Lateral bend of the horse

A true horseman makes the nervous horse calm, the stiff horse flexible and wakes up the lethargic horse.
It's always the same horseman… but everything depends on how he approaches each horse.

The correct bend of his/her horse on any given circle is one of the rider's major concern.

Many riders regularly mail me about their difficulties in this essential area.

All veterinarian and chiropractic problems are excluded from the present notes… although a real tactful and experimented rider can, through true art, put the horse in such a frame that the exercise becomes possible, even comfortable for the horse…

The horse refuses to bend on way, is more or less stiff on one side, becomes inflexible, leans into the circle, pulls on the reins and does not want to comply. Circles or voltes, taking the corners of the arena, and work on two tracks is difficult.

The sideways curvature of the horse around the rider's inside leg is called the BEND. A correctly bend horse flexes on the circle. His spine follows the curve of the circle from the poll to the tail.

Most of the time, this bend should be moderate, but above all, regular.

The difficulty is related to the horse's anatomy.
The neck, from the poll to the withers, is very flexible. The ribcage is rather rigid. As for the lower back, it bends rather easily.
These particularities explain why horses are very often bent too much from the poll to withers, or why they so easily put their hindquarters too far inside. It is just as tricky to have a straight horse than to have one perfectly bent!

Clumsy or inexperienced riders, untimely or hard aids, lack of flexibility in the horse, or difficulty for the very young horse to carry a rider, trigger physical and mental resistance, which causes the horse to fight back (defend himself).

Refusal to bend one way is a hindrance or a defense! It is almost always a lack of balance

How to bend your horse

It is of the essence to now what degree of bend to give to each horse, depending on their specific anatomy.

Of course, you don't want to use sheer strength and constraint the poor horse to bend by pulling and prodding! That's guaranteed failure!
You can only encourage the horse to bend by correctly spreading your weight and the balance between horse and rider.

First, move your inside rein slightly down and inside, then toward the horse's withers (without passing them of course). This will place and flex the neck, but not take it. Control the amount of bend with the outside rein. Let your outside rein become a little longer (an inch or so) to allow the neck to stretch itself on the outside. But do not move your hand forward, you would loose collection.
Keep your inside leg at the girth and use it for a fraction of a second every time you feel tightening or stiffness on the inside.
Control the haunches by moving your outside leg more or less back, to get the hindquarters to stay in place, and to stop them from escaping outside.

The combination of these aids is called "bending aids".

Your inside leg is essential: Your horse must turn around your leg without putting more weight on the inside shoulder than on the outside shoulder. During a change or switch of bend, do not forget to modify and readjust your reins in consequence.

The most important is the way to proceed.

Proposed exercises

Nuno Oliveira underlined the fact that circles, corners (of the arena), and shoulder-ins were all of the same family, a "menage a trois"!
Now this is a trail of very interesting work…
Al this work is developed at length in the themes of this site… Click on the links below.

The first step is to teach the horse to take the corners , working in hands and riding. Next, add rigorous work on circles and voltes at the walk. Then complete the work with a judicious study and implement of well-executed shoulder-ins.

At the same time, work your horse regularly on the lunge, on a well shaped circle, first free then with side-reins. The horse will develop the right muscles, find balance, bend and become rounder… see "Notes on Side-Reins"…

Some variations on the size of the circle, frequent changes of rein to go directly from one circle to another, and smoothly executed serpentines will gainfully complete this work.

Act with lightness, encourage without forcing, reverse the bends with softness… Your horse will be just - correctly bent. Headset and collection will become possible.

A harmoniously bent horse is already a trained horse!!!

next themes

Posture-position / Walk / Trot / Canter / Shoulder-in / half-pass / Flying change of lead / Pirouette /

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