, and the School of Business at the University of Colorado (B.S. Bus. Admin. ’69). Wofford, a 3-time Olympian, has spent his life with horses, and is one of the best-known Eventing trainers in the world today. In 2000, Wofford was listed by the Chronicle of the Horse as one of the “50 Most Influential Horseman” of the 20th century, and in January of 2012, he was awarded the Jimmy A. Williams Trophy for Lifetime Achievement, horse sports’ highest honor. A Hall of Fame member of both the United States Eventing Association and Culver Military Academy, Wofford trains at his farm in Upperville, Va., and travels extensively, teaching and giving clinics.

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