Q: My western pleasure gelding is soft as butter when we go to the right, but stiffens to the left. How can I loosen him up?
Albuquerque, New Mexico
A: I use a straight line, lateral flexion exercise that will help you melt that one-sidedness. Outfit your horse in a snaffle. Walk on a straight line. Take a rein in each hand, and establish light bit contact. Bring your left hand straight back toward your left hip and slightly upward (just above your pommel). Apply light, steady pressure until you can see his left eye. (If he braces against you, give the left rein a few light bumps.)
If your horse begins to veer leftward, press your left calf just behind the cinch. Ask him to maintain his lateral flexion for four to five strides, then release him for 10 strides. Repeat until he consistently yields to the left, then repeat the exercise to the right.
Graduate to the jog. Over time, ask for more and more flexion, until your horse is able to travel in a straight line with his head/neck flexed at a 90-degree angle. To accomplish this, take your left hand toward your right hip, positioning it about 12 inches above-not across-your horse's withers. If he starts to veer left, push him forward by simultaneously pressing both calves at the cinch. If this doesn't work, consider a lameness exam by your veterinarian.
After a successful youth career, Michele turned pro at 17, and began showing Paints 14 years ago. Last year, she and her amateur riders garnered six APHA world championships and two reserves. She's based in Pilot Point, Texas.
This article first appeared in the July, 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.