Almost every horse bends naturally more easily to one side than to the other. The lateral bending in the body is a result of the natural movement of the spine, the muscles, and the use of the front and hind legs.
The body is bent from neck to tail, and can be bent to the left or to the right. Some horses have a continuous 'S'-curve in their body.
The right bent and the left bent horse have a:
- concave, hollow side that contains short, stiff and strong muscles.
- convex, stretched side that contains long, supple, weak and less developed muscles.
Right bent..Concave side....Left bent
At the end of this article I will give you a checklist so you can figure out your horse's lateral bend. But first let's discuss the symptoms of a left-bended horse.
Symptoms of a left bended horse
A left bended horse will easily bend to the left and not as easily to the right. Therefore, a very clear symptom of a left bended horse is that it will walk easily to the left and not as easily to the right in the arena.
Because of the long, right side of the horse, it can feel as if the horse holds on to the bit on the right side and does not want to accept the bit on the left side.
<-- While riding a circle to the left, the left-bended horse bends easier and can tend to over-bend to the left. This can make it fall out through the outside shoulder.
--> On a circle to the right a left-bended horse will prefer to fall inwards rather than bend its body. It will try to keep the left bending and at the same time fall in on the inside shoulder, making the circle smaller.
Due to the weak muscles on the right side, and/or improper rotation of the chest vertebrae, the saddle can move to the right. The rider can then slide to the right and become crooked. Adding more padding to the right side of the saddle is not a solution, it only covers up the symptom.
The stirrup on the right will hang lower. Again, shortening the stirrup on the right side is not a solution, it only covers up the symptom.
The right bent horse has the opposite specifics and symptoms.
The rider must be able to recognize the symptoms and acknowledge that his/her horse is not perfectly straight. Then Straightness Training is a valuable solution. Of course the rider should also work on his own asymmetry and alignment of spine and pelvis.
Are there more left bended or right bended horses?
It is interesting to see that there are different 'beliefs'. According to the old masters such as Antoine de Pluvinel, François Robichon de La Guérinière and Gustav Steinbrecht and a few modern-day specialists, there are more left bent horses. According to some other trainers, there are more right bent horses. Let's see what riding masters have to say about the lateral bend of the horse:
Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 - 1620)
Pluvinel was the first of the French riding masters. He wrote 'L’Instruction du Roy l’exercice de monter à cheval ("Instruction of the King in the art of riding") and was tutor to King Louis XIII:
"In general I work more on the right lead than on the left, like most of the horses has taught me. I always start on the right lead as most horses tend to go left."
In his book King Louis XIII Pluvinel asks a question: "Why do you start on the right rein and not on the left, as it is a lot harder?"
Pluvinel's answer is: "Several people looked for the cause at the unborn foal that in the womb bents completely to the left. Other said that horses at rest prefer to lie on the right side. However, I am not concerned with such arcane philosophies, because it arises purely out of habit: Everything happens to the left of the horse: tying, saddling, brushing, feeding, handling etc. And if man leads the horse on the left, he prefers also to pull the head to the left."
The King: "Its clear and understandable that for these reasons the horses are start on the right circle, the most difficult circle".
François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688-1751)
La Guérinière was a French riding master who is one of the most influential riders on the art of riding.
His famous book L'École de Cavalerie (''The School of Horsemanship") states about the lateral bend:
"Almost all horses find it easier to bend to the left."
La Guérinière is credited for the invention of the shoulder-in on the straight line and especially the shoulder-in to the right (picture) is THE remedy for the naturally left bended horse.
Gustav Steinbrecht (1808 - 1885)
Steinbrecht writes in his famous 'Gymnasium des Pferdes' about the lateral bend:
"It is a generally known fact that green horses have more difficulties on one side than on the other and that most horses initially have these difficulties on the right rein.
To discover the actual reason for this phenomenon is more the task of a researcher in natural sciences than of the practical horse trainer. It doesn't matter to the horse trainer whether it is related to the fetus lying in the womb or because the groom approached him mostly on the left. In both cases he can do nothing about it.
I want to mention this phenomenon only to warn against the mistake which often arise: the predominant working of one side while neglecting the other. It is indeed advisable to bend the stiff side more frequently bij practicing the appropriate exercises a greater number of times.
Remember the old masters were accustomed beginning all exercises on the right hand, to then change to the left rein and ending after another change back to the right rein so that the bends to the right were always practiced twice as much."
Wilhelm Museler (1887 - 1952)
In his book 'Riding Logic' Museler mentions that all horses are naturally crooked.
"People say this is related to the location of the unborn animal in the womb".
According to Museler - unlike the old masters - there are more right then left bended horses.
"Most horses - like dogs - are crooked from 'right' back to 'left' front. The hindquarters will fall to the right.
Üdo Burger (1914 - 1985)
Burger was one of Germany's most esteemed veterinary surgeons and accomplished horseman.
In his book 'Vollendete Reitkunst' ('The way to perfect horsemanship') he wrote about the lateral bend:
"A naturally straight horse does not exist. All horses are congenitally 'crooked', in the sense that their spine is more concave on one side than the other. This curvature is sometimes believed to be due to the position of the fetus in the womb, but there is no evidence to support the theory. Uneven development of both sides of the body is usual with human beings also."
The circling instinct
Burger writes about this interesting point of view:
"All humans and animals show a tendency to walk in circles if they are blindfolded or deprived of points of orientation as in the dark of the night, in thick fog or in a dense forest. Walking in a perfectly straight direction necessitates constant correction of deviation with the help of the eyes.
The circling instinct is very noticeable in young children and young animals, and in the early stages of life it is no handicap, because it always leas the infant back tot his starting point whenever he becomes disorientated in his first exploration of the world."
He writes about the S-shape in his book:
"Some reputedly incorrigible horses, that one rider after another has vainly tried to manage will have learnt to twist themselves in a perpetual "S" shape which has enabled them to evade all controls that their riders could think of. Although they willingly turn their head and neck right when the rider pulls on the right rein, in doing so they turn their hindaquarters the other way."
Dr. Reiner Klimke (1936 - 1999)
Dr. Reiner Klimke was a German equestrian, who won six gold and two bronze medals in dressage at the Summer Olympics — a record for equestrian events. He appeared in six Olympic Games from 1960 to 1988 (excluding 1980).
In his book "Basic training of the young riding horse'' Klimke states, like Museler, that there are more right bended horses than left bended.
Throughout the centuries, riding masters and riders have been dealing with the phenomenon of natural asymmetry and many also wrote about the lateral bend. It is striking to realize that, besides many similar ideas and convictions, there are some very different perspectives, ideas and belief that affected the training of horses. Some trainers claim that there are more left-bended horses, others claim there are more right-bended horses.
Scientifically, there has been no proof so far whether there are more right-bended or left-bended horses.
Therefore, it is important that every trainer examine each horse as an individual and is able to think outside the box.
Every horse should receive tailor made training to be able to develop symmetrically:
The horse's body needs to be able to bend equally to the left and to the right. And this requires a proper use of the skeleton and muscles in the body and legs.
Knowing the true cause of natural asymmetry does not really matter, but it is important to realize that lateral asymmetry is a fact that we cannot ignore and we will need to work with it.
The rider must be able to recognize the symptoms and acknowledge that his/her horse is not equal to both sides.
Straightness Training is a valuable solution.
But before we start to straightnen our horse, let's figure out the natural asymmetry first.
Checklist Natural Asymmetry
This PDF gives you a checklist to find out if you have a right or left bended horse.