Some of you read the title to this post and thought, “what the!?”

Honestly, becoming dexterous is one of the best things we can do to improve our horses and our horsemanship. I’m sure that any of you reading this have been on a horse that turns, or rides better to one side than the other. On some levels that is because he may have a brace in him on one side that doesn’t show up on the other, but also, it could be because whoever has been riding him (and thus teaching him) is better to one side or the other.

As humans, we may or may not be balanced. We may have an old football or sports injury or even equine related injury that makes our right hip stiff, or our left leg not work as well as the other, and each of those things can amount to something large if we don’t consider how they affect our horse and our riding.

Most of us are really good with either our right or left hand, but few of us are just as good with both (naturally). If you’re teaching your horse to search for the release, you should consider that you may not be as quick to release with your left hand (if you’re right handed) or you may not provide the exact same signal with your left hand either. The horse can learn to sort this out, but if we truly want a balanced horse, shouldn’t we take it upon ourselves to balance us too? It’s hardly fair to our equine friend if we aren’t balanced but expect him to ride like we are!

Now that you’re thinking back on your riding and wondering how you differ from side to side, let’s talk about some things that can help your dexterity.

I find that it’s helpful to pay attention to what foot you normally step forward with first. If it’s your right, practice taking your first steps with the left. This drill is especially helpful if you’re going up stairs. I myself am right handed, so I always find myself using my right leg first. Since I’ve realized that me becoming balanced helps my horse, I will take steps up the stairs with my left leg first. I have also started to learn to handle my rope left handed, as well as brush my teeth. Brushing your teeth is a simple thing that you can do to help you get handier with your left hand. I’m also a lot stronger on my right side, so any chance I get to move hay or carry buckets, I will use my left hand.

Yesterday, as I was riding, I noticed that I tend to always ask with my right leg first. It is good to be aware of this, so that I can start to ask with both legs or just my left leg, or right leg, as they are needed. Because I tend to ride heavier to the right, I’m always either in my horse’s way, or pushing their hips to the left, which makes it harder for my horse to pick up his right lead. As I have become more aware of these things, I can work on them while I’m riding and be cognizant of the fact that I am in his way, and make adjustments according to what I’m doing that is unbalancing my horse.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to brush my teeth left handed, handle my rope and lead-rope left handed, as well as carry buckets and feed, and work more on using my left hand (and side) as much as I do my right. I want a perfectly balanced horse. How about you?

9 thoughts on “Dexterity

  1. Jenn, you’re absolutely right! This is something I had never thought of though I seem to be opposite. I am right handed but in the arena I feel more comfortable riding to the left. In doing one rein stops I feel more balanced doing them to the left. Same with using my left leg. So I will begin using whatever hand/leg that seems less comfortable. Can my horse be more comfortable on the right side and I therefore make things more difficult for her? I sit here now watching it rain but staying focused listening to Dave Stamey. Thanks for a great post!

  2. Hi Jenn,
    Life’s little ironies. I was just talking to my editor and she was having trouble understanding that doing a exercise JUST to increase awareness didn’t make sense. She’s great, but has a science background and has never ridden. Even with my AnSci degree, I couldn’t explain “feel”. The chapter was Diagonals and why we Care. In reference to your blog, I have noticed that most riders naturally rise on one side 90% of the time. I once asked Ray if he had ever taught an ambidextrous rider and did it make a difference. The answers were yes and no.

    Thanks for the tip, hope you don’t mind if I pass it on to students.

  3. It wasn’t until last year that I fully grasped diagonals. I was always picking up the right diagonal, and had grief getting the right one. And as it turned out one of my students who had shown english her whole life, was able to teach me something I had never grasped. And now, Voila- that makes teetering your horse a whole lot easier. And it balances you as well! Thanks for the comment, Barbara!

  4. I love this! Being a lefty I’ve had to adapt in a right handed world which has allowed me to naturally develop alot more dexterity. That in turn has made a difference with my ground skills and rope handling. Unfortunately, my mare has a hard time picking up her right lead and I know it’s me causing the issue!

  5. Jen…that makes so much sense. I am right handed and lead with my right foot..yet when riding Western style (I used to ride English)…I tend to hold the reins in my left hand..don’t know why. I am going to start using my left foot going up and down stairs which I do many times during the day.

    1. Most of us learned to ride using only one hand, and it was most often the left- in old-school style riding. It’s what’s ingrained into us, if you will. But you must be balanced to be a more effective rider. I’m so glad this made sense!

  6. I had never thought about this, but as I was reading I realized that I’m heavy on the right side, too. How about that! I’m riding this afternoon….I’ll try thinking Left. Thanks for a great post.

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