Straightness in the Horse

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Straightness in the Horse

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  • Straightness training for horses
  • Straightness in the horse

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    04-21-2014, 11:41 AM
Straightness in the Horse

You hear people often referring to “Straightness” with regard to well trained horses. If you haven’t, just play along. The term is usually referred to reverently and with mysticism, as though it is an all-but-unattainable goal, like a well intentioned politician, the perfect anniversary present for your wife, or self-sufficient teenagers. It’s usually spoken of by the grizzly, wrinkled, hardened, and sage horsemen of the sort who answer your ‘Yes or No’ questions with yet more questions. So, what is this “straightness” that they speak of?

This is one of those terms that I have thought about, puzzled on, and seemingly figured out multiple times, only to realize later that I was wrong. Have you ever been wrong? I sure have. Anyway, I was privileged to ride with Mr. Joe Wolter about a year ago, and took the opportunity to harass and question him to the point where I’m now scared to call him for advice because I think he WILL remember me. I digress, but this was a topic that he really shed some light on, for me at least. Allow me to try and do the same for some of you.

First of all, mind bogglingly, my take on Joe’s take is that they don’t mean absolutely, literally “Straight” as in a horse’s spine being rigid, one dimensional, and inflexible. I never could quite square a one dimensional term applied to a three dimensional moving animal, so that was a big relief. What they mean by Straight is more along the lines of the title of Tom Dorrance’s enigmatic book, “True Unity.”

A horse which is “Straight,” is one who is riding without resistance, directly between your reins and legs. Balanced. The horse and rider are totally on the same path. Thus, a horse can be “Straight” while making an arc, turn, or circle the same way a gymnast can do a myriad of athletic moves and stay centered over a balance beam. How about that? After all, a circle isn’t straight at all, but it is made of a perfect, symmetrical, and unwavering line. So is a cloverleaf. And, a wave sure looks a bunch like a serpentine. We can think of multiple, correctly framed maneuvers and exercises as simply following changing but perfect lines. Straight lines. Well, enough of my parabolic hyperbole.

Fill in the Blank: Straight as an _____. Hold on! I’ve been shooting bows and arrows since I was little and I can testify that they don’t fly straight in all dimensions, they fly in an arc. So, an arc can be straight! I think of it kinda like a basketball player’s shooting hand putting the ball in an arc destined to hit nothing but net, or a baseball pitcher doing the same thing toward the strike zone. A horse that is Balanced and Straight is like a Chevy. Solid as a rock. Motion! Direction! Accuracy! Precision! Straightness!

So, an unbalanced rider, especially one who is unaware of being unbalanced will never achieve straightness with their horse. That horse doesn’t have a “Straight” rider to follow. They have a moving target to find. A rider not offering “Straightness” for his horse to find is just like a golfer who pulls the club head or rolls a wrist through their swing. They will constantly be chasing their ball in someone else’s fairway. It sort of makes sense how the horse tends to seek our level of ability, both up and down, doesn’t it?

I was riding a colt the other day around some rice/crawfish ponds and that ride got me to thinking about this topic. We had a tree line with branches overhanging the road to our left, and the pond to our right. This is less than ¼ mile from the barn we’d just left, so the colt was still a bit fresh, and looking back toward his buddies at the barn, and not quite “with me” yet. We had started out in the left hand track of the road, which was also the highest, and had the occasional limb hanging down in our way, not to mention the road itself was overgrown with dormant stalks of grasses and weeds. My chosen path was a bit of a pain, frankly. The colt kept trying to shift over to the right hand lane or even into the edge of the dry pond to make life easier on himself.

Smart colt, say you? Good for him! Nay, say I! The two legged leader of our six legged expedition didn’t ask him to go to the right. That was his decision. So, I kept redirecting him back to my chosen path, over and over, gently, but firmly, making sure that his decisions lead him to more work, while my decisions lead only to a limb and some dried stalks. It took about 5 minutes, but that colt got with me. He got “Straight”.

I think the term seems to creep up among cowboy terms because working cattle effectively requires lots of straightness from your horse. For example, let’s say we are going to split a pair of heifers who are bonded to one another. You’re going to have to point your horse like a laser in just the right spot to split them. A foot to the left or right, and they’ll stay married up all day.

To my mind, to achieve, or approach straightness, the rider must be offering boundaries for the horse, and setting up a place of peace for the horse to find. A rough example would be a person who manages to stay inside the eye of a Cat 3 Hurricane. The Wrong Thing surrounds Straighness, while the Right Thing is perfectly calm and unaffected.

I am constantly riding with targets ahead to promote straightness in my horses. What this means is that I don’t just randomly ride across a pasture. I look ahead and pick out an ant hill to pass just to the right of, and then go between two cow pies that are just a foot apart. I am constantly challenging my horse to stay with me and hit my marks. I’d highly encourage all of you to do the same. After a while it really becomes second nature, and if we rode together, you wouldn’t really notice me doing this at all, but my horse sure does…

Hopefully, at this point, you can see how riders and horses of every discipline could benefit from good control of straightness. Barrel racers will lose precious tenths of a second if they leave a barrel heading slightly off of the best path and have to correct mid run. Ropers will have a less than opportune shot, if their horse is a few feet further up, behind, or over from that sweet spot. Jumpers will have a very hard time setting up for the next jump if they can’t precisely control their horse’s path through the course. Trail riders will come home with lots of leaves and bugs in their hair and bruised knees if their horse is more of a rambling wanderer than a controllable ponderer.

Now, to be fair, Joe used far fewer words than I have to explain this stuff to me. I had also been in the sun all day long, and he’d just broken his hip and might have been on pain meds, so, if all of this is wrong, sorry.
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    04-21-2014, 12:36 PM
Super Moderator
I've wondered about the saying that a horse is going straight through the corners. Years ago I was watching a lesson given by a young woman offering 'cross training' and her horse was in the class ridden by an experienced student.

It hit me that her horse was going 'straight' through the corners, and was the only one there that was. So that follows what your post says to me.

Recently I have a taken in a 7 yr old that has never been trained or ridden. One of the reasons I agreed to take him is that when I watch him move it reminds me of her horse, that I only saw that one time, going straight through the corners.

Is this a different sort of straightness?
    04-21-2014, 01:03 PM
Honestly, I have never heard that expression before so I can't really say. I will say that a horse turning just with the rider, not slightly ahead or behind, but right in the middle, is what I would call it. A horse need not be rigid to be straight.
anndankev likes this.
    04-21-2014, 01:08 PM
Straightness is natural and unnatural for the horse. When a horse is a liberty he goes where he wants to, in a straight line, with impulsion and purpose. To attain straightness while being ridden it is unnatural bc the horses shoulders are slim, while the HQ's are large in width. Much easier to pivot on the HQ while being ridden, a manuever used by a prey animal to avoid being eaten.
I have always used the wall in an arena AND impulsion to achieve straightness in all of my horses. They use the wall as a gauge and you ride on a "track" as a human guide. After hours and hours and hours of practice the horse learns to travel straight, even through the arcs of the corners. THIS is what the rider uses as a foundation to teach the horse to move on multiple tracks, as in lateral movements. It never happens if the horse does not understand that your leg and body cues are the "gas pedal" and that he MUST obey with energy FORWARD.
Personally, I would be riding that young horse with a seasoned Veteran to encourage riding away from the stable. There are plenty of other opportunities to fix herd sour besides putting myself at risk on the trial. For me, (and newbies reading this), I will work my younger geldings in the 3 acre north pasture, away from the other two horses, while the other two horses graze in the 3/4 acre south pasture, out of his sight.
anndankev likes this.
    04-21-2014, 01:37 PM
I finally understand why sooooo many of those "sophisticated" horses take 10 years to begin to act "broke"...

A horse can't learn to be truly straight on a wall, at least what I consider straightness. You are thinking linearly. IMO straightness relates only to the horse really getting with the rider. Something your method seems to shy away from for the most part...
Btw, newbies have no business riding green horses anyway
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anndankev, gssw5 and sarahfromsc like this.
    04-21-2014, 01:40 PM
Btw, if you look at the trails left in pastures by horses, I think you will find that they seldom travel more than 10 feet in a straight line. And if you watch the travel that linearly straight line they will generally have their head cocked to one side or be switching sides to watch their back trail.
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    04-21-2014, 01:57 PM
I think you misunderstood. The rider uses the wall as a guide and describes a track, like a RR track, that is equidistant from the wall of the arena on each long side and each short side, minus the distance covered in an arc around the corners. THAT is why it is referred to as a "Track" bc it mimic a RR track, and horses ridden straight in an arena wear it down. It isn't as easy as it seems and young horses tend to not track true. THAT is where impulsion is necessary to push the horse forward in a straight line. It is easier to ride quickly straight than slowly straight.
After your horses learns to travel straight HE/SHE uses the wall as a guide. I have taught enough lessons to see this happen.
I am a big proponent of arena work. Both the horse and the rider feel safer learning there. I also like to work outside of the arena bc it's more fun for the horse.
DanielDauphin likes this.
    04-21-2014, 02:10 PM
I agree with that entire post except the part about the horse learning to follow the wall. I want the horse to follow me, no matter where or how. THAT is the difference between being a rider and a passenger...
Btw, the colt referred to here was a Gypsy Vanner who was nearing the end of two months with me. His owner is riding him now on horseback camping expeditions in Nat'l Parks. How on earth would I have prepared him for THAT in a 3 acre pasture avoiding the very obstacles that he needed to conquer?
    04-21-2014, 02:11 PM
Not at all. You description sounded as if he was distracted and attempting to run back to the barn. Sorry, if I read that wrong.
DanielDauphin likes this.
    04-21-2014, 02:14 PM
I guess my writing skills are lacking. All of this was at a walk and he was merely looking for the easier path while looking back and bickering to his buddies. No running away at all. Simply not between my tracks.
Corporal likes this.


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