Fixing the Arc
Q. Dana, my horse has been in training for two years. I just got him home and he does not arc to the left at all. When he travels in all gaits, his nose points to the right and so does his body. He does not move off my right leg and he has lots of spur makes on his right side. He is not soft in his face. I did have Chiro look at him and he is OK. This is a very quiet horse with great hock, and wants to go slow. He is great to the right. What can I do to change his body position going to the left?
Thank You, Ed
A. Ed, thank you for your great question. That is a very common problem. Keep in mind that just like we are either right or left handed, horses are either right or left leaded or arced. Almost all horses have a stronger and a weaker side to some degree or another. The situation that you describe usually gets worse with age. The older and stiffer a horse gets, the more they want to hold their head tipped to that easier arc. I have seen horses do that as a result of a muscle strain or neck injury, but it sounds like you have ruled that out.
The arc has a couple of main components. First is body position. That involves him putting his head and neck in the correct position. You should be able to see the outside corner of the inside eye. He also needs to have his hip slightly to the inside of the track. (At the lope, right hind should fall in between the two front feet.)
The next is energy flow. Often riders or trainers will manually force the body into the correct position, but the horse’s energy does not stay forward or correctly in line with his body. Proper energy flow is what you need to have cadence and a rhythmic “locked in” gait. Ninety percent of the time if the horse won’t maintain his arc, he will also have interrupted energy flow which can result in a deterioration of the gait, such as a choppy lope or a lot of knee action. He may also “hide” or over bridle in the head and neck, suck back, and move in a crawling motion.
One great exercise that will help you is the “follow the nose.” Ride two-handed and take your left hand out to the side asking your horse to bend his head to the left. As he gives, soften your pull with your hand for a reward. Then ask again and add forward motion. Ask him to “follow his nose” by stepping forward up to his face. I can do this at the walk or trot on a horse, and if they are leaning to the outside or dropping their shoulder in, they have the same problems at the lope. It is very indicative of where the horse’s lean is. You will break through the stiff points and loosen him up as you add forward motion. I do this at the walk, jog and even the lope. The secret to this exercise is to become very “mindful” as to where his body is and what his cadence is like. Listen to the footfall of his legs or feet. If he is stiff he will have a clutchy or interrupted rhythm. When he gives, and gives you a few good steps, drop off of him for a reward. Then pick him back up and try again. Also, mentally draw a circle on the ground and make your horse stay in it. He will most likely want to travel or lean out of your circle. This shows stiffness and lean. Keep working at it until he will stay in his circle and have a good cadence. You can increase the level of difficulty by tightening up the circle. When you feel him left up in his shoulders and soften up in his stride you are breaking through. If your horse drifts or leans you can manually pull him back to position by changing your arm position. Think of the tetherball game with your hand at the center like the pole. Keep your direction of pull toward the center of the circle where the pole would be. You can move or adjust your hand and arm to change where your horse goes. This sounds so simple and basic but it is a huge help for a horse that has lost his arc. The secret to his position is making him follow his nose, but the secret to improving his movement is his energy flow and cadence. You can do this exercise in a snaffle or a shank bridle. Your direction of pull is very important as your start him out in this exercise especially on a stiff horse. Open a door with your hand. Pull your hand out and toward the center (like the pole in the tetherball.) Encourage him forward with the end goal in mind of him soft and cadenced in his step. If they can’t hold an arc and step up to his face at the walk and trot, he sure can’t lope beautifully with cadence and flow.
I also recommend that you move his hip over off your leg. The trainer obviously fought this problem with the horse and one tip that might make it easier for you is to pull his head to the right with your arm in the same position (as in the previous exercise), but isolate only his hind quarters and ask him to step or move his hips over off of your right leg. If he gives a step or two, release your leg as a reward. You can work on this every day building up to the point where he can step freely around and even trot his hip around off of your leg. Remember to look for the cadence the same as when you ask him to follow his nose.
Reverse the exercises and work on your good way (the right arc) as well. These exercises will improve your horse’s flexibility and suppleness and will improve the lift and movement at any gait. Over time, many horses will become better on what was once the weak side and it become their good way. That is why I encourage you to work on both arcs.
Often correcting this problem happens slowly. Be patient and “chip away” at his stiffness and you should see progress day by day.
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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