The Importance of Handling From Both Sides

One thing I harp on a lot is leading and handling from both sides regularly. Aside from helping your horse be comfortable with a wide variety of sights, experiences, and positions, leading from both sides is good for your horses posture.

Most horse folks learned to do everything from the left. We don’t even notice how often we do stuff on the left side. We halter, lead, saddle and mount from the left side. When’s the last time you did stuff from the right? If it felt awkward, it might not have lasted that long before you went back to the comfortable side.

But unfortunately, this has postural ramifications. From the first halter we put on a foal, to interactions done day in and day out, we are building postural habits in the horse. The ones shown in these photos are ones I see very often, and they are the result of (among lots of other factors) habitual handling on the left side.

Here is Hattie in her normal posture. She essentially fills the space between herself and her handler, and is almost always leaning toward the person on her left side.
I call this the “splat posture.” The horse leans toward the handler, looking away with their head. Front legs far apart, hind legs close together, and a loaded left shoulder.
Here’s a closeup of how she positions her feet (yes they are laminitic and bad- there is a lot going on with hatties rehab program to address that). This stance is typical of a forehand heavy horse: wide in front and narrow behind, especially with the left front forward (which is typical of a left lean)
When the front end is loaded, the hind feet often turn away from each other and the hocks point toward each other. This is the result in a blocked low back, which impedes the ability of the hind legs from making a full step underneath. This perpetuates the cycle of front end dependence
We went right to work on leading from the other side. Hattie was confused but willing.
We did some poles to show Hattie how to move her body differently too
With a focus on accuracy in leading, asking Hattie to not just lead parallel to us but to understand how to slow down, speed up, turn, stop and back with lightness helped her learn how to organize her own feet. Mindless leading had produced postural habits that were very ingrained, but luckily, a little attention to detail can go a long way!
Hattie started to organize her body differently – you can see her head is away from her neck and her neck is away from her shoulder, with her body much straighter
Hattie is happier and straighter
She is starting to find a better balance
Her handler is doing a jaw release here but Hattie has found all 4 of her feet under her body
It’s amazing how such a simple change can lead to big changes for the horse! Along with diet changes, correct trims, and more movement, Hattie is well on her way to better balance.

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