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Why Does My Horse’s Canter Feel Different From Right to Left?

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Submitted by member: Diana

I have a 9-year-old 3’6 A/O hunter, very broke, whose canter is quite different right from left. The left-lead canter feels very up and down. How can I fix that? Thank you very much.

Answer by Linda Allen

Your question prompts several questions I have for you. Is this something new with your horse, or perhaps something that has been there all along but worsening lately? Is it clearly visible from the ground, or simply something you feel from the saddle? Also, I wonder if there is a clear difference in your horse’s length of stride between leads or if he has a strong preference jumping off of one lead over the other.

If it is new, or clearly worsening, the first step is definitely a thorough work-up by a vet familiar with sport horse issues. Horses that are solid at their jobs rarely (if ever) change their way of going when their work load and the program they are in remains relatively constant—unless something changes physically.

That said, if your horse has traveled this way throughout his career to this point and it does not worsen with harder work, it is possible that your horse has a rather extreme case of ‘one-sidedness.’ Horses, as with people, are born with a preference for one side over the other. In the early stages of training, either the preference can be greatly overcome with consistent attention to balancing the horse laterally, or, if ignored, the horse’s preference will become more ingrained over time. In the case of a horse that is physically sound yet strongly one-sided, one must remember that he has developed muscles (and habits) that facilitate this way of moving. These develop over time and thus will take a lot of time to remedy.

It is possible that an experienced equine chiropractor and/or acupuncturist can assist with getting your horse working more balanced one side to the other, but with the size and musculature of the horse it is unlikely to make much difference over time unless all the other work with your horse—on the ground and under saddle—complement the work of the practitioner. Much like PT for people, it will take a combination of stretching and strength building, along with developing new habits, to see a big change.

In any case, I strongly recommend beginning with your veterinarian to be sure there is not an underlying physical issue that can be dealt with first. And, keep in mind your horse is dealing with a real physical imbalance—regardless of what created it in the first place—and is not moving this way to avoid work. Punishment and artificially putting him in a state of stress are not the answer to these issues.

More Learning

Stop Your Horse From Falling In On One Side by Jim Wofford

Exercises to Help Improve a Horse Who is Stiff on One Side of Its Mouth by Geoff Teall

Tips to Help Riders Who Favor One Hand or Leg More Than the Other by Bernie Traurig and Robin Martinez

Bernie talks about how the counter canter can straighten a crooked horse in “Fundamentals of Flatwork – Basic” Chapter 3D. He also shares training tips for the counter canter in “Fundamentals of Flatwork – Intermediate” Chapter 3C.

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Linda Allen

Linda Allen (Hunter, Jumper, Course Design) - is an accomplished Olympic Course Designer, Clinician, Judge, Equestrian Facility Design Consultant and Author. For more than 45 years, Linda has been a fixture in the Equestrian Industry. Linda is an FEI Official International Course Designer, FEI Certified Steward and Course Director for Show Jumping and US Equestrian Federation "R" Course Designer for Jumpers and Hunters. She is a USEF Registered Judge for Jumpers, Hunters and Hunt Seat Equitation, Foreign Judge for FEI Events in Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Italy and Saudi Arabia and has been Member and President of the Ground Jury for multiple World Cup Finals and World Equestrian Games events. Visit her website: www.llallen.com

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