Straightness is so important. If you aren’t keeping your horse straight you can’t go truly forward. These are exercises I use regularly and are great way to make sure that your horse is listening to your aids and that you are asking him to work correctly.
In walk turn up the centre line, making sure you have prepared for the tun in plenty of time by looking where you’re going and planning ahead, using your leg to control the hindquarters. Ride from A to C and focus on keeping your horse straight by using your leg, not your hand. Keep your eyes up and look at C. To check your effectiveness, give one rein away for 3 or 4 strides and then take it back. Repeat this with the other rein.
Once you have this mastered and your horse understands the movement you can try it again, but this time ask for neck bend for 3 or 4 strides and take it back. Then do the same with the other rein. All the time making sure you are riding him with your leg and seat. If you are doing it correctly then your horse’s body will stay completely straight. Your horse should be able to maintain his straightness through his body and stay obediently on the centre line because he is being ridden off your leg. Keep checking that you are sitting straight and have even weight it both stirrups. Once you have this cracked then do it in trot and then canter.
If you find your horse is falling to the left or right, you don’t quite have him between your hand and leg. Make sure you’re riding him forward and use your legs to correct him not your hand. Keep your eyes up and ride to the markers.
Many problems with straightness in the horse are caused by the rider. Often a crooked rider produces a crooked horse. This exercise will help you to check and correct your position in the saddle. I do this exercise every time I school to make sure that I’m always sitting straight. You can use it at any time during your training session.
Take your stirrups away and start by riding a circle on both reins in trot. Lift your thighs and knees totally away from the saddle. It sounds very difficult but with practice you will get used to it and it’s excellent at showing whether you’re in balance. If you don’t fall to the left or right, well done you’re sitting straight and this in turn will allow the horse to be straight beneath you. But if you begin to fall to either side, this is evidence that you’re crooked. In turn, you will be stronger on one rein than the other, making your horse twist.
You as a rider can maintain straightness not letting your inside hip collapse and staying tall in the saddle by keeping your inside leg long and pressed down. If you find you’re crooked try looking behind you over the outside shoulder to correct it. As your balance improves you can do this exercise in canter whilst always keeping your horse straight.