Dawn and I had a really outstanding ride this morning. We've been doing a lot of riding on the wall lately, although we throw in diagonals, circles and other figures, so today we did a lot of work on the quarter lines, which are quite conveniently marked by lines of ceiling lights. We worked on making nice turns onto the quarter lines and then going straight down them - the lights were an excellent guide, and having to look up at them helped out my posture.
That got me thinking about straightness, and what it takes to have straightness, what straightness isn't, and what having straightness permits the horse and rider to do.
Straightness really isn't about steering, and if you're concentrating on steering the front end of the horse, it's likely that you aren't/can't be straight. Straightness isn't about shaping your horse into straightness, it's about being straight together with your horse - it's something that's done with rather than to the horse. Your position and posture are instrumental - if you unbalance your horse by leaning to one side or forward or back, your horse will have trouble traveling straight.
I believe true straightness comes through from the hind end. It requires engagement of the hind legs - if the horse is on the forehand with hind legs trailing any straightness you have will be accidental. It requires the rider to be straight, and directing the energy out, forwards, not down - looking at your horse's head is a great way to eliminate straightness. And in order to have straightness and the engagement that it is its requirement, you have to have forward with relaxation, and softness in the whole horse - and rider - if you brace against the horse with your hands or your legs or your seat, your horse will have great difficulty with straightness.
So really all straightness is, is the horse traveling with softness and engagement at the rider's direction in a straight line. And straightness is closely related to bend - correct bend also comes from the hind end, particularly the engagement of the inside hind leg, and requires the rider not to brace or lean or drive the energy down. If you're having trouble with bend, it's likely that straight will also be a problem.
So it's all one thing, really . . .
After I was done riding Dawn, I took advantage of our really nice weather - mid 50s - and did some pre-winter chores. I closed the vents in the horse trailer, and unloaded from its tack room some things I need for winter - blankets, etc. I also finally put on the permanent trailer license tag - the temporary one was about to expire - getting the screws out that hold the license was a pain as they were stuck at first - at full stretch of my arms even with a step stool - but I managed. I also put on my new hitch lock - no point taking any chances.
Red and I had some more bareback fun, with some delightful cantering, and Pie and I also worked on our straightness - we couldn't use the quarter lines as the ring was crowded. Pie and I have more work to do on our straightness and our bend - I tend to over-ride him - doing too much with my hands and body - which leads to bracing, etc., etc., but we'll get there - I have much better success with him when we're riding alone as my concentration doesn't stray.