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Front legs

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:

  1. Place some food about 5 m (15 feet) in front of your horse.
  2. Encourage your horse to come forward to eat the food.
  3. When your horse begins to eat the food, note whether the left or right hoof is placed furthest forward.
  4. 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?

If you need help in getting the answers to these questions, feel free to join my Mini Mastery Course!

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  • How the dimensions of natural asymmetry can crush your riding goals, and how to turn things around in a simple way!
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6 thoughts on “Front legs

Comment author said

By Sophie on 18 January 2015 at 19:33

Hi 🙂
My sweet horse is righthanded, no doubt, her right hoof is also aproximatly 1 cm wider than the left one. And prefers canter to the left, she bends easier to the left also.
Best regards Sophie


Comment author said

By Katja Eser on 19 January 2015 at 19:49

My horse is left-handed and right-bended, heavier on the left shoulder and right (riders-)leg. This asymmetry is very strong as she has had a bad injury with her right front-hoof as a foal, so she has the left foot in front and the right food back ALL THE TIME while eating from the ground. She is very unbalanced on her right-hand-side, both ridden and trained on the ground. Biggest problem for her is to lift the right front leg for canter on the right. I am doing exercises and gymnastics with her frequently to get her out of the asymmetry - the grass is working against us daily, still we are making progress step by step.


Comment author said

By Gesella Walrave on 27 January 2015 at 15:43

My horse is a right-handed horse, she always puts her right frontleg forwards. When eating grass there is a different of 60cm between her two frontlegs. When a i am with her, i ask as often as possible to put er front legs next to each other. However i find her right-bending easier, her left schoulder is the stronger one (flat) and springing towards the canter to the left is much more difficult then canter to the right. And the saddle wants to go to the right side?? All the information i read is different from what i experience with her.
I find it very difficult to understand her. I am doing my best and her balance is gotten better.


Comment author said

By Sorcha "simply hooves" bemand on 5 August 2015 at 14:33

My horse is left bended and right handed, we work hard doing the in hand work to even this out, she now is happy to canter on both leads and bends quite well to both sides with each hind leg able to carry weight. However the bodily imbalance is still evident with a more muscular right shoulder the saddle needing a shim pad that side, and her right front hoof having a lower angle and heels than the left one which is slightly more upright.

As a hoof care provider I see this kind of imbalance frequently and it is not something I alone can fix with trimming, I now refer all clients to Marijkes web site and Facebook pages to hopefully encourage them on the right path to a more balanced horse through straightness training 🙂


Comment author said

By beryl Forrest on 19 October 2015 at 12:01

Libby is left bended, right handed. It's taken years to shim up the saddle so that i can sit straight on her to help her carry me, so that she can carry herself easier.
she's always had a huge right shoulder compared to the left one; the right is actually 1" bigger than the left at the back of the scapula.


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