So you read the last post, and maybe you’ve suspended hand feeding and noticed good results. Your horse doesn’t set his teeth or nose on you, and seems a lot more relaxed. Good for you. Maybe you’ve taken it a step further and committed to giving his head some space as well and found that by not crowding him, he offers to crowd you less. That is a giant step in the right direction in my book, and I commend you for your efforts.
But now I have another bone to pick (I can hear you say, “Geez you are so finicky!” Yes you are right. There are so many obnoxious details…). The consistent handling of the left side of the horse creates an unbalanced, one-sided horse. Let me elaborate. It’s more important than it sounds.
For some reason, and I would love to know where it came from and why (somebody told me something about knights mounting with their sword and scabbard on their right side so they did everything from the left side of the horse…but I’m not sure if that’s true or how it’s relevant today), a good majority of horse people do everything from the left side. We halter on the left side, lead on the left side, saddle and bridle on the left side, mount on the left side, warm up tracking left first…So let me just ask this before explaining the downside of all this: What real purpose or function does this serve? Aside from “because that’s how it’s always been done,” are there any real benefits to this practice? And as for functionality, your halter and bridle are easily converted to be right-sided, so that reason for left side everything doesn’t work either.
The consistent handling on the left side, firstly, causes a major imbalance in the horse’s perception of the world through both eyes. Take your every day horse who is handled only on the left and try to do anything on his right eye. You might find a completely different horse, if he lets you over there at all. He’s more likely to be reactive out of that eye (say for example, you have a lead rope dragging on that side. It suddenly resembles a snake a lot more than it did before on the left side). He’ll be much more uncomfortable seeing you and the world at large out of his right eye, which is a totally unnatural development and is entirely human caused. You don’t see wild or feral horses running around spooking at things only out of their right eye (unless they have poor vision or other problems causing it), but we create horses like this every day in our working and pleasure barns.
The other major problem with hanging out on the left side is it creates a total over-development of the left diagonal, meaning the left front leg and the accompanying right hind. Off hand I can think of a hundred horses I have ridden that fall in to the left under saddle, and this all starts from the very beginning when we halter break our weanlings, especially if you are in the habit of crowding the horse on that left shoulder and teaching him to lean into it and crowd back. So now you have the problem of having to correct that left shoulder going straight or in a circle. Your inside leg is going to have to work pretty hard at pushing that shoulder back up, your outside rein is going to have to work pretty hard at “keeping” your horse straight, and I guarantee you will not have correct left flexion without your inside rein in the mix too. There will be no accuracy on a loose rein, and all your work of suppling and bending your horse under saddle will be for naught the minute you hop off and crowd his left shoulder on your way back to the stall, ESPECIALLY if you are putting him in a stall as opposed to a paddock or field… Ok well maybe your efforts aren’t completely whiped out, but they sure would “stick” a lot better if your horse walked straight and relaxed out of that arena on a loose lead into a pasture where he could enjoy the freedom to stretch and use his muscles correctly, instead of sitting on that tightness in a little box until the morning.
So in conclusion, overhandling on the left side gives us the lovely benefit of a one sided, mentally and physically tight horse. If after reading this you decided working on the right is a good idea, I encourage you to go out and give him some more experience on the right side. But please consider the fact that your horse may not have a lot of confidence about this, and shoving your way over there to get good at it NOW will not help. Trust me, I’ve done it. I don’t feel great about it, but you live and learn, and I like to think I have a bit better grasp on how horses perceive things now, so no shoving necessary… Your horse will probably do his best to keep you on his left eye. Make the change easy, gradual, and without a fuss. Don’t get him so uncomfortable he can’t stand it, and work at it a little at a time. Make the right thing easy, and focus less on making the wrong thing hard.