Stiffness on one side

So I have been riding a horse for abut 2 weeks now, and I’ve noticed that he’s been very stiff on his left side. I’ve been struggling with it since I took him on as a project horse for someone. He was stiff on the bridle on both sides at first, but with some neck flexes he quickly softened up on the right but I still need to pull his head around to the left, sometimes with some considerable strength if he resists. Around circles and turns going left he wants to bend his body to the right and is not very soft. He doesn’t know how to move sideways off the leg well, but for the most part he moves off the leg on each side with the same amount of coaxing from a standstill.
Hes a vey green 5yo, 17hh warm blood/thoroughbred with a little over 30 days training with a reining trainer last spring, 20 rides over the summer with the owner who is an eventer, and then a week refresher with the reiner before coming to me. He learns quick and I think he genuinely wants to do the right thing.
So this is maybe a typical one-side-is-worse-then-the-other situation, which is what i hope it is because I’m willing to work on it! Im wondering if he might benefit from a chiropractor, but am not sure how the owner would feel about it. So I’m asking you guys for some thoughts and maybe even other exercises to help loosen him up and see if that’s what he needs. He has not been cantered yet on that side either because he has had a couple episodes of severe bucking in his not-so-distant past and I do not trust my control or his comfort and balance on that side at a gait that is harder to balance in anyway. The right side gets flying colors for his experience level.

Most horses are stiffer to one side (right is more common then left). And I know some that disagree, ,but I find the youngsters are most pronounced - we as riders have to help them become even. There are a lot of ground stretches you can do, then don’t forget chiropractic work!

Then switch up the work a lot - right to left, and realizing he is very young and green, at this point, you can’t use the typical suppling exercises of SI, Haunches in and out, etc, but you can start working on a bit of LY and Turn on forehand just getting him to give in that rib cage a bit, move his body around differently. Neck stiffness is usually connected to whole body stiffness, and they just need to learn to use themselves in a different way - it takes a LOT of time!

I am a big fan and advocate of chiropractic and would recommend that but it is not a fixer of the source problem. I had the same issue with my then 6 year KWPN gelding. We had the vet come and the chiropractor which helped my horse in terms of diagnosing that he was out of alignment and relief with the chiro. However, he was that way due to a badly fitting saddle. Once we changed the saddle, he was much more pliant on that side and more even, though I would still say he better on one side versus the other.

The saddle is really only one of the possible route causes, a friend just found out his mare’s one sided stiffness is caused by a kidney stone.

So the long and short of it is, if the difference are so material, you may want to ask the owner to have the issue evaluated by a vet

And, IMO, be aware of how ‘upsetting’ it can be to release stiffness, etc. You are asking that young, inexperienced horse to carry himself in an entirely new way, to weigh his limbs in a new way, to carry his shoulders in a new way. And on and on.

Releasing tension can only be done incrementally, as the muscling and soft tissue have formed to that ‘holding,’ and neither have the strength, or the suppleness, or the neurology to just simply discard the old way and take up the new way.

Just ask yourself if you carry yourself perfectly evenly and without tension. Are your shoulders always relaxed and level with each other? Are your hips?

Humans who want to fix assymetry can correct their body patterns on a daily basis with a desire to do so and with conscious practicing. A horse? He may enjoy the day’s ride, but the other 23 hours of the day will find him right back in the same old body patterns.

So, it takes time. And careful schooling. He’s also probably growing still. So, add that into his point of view, and you’ll see how hard this can be.

But, for sure, I would look into the chiro and, for sure, the saddle fit. That is a big factor.

Reining riders, ride off theseat and leg. You are attempting to ride off the rein.
Stiffness in the neck almost always starts with stiffness in the body. A horse that is stiff to left is not engaging, reaching under, with his left hind leg. It is you the rider who must use your left leg, supported by your right leg to bend him left. not pull him left. It is his right side that must stretch, so that the L hind can reach under.

You say he learns fast. It would seem that he has learned to respond to seat and leg, but if you aren’t using yours he will remain forever stiff to you. A young horse may be stiff, but seldom are they as stiff as you seem to indicate.

On the stiff side, when asking for a bend, I would ask-release-ask-release with that rein. I would stay on a 20 meter circle until you feel him soften . It could take weeks or longer. As he feels less stiff, decrease the circle. Don’t be in a rush. Slow is best. Let him respond before you make the circle smaller. When down to a 12-10 meter circle, I would start teaching a shoulder in. As an exercise it works wonders. Also, use your corners. They are great if done properly.

Yes, as has been mentioned- NEVER force a horse into any kind of bend. If you can get chiro or massage work done, you can learn how to safely do carrot stretches to gradually get a horse to improve its range of motion, laterally. Otherwise, slow and consistent schooling to get the horse to move away from your leg and then to bend around it.

Sometimes I think “we as riders” can make the problem worse. I know my stiff-to-the-right, clever mare will “sneak” in a change of direction so she is going left, given the chance.

At the NEDA Fall Festival, I was a warm-up steward one morning and I think 75% of the time, the horses were moving to the left – which isn’t going to help! These were horses of all levels, ridden by pros and ammies. (Per a previous thread, two of the riders who did more work to the right were Michael Poulin and his son.)

We lead them from the left, we get on and off of them from the left, etc. The mare willingly does everything from both sides on the ground, which can be very useful. E.g. when she thinks something is going to eat her, if leading from the right gets me between her and it, she calms down. Under saddle, well, she’s smarter than I am sometimes :slight_smile:

When my now almost 2 year old filly arrived in MA last fall, I knew she had not been led from the right very much, so I started doing it. And her body language clearly said, “hey lady, you’re doing it WRONG!” She would try to get behind me and switch sides, she’d occasionally plant her feet and refuse to move, and so forth. She’s a very well behaved filly who had been handled and taught a LOT before I brought her here. I think we made some progress before I decided to just let her be a youngster for a while. I was amused, in any case.

I would definitely consider chiro and sports massage…something very common that can cause stiffness is something like a rib being out of alignment (which is very common)…