“Oh, that’s just his bad side.”
Have you ever said this, referring to your horse’s tendency to be a little stiffer going one direction than the other? If so, you’re believing a myth.
Clinician and world champion trainer Sandy Collier says it’s actually not true that every horse has a “good” and a “bad” side.
In her popular training book, Reining Essentials, she debunks this and many other myths.
“It’s not a question of good and bad,” she writes. “It’s a question of hollow and stiff.”
That’s because most horses are asymmetrical physically in a way that makes it easier to bend going to their right (their hollow side) and harder to bend going to their left (their stiff side).
She notes that riders tend to think they need to work the so-called bad side—the stiff side—more. But in reality, you need to work the hollow side equally as much, or it can become overbent and “noodly.”
“Work each of your horse’s sides equally,” she recommends, “giving intelligent consideration to the tendencies of that side and how to compensate for them.”
Let’s look at some more myth-busting from the horsewoman who’s still the only female to win the open division of the World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity….
MYTH: Pulling on your horse’s mouth will make him hard-mouthed.
REALITY: Not necessarily, says Sandy. It depends on how you pull. “A horse must learn to ‘take a pull’ in order to be trained,” she says. “The key thing is when and how you pull—plus, even more important, when you release.”
Specifically, if you pull at the correct moment—without jerking—and release the instant your horse responds, you’re training, not toughening his mouth.
And, as Sandy stresses, always remember that it’s not the pulling itself that educates your horse…it’s the properly timed release.
MYTH: It’s better to use ‘body English’ (leaning) to guide your horse than to use your reins.
REALITY: This just causes your horse to try to compensate under you, which can unbalance him.
“I run into this a lot in my clinics,” says Sandy. “For some reason, people think the less they use their reins, the better, so they try to throw their weight around to steer their horse.”
She notes that although how you sit in the saddle is important, “you’re not doing your horse any favors by purposely leaning on top of him.
“Remember, your reins are there for a purpose,” she adds. “It’s OK to use them!”
MYTH: You need to worry about where your horse’s feet are when you say ‘whoa.’
REALITY: This can actually mess up your stops.
“I tell my students not to worry about this,” says Sandy. “Because if you do, you’ll be so focused on that that you won’t be riding your horse all the way to the stop, and the latter is far more important.”
She goes on to explain that the ability to feel in the seat of your pants where your horse’s feet are at any given moment is something you develop after a lot of time in the saddle.
“In the meantime,” she adds, “just take a deep breath, let it out steadily, and say ‘whoa’ at the bottom of that breath—and you’ll almost always be asking for the stop when your horse’s body is in the best position to slide.”