Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar/clinic by Dr. Kerry Ridgway.  To those who don’t know, he’s one pioneers of veterinary science in the endurance world.

He’s a fascinating speaker and an absolute wealth of information.  I can’t even begin to get into everything that was covered…everything from a horse’s natural imbalance, to the muscular system, to ulcers.  If you ever get a chance to take one of his clinics, I highly recommend it.

But one of the things that was heavily discussed was how horses are naturally imbalanced and have a “dominant” side, much the way people are right- or left-handed.  (Interestingly enough, similarly to people, 80% of the horses out there are right-sided.)

What does being “dominant-sided” mean?

In simple terms, one side is stronger than the other.  It’s the horse’s naturally preferred side, and there are certain indicators as to what that side is.  The horse actually turns away from his dominant side more readily.  For example, a right-sided horse has an easier time turning to the left, and will actually pick up the left lead easier than the right.

This imbalance can also contribute to the high-low heel syndrome seen in most horses.  When grazing, horses will keep their dominant front leg under themselves as the primary support pillar, and place their weaker leg forward.

I don’t have access to my notes I took from the seminar at the moment, so I’m hoping I’m remembering this correctly.  The dominant leg is the one that typically grows a higher heel, whereas the leg that is usually held forward is the one that tends towards under-run, lower heels and a long toe.

A further observation I found rather interesting after watching the dozen-horse herd at the barn.  It started with Mimi: I had a very hard time determining what side she was dominant on until I climbed on her and put her through her paces.  (Right-sided, like most horses, in case you’re wondering.)  She doesn’t display classic high-low.  Both her heels tend towards being high.

And then I watched her grazing.  She doesn’t stand still for more than about 30 seconds.  She is constantly on the move, and doesn’t spend more time with one front leg as the support pillar than the other.  After watching the habits of the other horses in the herd (a mix of short and tall, mares and geldings, barefoot and shod, Arabians, Quarter Horses, Paints, and warmbloods), I came to a theoretical conclusion:

The horses with shorter necks didn’t have as obvious high-low, and they spent more time moving around.  Sure, high-energy Arabian might account for some of that…but the swan-necked Arabs had more obvious high-low than the shorter necked Arabs…and the shorter-necked one is the one that moves around more.

So that got me wondering if the shorter neck makes it not quite as convenient to stay in one place grazing for long periods of time?

I’ve never heard or seen any kind of research that would back up this theory…it’s just my observations and I’d love to hear from others as to what they’ve observed.

6 thoughts on “High-Low/Right-Left

  1. Ashley that is very interesting stuff! Wish I could do a clinic. I've noticed that Journey is very much oriented to her left eye, turns more easily to the left, and quite the opposite on the other right side. Like steering a wheel barrow one-handed on her right, refuses to look at me out of the right eye (will block me with her head if I try to work her from the off side). Hmmmm…I should square her up and take some pictures and look at musculature. Might help me to work her into “balance.”

  2. Hmmm… Rose is high and dominate left with a low right but she has a short neck. She stays in one place longer though by learning to lean and graze (ie, put all four feet in two square feet and just leeeeaaannn over to that tasty blade over there).

    Don't know if that helps your theory but figured I'd add. She doesn't have super one sided muscles though, “poor” pony gets worked a lot on both sides.

  3. Hi! I just found your blog via Endurance Granny's.

    I'm very interested in this topic- my young gelding is definately right handed. He follows this to a tee, as he also grows a more upright right foot and more easily picks up the left lead.

    I would love to find out what I can do to even things out- my farrier does what he can to fix the problem but we can't convince Cartman to quit standing that way when he eats!

    I don't think he has a particularly short neck but he does have extremely long legs (he's almost 16.3 hands).

  4. Welcome, CG!

    I don't think there's much we can do about how they choose to graze…but from the reading and research I've been doing, we can take steps to counter it. Quite a bit of ground work on the lunge line seems to be the recommendation for balancing them out…I will do a post in the next few days that goes into more depth.

  5. I would love to have a chance to attend a Dr. Kerry Ridgway seminar! My mare is high/low with her right being high and left being low and she is definitely a bit of a long necked giraffe! That's such an interesting observation that you made. I'm curious to check out the other horses at the barn now.

    We have been working for a long time to try counteracting the imbalance and although here feet are still different from each other, I don't notice the difference in her shoulders like I used to. But I suspect this is one of those life long projects.

  6. Thanks, Story, and welcome! If you ever get a chance to attend a Ridgway seminar, it's a “drop everything and go” sort of thing. I was fortunate enough to be sent by my work.

    From what I picked up at the clinic balancing them and keeping them balanced is pretty much a constant project…but less of a major project and more of a maintenance thing once you get them there.

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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