Four-star event rider Coral Keen provides one H&H forum user with some helpful advice on exercises to use to help her horse become more supple on each rein
Q: “I am looking for some exercises to help my uneven horse on the flat. I showjump my mare and when jumping she feels even in the contact, but not on the flat. I have jump lessons every week, but again not on the flat. I am hoping to start at least monthly flat lessons over the winter, but I need to find the right instructor too. So I was hoping that in the meantime you might have some ideas.
“She has always been quite sharp and tense, but is improving. I still don’t think we have the bitting right — she has quite a small mouth with a thin tongue and doesn’t like double-jointed bits. Currently in an old sweetiron loose ring single joint.
“She is very one-sided on the flat and is empty in the right rein. The left feels heavy, but only because there is nothing in the right, if that makes sense. My left leg is much weaker than my right and I have physio for it, but it is as strong as it will ever be — there is also reduced feeling in it. She can curl to the right on the flat.
“Currently I do a lot of leg yielding and work in outside flexion, but would love some other things to try, especially as we will be spending more time in the school once the light fades.”
A: It sounds like you are doing all the right things. For yourself, I’d strongly recommend that you keep working on your own strength though your left leg. I find pilates is a really good way of getting to know your own body better and strengthening your weaknesses too.
Eliminate any discomfort in your horse by having him checked over by the vet, physio, farrier and equine dental technician and if everything is OK, carry on with your leg-yielding, developing into a spiralling circle exercise. I would do two to one on the weaker side so you are not abandoning the stronger side, but you are working the weaker side more, and hopefully this will strengthen her up.
The spiralling exercise is a really good one for the tool box as it encourages the horse into the outside rein. Stretch down through your inside leg as you put it on, open your inside rein, but don’t pull back, and as she leg-yields out, you should feel more weight in your outside rein. As you feel this, take it, so she feels more secure down the outside. As she takes more outside rein, you can give the inside rein while maintaining your outside rein. She should start stepping into the outside rein more. Make sure you do give her the opportunity to let go on that left rein — remember it takes two to pull.
Progressing on from there, I really like to use a square. In the canter you can really encourage the horse to become engaged in their hind-leg through the turn. It should take three to four strides to make a good turn. Use the inside leg and outside rein, and make sure you are really open through your hip so that you can have your inside leg on correctly and your inside shoulder back to help through the turn.
One other exercise that is great for strengthening horses is varying the tempo within the pace. In trot, bring the horse back nearly to a jog, but still maintain the energy. You can do the same thing in walk and canter. I like to do this on a circle as it helps the horse to stay more engaged. As she gets stronger, she’ll be able to collect more. In the early stages don’t ask too much, but just enough so that you can allow the horse forwards again.