One Stirrup Shorter than the Other?

I watched a video recently where I witnessed a rider compensating in his position for the crookedness of his horse.  This reminded me of how often through my years of exposure to other trainers and riders I have heard outrageous explanations and solutions regarding faults in rider position.  I am reflecting on three of the most common:

Uneven Stirrups.   How many times  have I heard an instructor say to a student:  “your stirrups are not even” and often without even bothering to check to see if a leather has actually stretched…..or not… they instruct the student to lengthen or shorten a stirrup.

 Collapsed in the Hip.   Often when a student cannot sit straight, the instructor informs them they are “collapsing” a hip or “dropping” a hip, with the instruction to “stretch”  to straighten yourself.  Here their solution is to ride with only one stirrup and “reach” to the sky. 

     Not Centered.   The instructor says you are centered on the horse.  “Sit Straight”.

So, what do all of these rider position faults have in common?  Of course, a crooked horse.  How often have I heard someone confirm that the horse is straight because his legs are traveling straight.  There is a difference between a horse being straight in his body (not STIFF but STRAIGHT, which requires suppleness) and tracking straight.  A stiff horse can appear to track straight, but the crookedness will be revealed on a turn or circle, where he will either shift out or fall in.


On the hollow side, the leg hangs longer than on the stiff side (of the body, not the neck), therefore the stirrups are uneven.

When the horse is crooked, one shoulder will bulge and the opposite hip will be more elevated and rounder.  As a result, the rotation of the forehand will make the rider sink, resulting  in the appearance of one hip higher than the other.   To try to correct the position of the rider without straightening the horse will bring a relaxed rider into a forced position, resulting in stiffness.

The leaning of the horse to one side or the other, as described above, displaces the rider to one side.  It is impossible to stay centered on a crooked horse without either stiffening your body, or putting too much weight into the stirrips.

The Solution?  Learn to Straighten the Horse

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It is unreasonable to expect a rider to develop balance on a horse by acquiring the ability to “follow” the horse with an independent seat and leg, maintaining a soft and elastic contact with the horses mouth, if the horse is untrained.  By untrained, I am not referring to knowing movements or having experience jumping, etc.  Perhaps I should even use the word “unschooled” since I am referring to a horse which is not calmly forward, is crooked, leaning on or blocked in the shoulders, heavy on the forehand with a stiff back and inactive hindquarters.  The unschooled horse, as described above, may appear to be calm, but often has learned to compensate by stiffening his body and because of his good nature, bears the burden quietly.

Of course, it is unfair to expect this learning rider to be able to properly school the horse.  Feeling out of balance, the rider will also stiffen his body to compensate.  (Imagine walking on an icy surface, and how you manage your body.  Also, think about how relieved you are when you are back on solid ground.)  Therefore, he or she cannot feel the problems occurring in the horse, much less enact solutions.  The result is a stiff horse/rider combination.

Both rider and horse show stiffness

So, how do we proceed?

It has always been my opinion, based on education and experience, that a good trainer/instructor should have the ability to properly school the horse for their students, if necessary.  If it is a trained horse, the instructor must maintain the “training” not the “movements”.  That is to say, maintain the desire to go forward in a calm but active rhythm, work tirelessly to maintain the suppleness of the “body” not just the neck resulting in “straightness” and strive to keep the shoulders elevated and free.  The back should not be stiff and should feel “soft to the rider”.  If the horse is untrained, then of course the trainer must establish the basics of “calm,  forward and straight” before a developing rider can be expected to accomplish anything on the horse.  I have always maintained that before the rider takes the reins they should have an understanding of the effects of the aids, “reins, seat, legs and weight” in advance of trying to apply them.  This issue however, will be discussed further at another time.

As you can see, I believe only a relatively well schooled horse can truly enable a developing rider to master the necessary skills required to begin to school and develop harmony with their partner, their horse.  And that requires the assistance of a competent trainer/instructor.

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The Blood Rule – Once again the FEI shows lack of spine.

Eurodressage has reported today that the FEI General Assembly meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week has taken the decision, after a request from the Dressage Committee, to withdraw the proposed addition to Art. 430.7.6, “evidence of blood in the arena” to allow the Veterinary Committee to study the issue from a horse welfare perspective.

Arguments have been made that since international team competitions no longer have a alternate rider, that the elimination of one rider would effectively eliminate the entire team, meaning of course the team could not medal. This is certainly a legitimate concern considering the time that goes into training to the international levels, the costs now of high quality horses, and of course the expenses involved in preparing for, traveling to and competing in shows at that level.

However, I have to wonder how often competitors at that level actually show blood in competition if they have properly trained horses, and are prepared for the competitions in which they are participating? It would really be an exception for a horse to bleed without any apparent cause, but if so, it would likely indicate a pathology, and for the welfare of the horse, he should of course stop working (competing).

If we think of the average rider to whom this rule would also apply, I believe this is where the most important benefits would occur. Most riders are so concerned about the welfare of their horses, they would be horrified to find they have cause their horses to bleed. However, many “confident” individuals, who “train” through force and brutality at home, often find that without such “tools”, the horse will not give a somewhat reliable perfomance. There, we can see evidence of blood at competitions. In both cases, a bleeding horse at a competition usually indicates something is not correct at home, and institution of a “no blood” rule might have some impact on those individuals, though I am not convinced.

Overall, I believe rather than trying to implement a rule that is as full of loopholes and the tax code, the FEI should come down on one side of the issue or the other: Blood accepted… or No Blood. Of course there will always be innocent riders and trainers who might occassionally be targeted unjustifiably, but I think the benefit and well being of the horse is worth that risk.


       For the past year I have been away from the daily activity with horses that has been my life for over 35 years.   Though I have not been riding daily, my passion for horses and the sport has not diminished.  I have maintained consistent connections through contact with  facilities in France and Germany, attendance at shows in both countries as well as the  Netherlands.   In addition I am constantly observing  all forms of media. Throughout all of this I have been reflecting on what I see, what I have learned and what I have done.  

I have been contemplating developing a blog for many months, especially when I am frustrated, disappointed and even alarmed at what I see, hear or read.   

In addition, or as a result of all of this, I reflect on my years of riding, learning, re-learning, training, re-training, and competing.  I think also of my efforts as an instructor, and the efforts of my students and friends to comprehend the biomechanical information necessary to assist our companion, the horse, to work with us in a way that he has confidence (“calm, forward, straight, balanced,  and elevated”) in order for the rider to feel in harmony with his friend, therefore developing their own level of confidence.

Many of my posts will correspond directly with my many years of training by various instructors, and primarily Dr. Lespinasse, but also there will be times  when I wish to express my opinions, and I shall not hesitate to do so.  Therefore, some posts might invite controvesy, and when so, I invite any comments and feedback.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate the issues presented.   While I feel I have something to say, I also always look forward to learning something new.

So, for any of you who would like to follow my posts,  please click on the “follow posts” tag and please feel free to interact.    

As they say here in France –“On y va”.