View Full Version : Exercises to loosen up horse's stiff left side

Sep. 14, 2009, 06:31 PM
My horse and his left side are apparently not friends anymore. He does not like to bend his neck and body to the left and does not want to take up contact on the left side of his Happy Mouth double-jointed bit, which he has used and liked for several years now. If I trot him down the center of a large, unfenced field with my hands on the buckle, he will look straight ahead or slightly to the right the whole time. He has been recently looked at by the dentist (teeth were fine) and vet/chiropractor (same person, she said his left shoulder was a little stiff but not too bad) and seems to have no physical reason to be so stiff. His saddle is not a perfect fit (we are working with the fitter on that) but at the moment is not sitting in such a way to cause him pain or impede his motion. I am fairly certain that while this may have been rider created, it is probably not exclusively me anymore; I asked my trainer to ride him and give me her thoughts, and his way of going was no different. (She said something to the effect of feeling like her left arm had been lifting weights after 10 minutes at the trot--that's how much he resists the left hand. He is lovely, soft, and willing on the right hand.) He feels stiffest at the lower third of his neck, closest to the shoulder, and has less trouble bending his neck when he sticks his head up in the air like a giraffe than when he is going properly with his back raised, his haunches under him, and his nose where it should be.

Before I mount up, I stretch his front legs forward. We work both sides evenly, bending and counter-bending to each direction on a straight line and on a circle, doing a lot of bending, serpentines, figure-eights, etc. The left bend is no better when it is a counter-bend tracking right than when it is the correct bend tracking left. I make sure I am not just pulling on him constantly; when he carries himself properly and bends well, I stretch my hand forward to release his mouth for a few strides, and he does have loose-rein breaks in his rides so that he can stretch his neck out, shake his head, whatever he chooses to do (which is usually look straight ahead or slightly to the right.) On the ground, we do carrot stretches as suggested by the vet/chiro. He is slower bending left than bending right, but when carrots are involved, he is capable of touching his nose to his stifle on both sides. It's entirely possible that 50% of the problem is habit and attitude (he HATES flatwork, HATES HATES HATES, thinks it is boring, spends half his time wishing we would jump.) Am working with the vet/chiro and the trainer to resolve this, but any suggestions on other exercises we can try to loosen up the left side would be much appreciated!

Sep. 14, 2009, 07:09 PM
I asked my trainer to ride him and give me her thoughts, and his way of going was no different. (She said something to the effect of feeling like her left arms had been lifting weights after 10 minutes at the trot--that's how much he resists the left hand.

I don't have any exercise ideas for you but I am curious, how many left arms does your trainer have :D?

Sep. 14, 2009, 07:37 PM
If he loves to jump, use the cav. to your advantage. I have a lefty leaner and we use gymnastics A LOT to loosen his left side. I go at jumps from all angles, circle poles, circle cavs, bending lines...basically like I am doing a handy hunter or jumper courses only as gymnastics. They work GREAT. Get that 101 gymnastics book out and give it a go. I also do dressage basics with him, shoulder in, travers, leg yields, turn on the fore...anything to get him off of my leg and bending/supple.

Sep. 14, 2009, 08:53 PM
My horse, who is very green, is coming along beautifly to the right but is stiff to the left like your horse. I like to refer to him being right handed. I do many of the excersizes you do such as surpentenes, lots of circles (but making my horse go straight atleast a stride to balance him in a circle) and lot of changes of direction. However what I think works best is shallow serpentenes (pushing your horse out and then askink him to move straight) and spireling your horse in and out of circles to get him on your outside aides. I also throw alot of transitions in there as well. It has helped alot with my big guy and afew other horses I ride. Good luck!

Sep. 14, 2009, 09:28 PM
First, have a chiro make sure he CAN bend the left.

Have a massage therapist make sure his muscles on the right allow him to bend left.

Make sure you are straight. Make sure your saddle is straight.

There are no exercises for one way or the other; there are only exercises to make a horse straight and equally supple on both sides :) Leg yield, shoulder in, walking squares, transitions, circles, etc, all done correctly, all result in horses who are more supple all over.

There may be a sub-set of exercises that are going to target this horse's particular issue, but to find that sub-set, you have to know where the issue is. Is he because his haunches swing to the right? Is it his left shoulder that bulges?

Can't fix what you don't know, so finding out the root of the issue is key to fixing it ;)

Sep. 15, 2009, 10:35 AM
IME, most horses are stiff through their left side and hollow right. But, the right side is just as stiff, in its own way, as the left. The urge is to 'fix' the left side, but both sides need to be addressed.

Maybe incorporate some loosening of the right side. One helpful exercise is to go on a 20m circle to the R, and supple the horse through the neck (opening rein to the inside and allowing L rein), with your seat and legs positioned L (dropped down on L seat bone). Hold the R rein to the inside until you feel the horse shift his positioning. Release the R rein and send the horse fwd into the better posture. Repeat every time he starts to stiffen the R shoulder.

Haunches-in both direction help a lot, too. As do transitions. If the horse isn't responding to correcting aids (most aren't trained that well), transition immediately to a slower gait and re-group. Don't keep going around in the very position you're trying to avoid.

Agree with JB that the horse might need some body work. Also, if no real change, as a diagnostic, consider bute for a few days while in work and see if that improves his way of going.

Sep. 15, 2009, 01:47 PM
Cyberbay, thanks for your suggestions! We'll definitely school more haunches-in and transitions. We're already doing the circle exercise. JB, thanks for mentioning suppling his whole body; that's a good point. Shadytrake, that's a good idea about cavaletti and poles; his attitude does improve when he has to bend to the left in a circle that involves a little flowerbox to go over ("Ooh! We're jumping now! Funfun!")

To those who mentioned body work and having him looked at to ensure no physical problems, as I mentioned in my original post, that has already been done. His vet is also a chiropractor and does acupuncture as well, and he sees her once a month. The saddle is currently fitting him well thanks to corrective padding, and the fitter is going to be out soon to make the saddle itself fit.