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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Symmetry in handling

It is really common for horses to struggle more on one side than the other during groundwork, it is often explained away as the horse just not being used to seeing you in the other eye. While this can be a factor, there is often more to it.

For many horses the only time we start asking questions from the right is when we send them out on the lunge. We lead from the left, we mount from the left, we turn left through the gate etc. It makes sense then that the horse is going to be more supple to the left and therefore more comfortable being asked to bend that way when their daily handling is so one-sided.

We often see horses be fine and seemingly calm going one way on the lunge, but then exploding when they’re asked to go the other. If we think about how common it is for horses to have some soreness or discomfort in the body, it makes sense that this is likely a reaction to something they’re finding physically more difficult rather than simply a training issue.

It is worth noting that many horses with gut issues present with a right hind lameness due to where the cecum sits, so it makes sense that a horse with some gut discomfort would struggle to bend right.

I have worked with a pony this year who was generally rigid and uncomfortable in her body, lunging to the left she would barely move but asking her walk out to the right would result in really explosive behaviour. This is never “freshness”. If she was fresh she’d have been fresh going to the left too. Interestingly this pony was clearly uncomfortable just having you stand on her right side and not asking her to move anywhere, this is because she was associating it with being pushed to do things that were uncomfortable for her. She is doing much better now from good bodywork and very gentle in hand work to start to change her negative, anxious associations with training.

We don’t need to be battling with our horses and causing a big reaction just to make them go in the direction we want, this is not bad behaviour it is a horse that is struggling to do it. We can take the drama out of it.

You can start by standing by your horse as you normally would on his left, then move round to his right and just stand with him and observe his reaction. Does he turn his head away from you? Does he start shifting to try and put himself behind you? Does he start nibbling or pushing his head into you? Just stand with him and gently keep guiding his head back to the centre of his body until he relaxes, only then would I work on leading from that side.

Those behaviours are a horse showing he is uncomfortable or anxious with what you might ask him to do so we need to slow it right down and make it really easy so his associations with training start to change.

Does your horse lead well from both sides? Does he walk nicely in the space beside you? Does he fall into you more one way than the other or sometimes feel like he’s trying to creep back onto the other side of you? Spending time working on these simple foundations will set your horse up well for training.

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