Benign antagonism can help you tremendously to get a stiff horse bend better. Bear in mind that benign antagonism is a philosophy of training that permits custom design of program for individual horses. It operates on the concept that if your horse does something you don’t want it to, you do exactly the opposite, without raising any fuss. To illustrate: ride your horse ‘deep” if he tends to keep his head much too high. If he has got a droop head, you should ride your horse “up”. If he tends to put on too much speed, you work your horse on a rather slow tempo.
In this article, I am going to discuss horses that bend one way only. Very few horses can bend in both directions with ease. Benign antagonism lets you get some stiffness into your horse’s softer side and some flex into his stiffer side.
Here’s how you “soften” your horse’s stiff side.
Riders have the habit of thinking of their horse’s stiff sides as “bad” sides, since it much harder bending the horse with that side on the inside. What you need to do is some lateral thinking. Your problem is not with the stiff side. Contracted muscles on one side are the main cause for your horse’s stiffness.
Riders use benign antagonism to solve this problem by stretching these shortened left side muscles – they ride the horse with extra bend when tracking right. While schooling, they continue to “right bend” till they feel the muscles on the horse’s left elongate. They know that the muscles are elongating by the improving ease with which they can get their horse to bend right.
Let’s track the stiff side – the right side. Your horse mainly feels stiff at the right because the muscles on his left are contracted. These constrained muscles inhibit full freedom and limit the extent to which the horse can stretch at the left and curve round your leg at the right.
You can follow the exercise given below to stretch your horse’s hollow side muscles without undue strain.
If the horse is pretty badly stiff, conduct your exercise at a walk. Take a wide circle to your right (assuming this is the horse’s stiff side) at some point on the circle’s arc, turn into another smaller 6-meter circle.
On this smaller circle, consider your bending aids. Bear down with your weight on the right seat bone, have the right leg on the girth, with your left leg behind the girth, Flex the horse right by turning an imaginary key in a lock with the right hand; support with the left.
Keep riding the 6-meter circle till your horse’s body is in conformity to the arc. Once your horse is bending, continue with the aids for 6-meter bending, but move back to the larger 20-meter circle, If your horse shows difficulty with bending that much to the right, blend back to the 6-meter circle. You should try to ride a 20-meter circle using a 6-meter bend.
When you are able to do this in a circle, switch over a straight ride on the long side with the horse bent like he’s still on a 6-meter circle. This feels rather like doing a shoulder-in up front and a haunches-in at the rear simultaneously.
While on the long side, get your horse to bend right from head to tail like he’s on a circle’s arc. You must make sure to bend him to the rear of your leg and also in the neck.
Here’s how you make get the horse’s hollow side to be stiffer.
The other side is the hollow left. You may consider this to be the soft side or the “good” side since it is easier when you bend the horse, but your horse must be helped both sides. On his hollow side, the horse does not bend equally from his poll to his tail. He tends to overbend his neck inwards and keep his inward rear leg too inside the travel line. This enables him to avoid bending his engagement (inside hind) joints; he also does not subject it to as much pressure of weight. Thus, the leg become progressively weaker, and the horse experiences uneven development.
Benign antagonism suggests that this problem be solved by riding with no bend whatsoever if the horse’s hollow side should be on its inside. Try and keep the horse straight, just like he would be at the longer side even when taking circles and corners. Think of his body as a kind of long bus that is not going to bend around turns.
Assume your horse is hollow to his left. Ride with no bend whatsoever if circling left. Keep the horse’s body straight, like a bus.
Get a straightness perspective by halting at some point on the longer side. Get the horse’s body, from poll to the tail, to be parallel to the longer side.
Ride the horse in one of two ways: without flexion (with chin and chest centre lined up) or counter-flexion. If the latter, his face should be about an inch to his right.
Negotiate circles and corners without any bend in his body and with counter-flexion at the poll. By riding this way, the left hind leg will be stepping beneath the horse’s body.
That leg will become stronger as time goes by.
Remember – this exercise is for schooling only – it is not meant for competition.
When using the benign antagonism philosophy, you will almost never be stuck for training issue solutions. When he acts of his own accord, you get your horse to do the exact opposite.