An Ambidextrous Sport

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?

18 thoughts on “An Ambidextrous Sport

  1. Jenn 06/25/2015 / 8:36 am

    Roger is definitely not ambidextrous…his right lead canter is something that dreams are made of, while his left lead canter is, well, kinda fugly. It’s a bit surprising when you think about it, considering he’s an OTTB and the first few years of his life were spent only going left. In the 3 months I’ve been riding him, the left lead canter has improved some, but it still needs a lot of work. He also prefers to land on the right lead when we’re jumping too, even when we’re going left. When I flat him, I’ve been trying to focus on building his muscles evenly while also focusing on balancing out that left side. It’ll just take some time and consistency to get there!

    And also, YES to you and Addy in some Adult Medal classes 😉


    • hellomylivia 06/25/2015 / 8:39 am

      That’s so interesting that he’s so right-centric, I wonder why? Time and consistency is right- as much as I want to fix this tomorrow I know it’ll take time to build strength and muscle memory. We can totally be patient!


    • rachelum33 06/25/2015 / 11:45 am

      My OTTB is also so much more balanced going to the right. I never understood that either. He is also so much more fluid doing a left to right lead change versus having to throw himself into his right to left lead change.


  2. Erin 06/25/2015 / 8:45 am

    Sounds like a great ride! I have similar problems only much less defined… Tuck doesn’t swap left to right easily but 9 times out of 10 if he picks up the wrong lead it’ll be going to the left. He picks up the right lead canter easier than right from walk or trot. He usually gives me better rounding and bend to the right but is smoother and more relaxed to the left. Struggle!!!


    • Erin 06/25/2015 / 8:46 am

      That should say picks up right lead canter easier than left.


    • hellomylivia 06/25/2015 / 8:54 am

      Once again we have total opposite draftXs haha! Addy will pick up the left lead unless I really have her attention and ask clearly. The struggle is real!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Exquisite Equine 06/25/2015 / 10:33 am

    So this sounds like Nicole’s post and I like this theme. Estella is definitely out of wack, especially because her left hock is worse than her right. So she has trouble stepping under to the left, but also has trouble pushing off to the right. I have no idea how to go about this and I am not going to pretend we are ready for a lesson. Soooo….biomechanics gods…where are you???


    • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 8:01 am

      Seriously I think I’m going to pick up a biomechanics book. And also ask my trainer. And also beg blogland for advice. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. emma 06/25/2015 / 11:02 am

    ughhhhhhh straightness… how i loathe the word! i am so crooked. my mare is so crooked. we are so crooked together – to the point of being totally codependent. i’m about 87% convinced this is why we can’t get a decent canter transition – the crookedness is literally blocking her from being able to step under herself to strike off, and instead she has to fling herself into canter totally inverted….


    • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 8:02 am

      Hahaha at least you’re crooked together!!! Let me know if you come up with any brilliant ways to un-crooked yourself, I’d love to steal any ideas!


  5. Lynn 06/25/2015 / 2:02 pm

    I just wrote about yesterday how I’d like to incorporate some lunging work into our weekly routine to help develop self-carriage and balance without having him rely on his rider – G is quite unbalanced going to the left at a canter. In fact, he can’t even hold a canter to the left on a lunge circle without swapping or breaking within a few strides which really made me think. I will update to record how the lungework goes! I’m really hoping it will sort out some of our straightness issues.


    • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 8:03 am

      That’s a fantastic idea- get him used to carrying himself without the interference or changes that a rider would introduce. I’d definitely love to hear how this goes!


  6. Nicole Sharpe 06/26/2015 / 1:06 am

    My personal favourite way to address Murray’s imbalance is to do absolutely nothing about it until the last possible minute that it would be relevant and then FUCKING GET AFTER HIM because I am terrible at anticipating these things.

    But for real, I know Murray has a weak right front and right hind. So to strengthen and encourage reach in the right front I do trot poles and for the right hind I do a lot of exercises that ask him to tuck it under his body — shoulder in right or haunches left. I do these at all gaits, starting slow because I’m bodily incapable and working up to a gait that maybe activates the leg more. I think it’s really important to isolate the weaker parts of the body this way too so your horse doesn’t end up bracing and make it worse in the long run.


    • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 8:04 am

      I’m absolutely the worst at shoulder in and haunches in. So bad. I should probably stop talking about how bad I am and actually start trying to improve. But agreed completely- better to start slow and build up the muscle slowly so pony doesn’t associate that work with being sore or uncomfortable.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Britt 06/26/2015 / 10:46 am

        It’s worth working on for jumpers- they’ll allow you to really get some awesomely balanced tight roll backs! But seriously, once you have them, they are also super fun to school. Or maybe I’m just a dressage nerd.


      • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 1:00 pm

        Definitely worth working on! And girl, dressage nerds get shit done. I’m trying to embrace my inner dressage nerd more.


  7. Britt 06/26/2015 / 10:45 am

    This is very timely for me, and I have been trying to put my leg leg in boot camp starting this week. I struggle getting a good left bend, and when I rode in my jump saddle this morning I noticed that it was not as stable as the right leg.. Hmmm could that be the reason why my horse falls left in both directions? Doh!


    • hellomylivia 06/26/2015 / 10:46 am

      I like the idea of leg boot camp, I’m gonna get intense about it too!


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