Archive for December, 2011

Straightness Training Principles

December 16, 2011

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Or, understanding what we need to do, to transform the natural horse into a correct riding horse which will stay sound and free of pain over the years.

Klaus Schoneich and Gabriele Raechen-Schoneich from Germany, authors of the book “Correct Movement in Horses – Straightening the Crooked Horse” directed the book to all riders be they competitive or pleasure. Their training system is the fruit of their work and analysis of thousands of horses over a span of more than 25 years.

No! Straightness training is not a new fad; it was acknowledged by the old riding masters and is addressed every day by many trainers around the world. Straighteness is one of the pillars of the German training scale, and is currently mentioned in numerous dressage articles. We all recognize that horses in their natural state carry far more weight on their forehand than their hindquarters. Modern breeding programs have compounded the problem by developing stronger, larger  and athletic horses with huge strides and powerful hind ends that drive the forces into the dominant shoulder. Riders are also very much aware that most horses are more comfortable going in one direction versus the other, and bend more easily on one side than the other. This is because, horses like people have a dominant side and literally they “put their best foot forward” and end up using the dominant front leg as a post, putting more weight on that leg and shoulder, which of course affects the hind end considerably.

So, what makes us believe that the Schoneichs are offering something different?

First of all, they want us to understand the biomechanical differences between the natural horse and the ridden horse. The horse must be physically prepared for the right muscles to develop in order to, not only carry himself but later on, the  rider. This takes time, patience and technique. That was the goal of the work in the pillars  that the old classical dressage masters used  before starting the under saddle work.

Secondly, remember that a crooked horse is an unbalanced horse; an unbalanced horse becomes tense and resistant to the aids. Therefore, crookedness should be addressed at an early stage. Each hind leg should bear equal weight if we want to avoid muscular compensation. We must train the natural horse to be more ambidextrous, just like top human athletes truly are.

So, unless these essential issues of crookedness and forehand heaviness are resolved in the early training (or truly corrected later), the average rider/trainer will be dealing with these problems on a daily basis. The crookedness creates gait aberrations that are manifest in pleasure horses as well as in many top level horses of all disciplines. To develop the pushing power by riding forward requires skilled riding and will only emphasize the crookedness if the rider doesn’t understand the root of the problem.

The straightness techniques developed by the Schoneichs, very clearly define the three steps of training that must be achieved before you even put a saddle on the horse. We have talked about the lightening of the forehand as a first condition, along with developing ambidextrousity through softness and diagonal re-balancing of  the center of gravity. The third condition requires the horse to be able to work  forward and downward without losing its lateral, nor longitudinal balance. Only then, and then only, would they start the work under saddle!  The horse has to have the physical ability to bring his trunk up  and move with an upswinging back before the rider can actually start training from the saddle!

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