• VOLUME 52 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
Side Dominance In Horses
By Ute Miethe LMT/LAMT
You know your horse turns better one way than the other and prefers one canter lead versus the other. You may have also noticed that horses often seem to have differently shaped front hooves, commonly referred to as high/low syndrome, or having one “clubby” hoof and you never imagined that your horse’s working preferences and hoof form are perhaps connected. This article will show you how both are linked and why.
Horses are side dominant just like humans. It’s a bit surprising that this is still a rather little known fact among horse people, yet many of you are aware of the main symptoms:
• Difficulty turning into one direction
• Horse prefers one canter lead over the other
• Horse is stronger on one side, weaker on the other
• Horse braces more on one side versus the other
• Horse is stickier turning one way
(Note - Some of those symptoms can also be a sign of pathological body changes or from past trauma, but those are either known or the horse suddenly starts to deviate from his usual habits).
Unfortunately, such symptoms are frequently labeled as resistance and it’s assumed that the horse is wilfully being difficult. In reality, it can be very hard for a horse to perform certain movements, depending on which side is dominant and how uneven the horse’s muscle development is. Just think about how long you would last if someone told you to write 10 times “I love my horse” with your non-dominant hand, and nicely too, please! This usually puts the unrealistic (and unfair) expectations into perspective for most humans.
Another example - Western riders usually hold the reins in one hand. If you do, try switching to the other hand for a while. You will most likely find that your body will start to resist. It’s not painful, but your body simply fights against it, as it’s being pulled out of its comfort zone. Horses are no different. In addition, they don’t analyze what their body tells them, like we can. They just do what is more comfortable.
Once you know what to look for, you will find that most horses seem to be right side dominant, just like humans. The rest are left-sided or somewhere in the middle. Interestingly, most Arabs tend to be left-sided.
It’s believed that the side dominance in humans is related to how the baby is twisted in the womb and how this affects fascial development (The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality). Fascia wraps everything in the body. It separates specialized tissue, so it can optimally function next to each other. It’s the ultimate support system of the whole body - the body cannot exist without it. It’s very conceivable that equines may be similarly affected during their development in the womb.
The findings in this article are based on continual observations while working with clients’ horses. When I see something unusual, I start looking for trends. This helps me to determine possible root causes and potential solutions. Thorough observations and looking for trends can often help you find answers to common problems.
Many traditions are still very valid today, while others may be outdated. I encourage you to seriously question anything that may no longer make sense to you and that might affect you and your horse’s well being. Never simply rely on doing things a certain way because it’s been traditionally done this way. This approach can potentially lead to harm.
Side Dominance and Hoof Shape
The horse’s side dominance is generally easily visible in the horse’s front hooves. You will typically find that the dominant front hoof is
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