Try This Exercise to Help with One-Sided Stiffness

APHA World Champion Michele Pearson explains how to loosen up your one-sided horse and help him perform equally well on both sides.

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?

Gloria Struhl
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Is your horse stiff to one side? Try this exercise. Terri Cage/

A: First, rule out pain. Make sure that he isn’t avoiding suppleness on that side due to a physical issue.

Then, 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.

-Michele Pearson

After a successful youth career, Michele turned pro at 17, and began showing Paints 14 years ago. She has many APHA world championships and reserves. She’s based in Pilot Point, Texas.

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