Building up one side of body
I know how to apply the various lateral movements to strengthen a horse's legs. Is there anything in the dressage world I can use to develop a complete side of a horse? I have been paying a lot of attention to my horse's shape lately since I'm trying to put weight on him. It has become very clear that one side of him looks fabulous, but the other side looks like a caved in rescue project. It's not really that bad, but it is a noticeable difference. He's just much more filled in on his left side. Ironically his gaits are very balanced on both reins. His canter is so dead straight each way that I can no long feel which lead he's on. Any thoughts?
Do you work him one one rein more often? The only thing I can think of would be to work him more on his weaker side. Throw some circles in there to get him to bend and stretch.
Lots of trot work to the weaker direction will help. In addition, one exercise my dressage trainer has me do that I do with students is to post on the WRONG diagonal, switching diagonals every so often when riding in the weaker direction to help the horse use their hind end evenly. It sounds weird but it really works!
I never thought of trotting on the wrong diagonal. Here's my stupid question. His caved in side is the right side of his body. Do I post on the wrong diagonal tracking right or left?
I think that makes sense. His left side is his strong and stiff side, much harder to get the proper flexion that way. He's probably using his left side more than he should while tracking right. Anything to be gained by overbending him while going that direction?
The other thing I would reccomend is doing extra in the 'bad' direction. Just because he's balanced, doesn't mean he's conditioned.
I would perhaps ask the vet next time he's out to take a look. If there is that much of a noticable difference, I would be concerned about an underlying weakness or problem causing him to over compensate on one side and not use himself on the weak side. Keep in mind, there can be problems going on that don't display in actual visual lameness....
What type of work are you currently doing with him? Can you describe what a typical workout might consist of?
Warm up is always the same. Walk 10 minutes, bending and serpentines during that time. Trot on loose rein, 5 to 10 minutes each direction, repeat with canter for slightly less time.
Two days a week are dressage day. Everything we do after warmup is done with the goal of achieving some degree on collection. Usually we do a zillion transitions until he shortens up his frame enough to be balancing himself. Lots of circles and leg yeilding. He's starting to understand shoulder in and haunches in.
Two other days are hunt seat/jumping days. Lots of poles, cavaletti and cross rails. Looser rein than "dressage" days, but still with contact. Much more half seat work on my part and more frequent changes of direction for him.
Two days are trails. Varied terrain. Really uses his muscles and gets the cobwebs out.
7th day off. Very hard for both of us. He loves to work.
He definitely doesn't show any signs of lameness. When I first got him, as a typical OTTB, he heavily favored his left lead. His right was this weak, overbent mess. I spend the past year building up strength on his left hind and right shoulder using the above mentioned lateral work and now his leads are so similar that I have trouble picking out if he's on the wrong one. His trot is much better that way too.
There seem to be two schools of thought about working the weak side. One is to do twice as much, or at least more work to the bad side than on the good side. The other is to start with the bad side and then don't anymore on the good side that you could do on the bad side. For example, if he can only canter 3 circles his bad way, don't do more than 3 the good way. I know the second option did wonders for evening him out on both reins. Maybe I should now switch to the first option for adding additional muscle to one side.
The horse is not relaxed or straight.
First check your own posture. A crooked rider cannot correct a crooked horse.
The one sided horse is not carrying its weight evenly on all four legs. this results in the stiffness on the one side and tensness that comes as a result.
I wrote a detailed post on what straigness is --post 10
But working one side more that the other has validity in that no matter how much we pull and push and cram the muscles to fit what he want, that muscle will make as much effort to return to its natural or comfortable state due to muscle memory. Straighten the horse and create an even loading and you will start to get a supple horse.
There is a saying by one of the old masters W. Seung
“The underlying principle of all flexion work is this: making it possible for the horse to extend the outer side of its body to the same degree that the inner side becomes concave.”
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