Struggling to the Left…Exercises to Improve Balance
Q. I have a 3 year old gelding, that I’m struggling with. He lopes very nice on his right lead but struggles to the left. He gets shuffley and very head bobby (not lame – sound). We’ve done chiropractic work, a wedge shoe (one- just padded the other) and I still can’t get him to balance when turning at the long trot to the left or on the left lead. Any ideas on exercises that could help strengthen his balance?
A. Hi Sara. Without seeing your horse it, sounds to me like he is definitely carrying himself out of balance. If you are sure he is not lame, then he is probably dropping his shoulder and dropping to his front end. He may also be throwing his hip out to the outside, which will also force his shoulder to the inside. This is a form of lean. A horse can have lean at any gait. A horse can also lean by balancing his weight on the front and rather than carrying his weight over his hindquarters. His quality of movement and his self-carriage will deteriorate when he is leaning.
It’s important to understand the dynamics and mechanics of movement in order for you to properly diagnose and correct your horse’s problem. To have the quality of movement that you are looking for, he needs to move balanced over his hindquarters and not lean or fade side to side. It’s also important to understand that to move correctly at the lope he needs to travel on an arc. The lope is a three-beat gait, to be performed with the hindquarters slightly to the inside or leading hind leg to reach further up under his body. Ideally, you should also be able to see the outside back corner of the inside eye, giving an ever so slight bend through his body. If your horse is leaning, causing him to lose his proper position at the lope, and if he is on his front end, that could explain the movement you are seeing.
The trot, however, is not performed in an arc, and is a two-beat gait. For your horse to move at his best he can be straight, but if he is leaning or dropping his shoulder that would also explain what you have described. Once you are able to diagnose exactly what he is doing, then you can focus on the best exercises to help your horse.
I would start with making sure he is not heavy on his front end. To do that, pick up the trot or lope and stop him by drawing him into the ground. Feel through your hands if he is heavy or if he throws your body forward in the stop. Also, if after you have him stopped, he pushes or leans forward or even walks off, he is probably leaning and on his front end. You can correct this by becoming aware and demanding that he stop up and balanced. Fixing the lean through the stops really works. Trot off, stop, roll back and do it over and over. This redistributes his weight to correct position over his hindquarters.
Other exercises that I recommend would be ones to strengthen that left arc. I would start with asking him to “follow his nose” to the left. Start by bringing your left hand out to the side with your direction of pull towards the center of what would be a tight circle to the left. Then, ask him to step forward walking freely up to his face in a small circle. Be mindful and see if he is leaning or drifting and making the circle larger or tighter. You be in control of his footfall and where he is going by changing your hand position, using a direct rein pull. As simple as this sounds, you will learn a lot about him by doing this, and my hunch is it may be difficult for him. It works well because you are asking him to maintain a tight arc with forward motion. It will supple the tight stiff areas of his body. If he drops his shoulders in, you can encourage him forward, even speed up to a trot, increasing the level of difficulty. If this exercise is done correctly he can’t trot and keep dropping his shoulders for long.
Another thing I would focus on would be to push his hindquarters over off of your right leg. You need control of his hindquarters to control his body position on his left lead. Be aware of his willingness and flexibility as you do this. I like to fully isolate the hindquarters by even pulling his head to the right, unlocking the hindquarters allowing them to move over freely to the left, off of my right leg.
I also recommend you reverse these exercises and work on your right arc. You can gradually get the stiff and tight areas supple and can greatly improve his movement. Many times the head bobbing is from him going to his front end. So I would do these exercises and lope off. If he feels good at first but then deteriorates and goes to his front end, stop him as soon as he deteriorates (don’t let him stop on his front end) ask him to follow his nose or move his hip over, then lope back off. Try to not allow him to get sloppy and deteriorate. If you correct him quickly he will learn that he cannot keep getting sloppy at the lope! Good luck, and I hope this helps you!
Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.
Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.
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