Do you struggle with a Crooked Horse?

For the past 4 years I have felt really passionate about focusing on crooked horses and correcting there weaknesses. Competing and Judging Dressage is all about the horses rhythm, contact, suppleness and impulsion - but to do any of these well the horse needs to be as balanced as possible mentally and physically. Fitting saddles equally is all about Balance and Even Pressure.

One of my horses struggled greatly with straightness after an illness and that is where my real search for strengthening and straightening began. I started by looking at what was available to me and purchased a book called Straightening the Crooked Horse by Klaus and Gabriele Schoneich. After reading the book I decided the only way to really understand this more was to spend some time in Germany with the trainers - so thats what I did.

They work daily in round pen working up to 15 horses a day sometimes - for a maximum of 15 minutes each. It was an interesting time learning how to look at the crooked-ness in the horse and why this occurs - also the damage it causes to the carrying limb. I learnt such a lot about the dominant diagonal and what impact is has on the way the horse works. Its extraordinary how much it changed the way I look at a horse move and how much it influences the training.

Dr Schoneich had an in-depth explanation (as seen in his book) into how he would assess a horse and how he would then work to correct it. In brief his main aim when working with the horses was to get an upward swinging back and put the horse in quite a bent shoulder-in position to encourage the inside hind leg to carry the weight of the body rather than a front leg - which is what we usually see from crookedness. It was fascinating to see horses improving over there backs as the days went on. I left there keen to get home and start working with other horses, to see how this changed and developed them. My main concerns with this work was the tightness of the circle, and whether this could cause other problems if not carried out with completely correct balance. What I found brilliant about it was how it had changed the way I look at the horse and the biomechanics.

In my continued search to understand more I spent a week in Vienna on a course with the Spanish Riding School looking at there In-Hand Work and the way they develop the horse. I love what they do, BUT they are lucky enough to have 2-4 people available at any one time to work a horse in hand. I find it hard when training a horse to Piaffe in-hand to do this alone. Trying to keep the front end from running away whilst motivating the back end is not always easy! Its definitely in the technique, and I am getting better but no where near as good as I need to be for it to be effective.

So whilst I continue looking at other techniques I became a member of the Straightness Training Course that Marijke De Jong publishes. Its good and I would recommend to anyone wanting to create suppleness, an understanding of the horses body, discipline and a bond with the horse. Its detailed and gets you really thinking about what the horse is doing. You are teaching the horse to perform all of the lateral movements, back up and balance more before you ride. Its invaluable work for horses that tend to rush and push down with their back and chest. It gets the horse thinking about there body to. For re-hab horses its a gentle approach to building the body back up before a rider gets back on board. I am only a year into studying this way of working horses, but it is definitely something I will incorporate into helping owners with asymmetry.

Most recently I attended a clinic held by the Thurman-Baker Family. They have horse's competing at Grand Prix level. They use ground-work to strengthen and supple the horses as part of there weekly routine. It was interesting to see them use the techniques of all of the above. There approach is Classical, and there aim is to get the horse as strong and as supple as it can be from the ground, to then be able to carry out was is asked of it with ease when ridden. An ideal approach to working horses correctly and kindly.

Finally the last clinic I have attended in my search for Straightness is a Science in Motion Clinic taken by Jean Luc Cornille. As someone who is looking to understand this subject in real depth - Its possibly the most fascinating of them all, because not only does he talk in depth about the practical work of the horse, his knowledge of the Bio-Mechanics and the problems from crookedness is second to none. A man in his 70's with such in-depth knowledge he is so interesting to listen to. For example at his recent clinic he explained how Navicular is not a disease its a re-modelling of the bone. Its now called Navicular Syndrome and this is caused by horses carrying to much weight on the front foot/feet. When a horse is crooked and out of balance, one front foot with take the impact of the whole body in movement. Its this that causes a foot to re-model and its this that causes Navicular. He explained how he has worked with many horses lame from Navicular, and that he has managed to achieve soundness with these horse's right into there 30's.

So needless to say my next plan is travel to America where Jean Luc Cornille is based to understand this work more. I am keen to incorporate this into how I work with my horses my fitting saddles, and to help guide riders and owners struggling for answers.

If you have any stories about your crooked horse and what you have done or are doing to help them I would love to hear about it.