The perfect place for your horse to be is straight in between your legs and reins. This place is called being ‘neutral’ or ‘straight’. And this is the place where a horse can relax and carry the rider most efficiently. On a colt’s first or second ride, I begin working on straightness.
Practicing straightness is a highly underestimated exercise, but it is a vitally important skill for your horse to have. Your horse needs to know what neutral feels like so when you go out of neutral (i.e. ask him to turn, or move his hip) that means something to him.
This exercise will cause your horse to start seeking ‘neutral’ and the better he gets at it, the quicker he will find it. You come out of neutral to fix it up, and he finds the position that puts you back to neutral.
Listen to my podcast about developing softness: Carson James Podcast
Find A Straight Target For Your Horse
Start by picking out a target across the pasture or arena. Then walk your horse towards that target. The goal is to keep the target right between his ears. The right shoulder is not higher than the left or vice versa. His hips are directly behind his withers and his body travels in a straight line.
Ride with your hands forward, wide, low. Focus on feeling your horse. Make sure your own body, shoulders, and hips are square. Any time your horse falls off of that straight line onto your leg or rein, use that opportunity to stand him up and get him square again. Correct any crookedness as soon as you see it beginning to happen.
When you get to the target, practice standing still for a couple of minutes. Then pick another target. Rock your horse back on his hocks and turn him towards the new target.
For more on how to properly ride a horse: How To Ride A Horse
Find A New Straight Target
Make sure the new target is now between his ears and his body is straight. Any time the horse veers off that direct path, you will come out of neutral with your leg and/or rein to bring him back to center. As a result, the horse will begin working to keep you in neutral which results in him traveling straight and square.
More Benefits Of Straightness
This straightness exercise will also cause your horse to develop the habit of paying attention and ignoring potential distractions. He will be ‘with’ you, both mentally and physically, and not focused on being anywhere else.
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