Right Footed? Or Left Footed?

One of the interesting topics that was discussed at the Horses Inside Out day that I attended, was the subject of right footed, or left footedness.

The horses limbs work in diagonal pairs, which means that if they’re dominant with one hindlimb it will have a knock on effect on the forelegs and the horse’s straightness. The reason for this asymmetry? Perhaps an old injury, or simply the same reason you or I are right or left handed.

Watching your horse working on both reins, you may be able to identify their stronger hind leg from their preferred rein, or stride length (especially over trot poles). You may also be able to feel the hindleg which is pushing more when you’re riding. Try changing your trot diagonal in a straight line and see if one feels stronger than the other. Some horses have such a preference to one diagonal pair that they will always throw the rider up on to that diagonal.

If your horse is left footed, with a stronger left hind leg, then their right shoulder will be more developed. On the left rein, the trot will feel better as the dominant hindleg is on the inside so better able to step under and take the horse’s weight before propelling them forward.

However, in the canter the outside hindleg is the first leg in the canter sequence so with a stronger left hindleg with have a more correct and stronger right canter.

This is where things can get confusing. If a horse is trotting on the right rein, with a stronger right hindleg then they often drift through their left shoulder. This is for one of two reasons: the rider isn’t using enough outside rein to support the outside of the horse’s body, and the horse hasn’t got sufficient strength and balance to use their inside hindleg to it’s full potential.

Earlier this week I used some poles to help my clients get a greater feel and understanding of their horse’s stronger diagonal pair.

I used trot poles to an apex to make them aware if their horse drifted as they trotted over the poles. Poles make a horse lift their limbs higher which tests their balance and highlights any difference in limb strength as the stronger hindleg will push more, so the horse will drift away from that leg. For example, a horse with a stronger left hindleg will drift to the right.

With some horses it was immediately obvious with the poles in the direction that they tended to drift in. For others, I had to raise the poles and exaggerate the trot strides to get the horse to drift so that my rider could better understand the biomechanics of their horse. Then we worked on riding the horse straight, and in future lessons will work on strengthening their weaker diagonal pair.

Another exercise I did was using tramlines for canter transitions. The tramlines kept the horse straight through the upward transition. This makes the transition more active and uphill. Now, remember what I was saying earlier about the outside hindleg being the strike off leg?

I got my riders to ask for different canter leads through the tramlines and compare the transitions.

The pony who has a stronger left hindleg (and has a better right rein canter) produced a far improved left canter transition because the pony had to engage his right hind leg in the transition. His rider could feel the difference in the quality of the left canter as a result of a more active and straight transition.

The horse with the stronger right hindleg pretty much refused to give right canter between the poles because she couldn’t use her weaker left hindleg without compromising on her straightness. She has issues with straightness anyway, which we’re working on, but it was really useful for her rider to see and feel the difference between the two canter leads when the horse is straight.

Using visual aids such as poles can really drive home a point to riders and help them get the feeling of the correct way of going which helps them reproduce it in future. Next time you ride, have a feel for your horse’s preferred diagonal pair, and use tramlines and poles to help you improve their straightness and then you can tailor your schooling sessions to build up the strength in their weaker diagonal pair.

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