Just like humans, horses are left- or right-handed, so they have a hoof preference.
This left- and right-handedness in the front legs, is one of the dimension of natural asymmetry.
Some horses are right-handed, which means they have a better coordination and more strength in their right front leg compared to their left. Other horses are left-handed.
In a right-handed horse the right front leg has a better coordination and carries more weight. The opposite is true for a left-bended horse.
In most cases:
* left-bended horses are right-handed
* right-bended horses are left-handed
In the wild it makes sense to have a hoof preference, because in emergencies, one side of the body will take the lead. But because the weight on both front legs is not equally divided, this can lead to strain injuries in one of the two front legs when the horse is being ridden.
Symptoms & problems
The following symptoms and problems during riding may arise from hoof preference:
- The horse tends to catch the weight on the shoulder of the stronger front leg, thus putting more weight on that leg.
- When the weight of the rider is added and the horse is not straightened, the horse will tend to carry this additional weight also on the stronger front leg.
- Due to the unequal distribution of weight, the rhythm of the gaits can be disturbed.
- The length of the steps can also become uneven, because the hind leg on the side of the stronger front leg cannot swing forward.
- The imbalance is than increased and strain injuries can occur. In serious cases, this can lead to navicular disease (podotrochleitis) and other forms of (permanent) lameness.
- After riding, some horses place their over strained front leg more forward to take the pressure off.
- Because of the left- or right-handedness, one shoulder will be more muscular than the other.
- This 'handedness' can lead to a horse that always jumps onto one canter lead, no matter if it is on the left or on the right bend.
The rider needs to recognize the unequal use of the front legs and these symptoms. Through proper straightness training the horse be developed equally strong in both front legs.
A hoof preference is easily seen with foals.
Foals are unequal in using their front legs from birth.
Because of their long legs and short neck, they often spread their legs wide.
They always have one leg further forward and one leg further back.
This forward leg is also called the ‘grazing leg’. Also, the hoof in the foot that carries less weight is often more steeply shaped.
Hoof preference test
If you want to discover if your horse is left- or right handed, you could do this test:
- Place some food about 5 m (15 feet) in front of your horse.
- Encourage your horse to come forward to eat the food.
- When your horse begins to eat the food, note whether the left or right hoof is placed furthest forward.
- Do this 5 more times.
The results of the hoof preference test can be as follows:
- A. Your horse places the left hoof forward most of the time. Your horse appears to be left-handed.
- B. Your horse places the right hoof forward most of the time. Your horse appears to be right-handed.
- C. The outcome seems 50-50. It could be that your horse has no preference and is 'ambidextrous', that means that your horse is able to use both hoofs with equal facility.
What about your horse?
What's your horse's hoof preference?
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