How You Can Improve Your Horse’s Balance

A follower on my Facebook page recently sent a message looking for an answer to her mare’s head swinging at the trot.

“I own an appaloosa/quarter horse mare since May 2012. Ever since I’ve had her she has had this problem with her head where she will sort of lightly balance it from left to right (at the trot only) with or without tack or a rider. We have been wondering since the beginning what could be causing this but no one has a clue. She seems very healthy, if it would cause her pain, I tell myself I would have been bucked off a long time ago.”  

Here is a video she included with her message (shared with the sender’s permission).


What I see causing the horse to move her head about is imbalance.  There are 3 factors that affect your horse’s balance.

1) Bio-mechanics  – Horses use their neck and head to balance.  As the horse moves, the neck and head swing over each front foot as it comes forward.  So, as the right front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing to the right.  As the left front foot comes forward, the neck and head swing the left.

Humans use our arms to balance.   When we lose our balance, we throw our arms about to try to save ourselves from falling down.  Horses do much the same with their neck and head.

2) Alignment – There are 3 areas of alignment that are necessary for both you and your horse be balanced and relaxed:

a)      Spine:

  • You – the straight line from your “ear through your shoulder through your hip through your heel”.
  • Your Horse – the horizontal alignment from his nose to his tail.

b) Rectangle of Shoulders & Hips – this is the same for both horse & rider.  The hips and shoulders are lined up with each other creating a rectangle.

  • You – your shoulders stay over your hips.
  • Your Horse – his hind feet track directly behind his front feet creating 2 tracks.

c) Horse and Rider – You and your horse should be aligned to each other

  • Your belly button aims between your horse’s ears
  • Your shoulders align with your horses shoulders;
  • Your hips align with your horse’s hips.

3) Riding the Bend – A horse with a left bend will be balanced turning left or leg yielding right, but will be unbalanced turning right.  With a right bend, he is balanced turning right or leg yielding left, but will be unbalanced turning left.  

In the video above, the horse is often counter bent.  As the rider turns her body in the direction they are traveling, she loses her alignment with her horse.  This puts her horse off balance and she moves her head to try to re-balance.

If the rider reads her horse’s bend and adjusts her position to stay aligned with her, they will both be more balanced.

The following is an excerpt about bend from my soon to be published book, “Confident Rider, Confident Horse”)  

“Do not assume that because you are going to the left your horse has a left bend.  This is the number one cause of misalignment between horse and rider.  Practise reading your horse’s bend by looking at his neck from the withers to his ears.  Keep your belly button aimed between his ears so that your spine and his spine are always aligned to each other.  At the rising trot, adjust your post so that you are rising as your horse’s outside shoulder is going forward – that is the shoulder that is on the outside of his bend not the shoulder closest to the rail.  You may have been taught to “rise and fall with the leg on the wall” – meaning that you rise as the shoulder closest to the rail is going forward.  However, this teaching assumes that the horse has a true bend.

In order to turn and remain balanced, your horse’s bend must match the arc of the turn.  A stiff, unbending horse’s hind quarters will swing out.  If he is over bent (sometimes also called over flexed) through the neck, his shoulders will fall into the turn if his nose is tipped out of the turn or they will push out if his nose is tipped into the turn.  A counter bent horse will be unbalanced.

‘True bend’ and ‘counter bend’ are terms used to describe the horse’s bend relative to the direction he is traveling.  True bend means the horse is bent in the direction he is traveling.  So, if you are walking on the left rein (counter clockwise) and your horse is bending around your left leg so that his spine is mirroring the line you are walking, then he is in true bend.  If he is bending around your right leg when you are on the left rein, then his is in counter bend.  In order to help her horse feel balanced, calm, supple and relaxed, it is important to be able to read which bend he has at any given moment.

When talking about ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ aids I am referring to them relative to the horse’s bend.  So, regardless of the direction you are traveling, the inside leg and inside rein are on the inside of the bend.  The outside leg and outside rein on are on the outside of the bend.  If your horse is bending right, your right leg and rein are the inside aids; your left leg and rein are the outside aids.  When bending left, your left leg and rein are the inside aids; your right leg and rein are the outside aids.

Encourage your horse to bend around your inside seat bone and leg by keeping your leg just behind the girth or cinch of your saddle.  Push his barrel over as you feel your inside hip drop.  Help your horse to keep his hip in line by putting your outside leg back slightly and pushing his hip over when you feel your outside hip drop.  If the inside shoulder is dropping in, push it over by using your upper inside leg as your horse’s shoulder moves forward.  The horse can only respond to your push when his weight is off the leg you want him to move.

When working on improving your horse’s bend from your seat and leg aids, recognize when he tries a little.  Stop pushing him and reward him with a wither scratch and a short break before asking again.  Remember to reward yourself as well for a job well done.”

Click on this link to see a video showing how I use bend to bring my mare into a relaxed and balanced frame.

Border

Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”

Interested in organizing a clinic at your location? Click here for more information.

Let’s spread the word about a better way to work with horses.  Share this blog with 3 friends, send a Tweet or post a link on your Facebook page.  The horses thank you.

You’re welcome to use this article in your newsletter or blog as long as you include my credit information: ~ Written by Anne Gage, Confident Horsemanship (www.annegage.com).  

I would also appreciate it if you’d send me a copy for my media files.

Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

www.annegage.com
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9 thoughts on “How You Can Improve Your Horse’s Balance

  1. But Anne,
    the owner clearly says that the horse does this with her head while running in the field, without a rider.
    I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the rider.
    We all know that horses, when turning at speed without a rider, will use counter bend – it is far more natural than what we like to think of as true bend – watch any videos of herds of horses running – well, any horses running free really – they will always turn with counter bend.
    No, I think this horse has a conformational reason for her inbalance.
    Maybe her feet, maybe her weight is also an issue.
    I’d like to see her trot and walk a straight line towards and away from the camera….

    Faith.

    • Hi, Faith … The owner did not mention that the horse does this with her head when she is ‘running in the field’. She did say that she does it with or without tack (so probably not related to tack fit) and with or without a rider. The owner also sent another video with her email that shows her working with her horse in the round pen. From that video, I saw the same issue of counter bending causing her to be off balance.

      Yes, horses do use the counter bend without a rider. They bend their bodies away from potential danger and move laterally or push into a herd mate to move them out of their way or into a predator to knock it off balance. In the wild or when kept in large areas, horses do not run in small circles. They gallop away from danger – generally in a fairly straight line.
      Horses can and do work well and maintain their balance in the counter bend even when being ridden -we see examples of this in disciplines like dressage and reining – but, only when the rider maintains his or alignment with the horse and does not ride the horse front end first into a turn, corner or circle. It is like turning your body to the left and then running a circle to the right. At best, your movement will be awkward and unbalanced. At worst, you will trip and fall.

      It has been my experience that when a physical problem is the cause of a behaviour, then the behaviour is usually constant. In the videos the owner provided, there are times when the horse moves quietly and well without the unnatural head swinging movement.

      It is always difficult to make a 100% accurate diagnoses from a short video. So, I am looking forward to receiving an update from the owner to find out how they are progressing. If the problem persists after the suggested corrections have been made, then I would definitely encourage the owner to get an assessment from a qualified equine chiropractor or massage therapist in conjunction with her vet.

      Cheers,

      Anne

  2. I had not realised someone commented on the post related to my video. I sure can provide a video of my horse trotting and walking towards and away from the camera if it is still necessary… Anne saw my horse last weekend and actually mounted her as well. My mare is clearly counter bend and she does wiggle a lot when walking a straight line, she’s like everywhere. I will definitely work on this as soon as i have some time to ride 🙂

      • Thank you Anne, when Jade and I are correctly balanced and working together as one, i will definitely send you a new video 😉 Practice makes perfect!

  3. Pingback: Confident Rider Tip: Solving the Mystery of the Unexplained ‘Spook’ | Confident Horsemanship with Anne Gage

  4. Pingback: Confident Rider Tip: Solving the Mystery of the Unexplained ‘Spook’ | Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship

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