Why Horses Fall Out Through The Shoulder

Why Horses Fall Out Through The Shoulder
By Walter Zettl

The reason a horse falls out in the shoulder is more due to his natural crookedness than anything else.  Just like you are right or left handed, so is your horse.  When you are right handed, everything involving your right hand is easier.  That’s the same with the horse, and why some horses go more easily to the right… or to the left.
When you look at the horse, from the front or the back, you can see when it is out of alignment.  For example, the shoulder may appear more to the right and the hind leg more to the left.  With this natural crookedness he feels good because this is how he tends to travel when free anyway and it will be reflected through all his work.
To straighten the crooked horse that falls out through the right shoulder, we must bring the shoulders in line with the hindquarters rather than the opposite.   This is because the hind leg is not the problem it’s the shoulder that is the root of the mistake.  For any mistake, you have to know the root of the problem because that is really the only place where it can be truly corrected.

What is the reason for crookedness in the horse?
When your horse is crooked to the left, all his left muscles are stronger, more developed and shorter in length so this pulls the horse’s shoulder to the left.  The right muscles are, by contrast, weaker, less developed and longer in length, more stretched.  That’s why the horse is crooked because the weaker muscles on the right cannot resist the pull or bend to the left. 
Through those strong muscles the horse is also stronger in the left hind.  The right hind leg gets higher, doesn’t step under, cannot engage, so all the push goes to the left. 
Because of this, the horse takes more contact on the left and with the soft muscles on the right, the horse takes very little contact on the right rein and that’s why the right shoulder falls out. We have to be very careful and tactful in correcting the problem, gradually helping the left muscles become longer and being softer in your left rein.  Get away from the tight rein and make it more a soft rein.

How to know if your horse is crooked to the left… and what to do.

  • When riding straight, your horse has the tendency to drift to the left.
  • Riding corners, your horse goes too deeply into the corner when riding around to the left because the shoulder falls to the right.  But he will have trouble going into the corner when riding to the right.

In both situations, the rider has to get more contact on the right rein through more driving and not through pulling.  Make sure also that the right rein has good, close contact with the neck, so it is ready to give half-halts and prevent the shoulder falling out. 
When riding to the right through corners, your right (inside) leg needs to be slightly back, doing more than supporting – it needs to drive sideways as in leg yielding.
When riding to the left (anti-clockwise in the arena), go slightly shoulder-in and in some cases with counter flexion so the shoulder cannot fall out.  And when going to the right, ride slightly in travers to bring the shoulder out and the hind leg slightly in.
As long as we have this crookedness it becomes the root of even more problems.  Here are some more examples of what can happen when a horse is crooked to the left…  It will be easy for him to:

  • Go through the corner tracking left
  • Do 6 – 20 m circles to the left
  • Start the left canter, and canter to the left
  • Leg yield to the left (coming off your right leg)
  • Travers and travers entwickeln to the left
  • Half pass left – you will actually have to be careful that the left hind leg doesn’t lead!

What is hard for this horse is any bending around your right leg, any exercise involving shortening of those long right muscles, and therefore all the opposite of the above.
It is harder for this same horse to do:

  • Renvers going left (anti-clockwise in the arena) because he has to bend to the right.
  • Shoulder-in left – because of the tendency to fall out of the right shoulder.
  • Travers and travers entwickeln to the right – because he is naturally bent left.
  • Changing from the left circle (bend) to the right circle – because you have to change the bend to his hard side, and this can really disturb or frighten the horse.  Instead of pulling more on the new inside rein, give with the outside rein to allow him to stretch those outside muscles.
  • Flying changes from left to right – because you have to change the bend to the harder side.

I hope these examples will really show you how important it is to continuously help straighten the horse.  It will solve more than just falling out through the shoulder in the corner!  

A word of warning
Be careful when straightening the horse as in the beginning you might frighten him if you are too strong, he’ll get tense, it could be painful and induce muscle cramps.  One cannot achieve 100% straightness in because crookedness has occurred through millions of years of natural evolution and it feels good for him to be crooked!  The best you can do is help him learn how to bend both ways, and maybe, hopefully achieve up to 98% straightness.
Know that all new exercises that you teach your horse – especially those needing a right bend - will be difficult for him so it is helpful to start new exercises to the side he finds the easiest, first.  Remember that as soon as anything gets difficult for the horse, he will favor his easy side, in this example, the left.  While it is easy for us to logically think through these problems, the horse cannot.  That is why it is so hard for him and why you should gently and consistently help him to become increasingly more straight rather than force him in the moment.
This natural crookedness is problematic for dressage, jumping and eventing, and is why straightness is so very important and especially that the horse can learn to be straighter without force or pain.  I cannot emphasize enough that when we straighten the horse we are really going against the nature of the horse and even the principles of classical dressage.  We should only ask something from the horse that he is able to do in complete freedom as he naturally interacts with the herd when he’s feeling playful or in the case of the stallion showing off.  Force should never exist in our training.
I hope that with this information I can help you all understand the horse better.


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Walter Zettl

I believe in dressage as art, and I have practiced that art throughout my professional life.”
-Walter A. Zettl

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