I had a sore muscle in my arm the other day, and I got an interesting reaction from a coworker when I mentioned it. She said in quite certain terms that it was likely from riding because I’m right hand dominant.
No matter what I said, I could not convince her that riding is symmetrical(ish). That if I was holding more strongly with my right hand, we would be going in circles the whole time.
Who can blame her? Can you think of any other sport that is truly symmetric? Soccer players tend to kick with their dominant side, baseball players pitch and bat with their dominant side, track and field athletes run or throw or grip with a certain side. Even swimmers tend to breathe more from a certain side.
I’m not saying there are no exceptions to this (several popped into my head as I typed this), but it is exceptionally rare to find a sport in which there is no “dominant side.”
At least in theory.
I know that practice can be quite different- many of us have weaker left sides, or their right leg tends to float, or any number of bad habits
that I certainly don’t have. But these are things that we’re all consistently working to correct (or should be).
We’re careful to lunge a horse the same number of circles in both directions. We want to sit directly in the center of the saddle so that we are prepared to ask for anything. A rollback to the right and a rollback to the left can easily be in the same course, so your legs better both be strong for that. You dressage folks are even more obsessed with straightness and balance than those of us in the H/J world, but we all should be!
I’ve read and re-read this article quoting George Morris probably 10-12 times now, and so much of it relates back to the ever-important straightness and balance. Straightness at all gaits, straightness to jumps, straightness for changes, straightness 4ever. Imagine how hard it is for the horse to be straight when we as riders aren’t straight! (Says the girl who collapses to the left, wiggles her inside leg, over-bends/counter-bends at random times, and then has the gall to ask “WHY WON’T SHE JUST GO IN A STRAIGHT LINE?!” Because you’re an idiot, Olivia. Because you’re an idiot.)
I had a really excellent school with Addy yesterday that brought this to the forefront- I lowered my stirrups by a hole to a more appropriate flatting length, put her snaffle bit back in, popped on some very gentle spurs, and declared it Equitation Day. She moved right up into the bridle almost immediately, was salivating out the wazoo, and gave me some really great effort. We did lateral movements, extensions, collections, transitions, and everything felt really calm and balanced. She wasn’t leaning on the bit to catch her balance, she was moving more upright and carried herself more. To say I was happy with how quickly she caught on would be an understatement. I started screaming for everyone to LOOK AT MY DRESSAGE PONY SHE’S SO FANCY.
However, our lack of ambidextrousness (is that a word? I’m assuming you’re all smart enough to know what I’m saying here) became more apparent once we moved into the canter. I was able to get a beautiful balanced canter to the left- she stayed nice and round, balanced and bent through her turns and around circles, and we could extend and collect without a fuss. It was one of the best quality canters I’ve ever gotten from her. But then going to the right, it wasn’t as nice. It wasn’t a hot mess by any means and she certainly was working hard for me, but required much more support around turns and when collecting.
I tested this out by counter-cantering, which historically has been pretty tough for us. She was able to hold when we were going left, but when she was unable to collapse in on the right she got very discombobulated. I didn’t want to drill this without a trainer present, but our short experiment confirmed what I thought- we need to build her muscle and balance more evenly. After all, it’s not fair to ask her to carry me around a course in all directions if I haven’t developed her capabilities in all directions.
I’m going to start building “Equitation Day” into our schedule much more often so that we can consciously work on that. Encouraging that correct round movement will likely be difficult for her at first, but with her work ethic and my fumbling attempts at support I think we’ll get there. Besides, she sure would look purty taking me around an Adult Medal class….
Does your horse have a stronger side? How do you address that? What are your favorite exercises for building self-carriage and balance?