One of the most common questions I am asked has to deal with both saddle ‘straightness’ and horse ‘straightness’ and whether the correct thing is to try and force the horse into ‘straightness’ with exercise or to accommodate their basic ‘non-straightness’ with a crooked saddle.
As is pretty obvious, most horses are inherently not 100% straight; in fact most are dominant in the musculature on the left. While one school of thought is that the horse needs to be ridden straight and forced into straightness (ie., ‘equalness’), we feel strongly that the natural conformation of the horse should instead be accommodated by using, for example, saddles which are adjusted properly so that the rider doesn’t feel the need to compensate by collapsing on one side, or have the stirrups hang differently on both sides, or whatever. Unfortunately, most of the inherent crookedness comes from the bone structure rather than the musculature; the muscle development is actually more often a result of the underlying bone structure.
A very controversial and fairly new idea coming from an equine osteopath in Germany whom I work closely with goes so far as to maintain that colic can even potentially be caused by this ‘forcing’ into straightness – makes sense when you consider that the appendix is on the right (which is usually the non-dominant side); when you try and straighten the horse out so that the right becomes equal to the left, it follows that internally all sorts of shifts and changes take place – which can definitely impact the digestive tract (and appendix!) possibly leading to colic. This is a topic which still needs some research to back up the hypothesis, but it certainly could seem to make sense...and it is food for consideration!
You are right when you say that it is function that must be straight, because frustration will arise when you try to straighten position – especially without the correctly fitted ‘tools’. But just as forcing a left-handed child to write with the right may cause psychological and possibly physiological issues later on, it bears thinking about whether this is necessarily a good thing or even the right thing to do with horses as well! This definitely allows room for individual interpretation, which also underlines the conclusion that we don’t train straightness for position’s sake; we train horses to be straight to improve function and performance!
Jochen Schleese, CMS, CSFT, CEE