Let’s say your horse or pony is heavy in your right hand…or jumps to the right of the jump most of the time…or finds it difficult to leg yield away from your left leg…what if you could tell many of your training issues by observing your horse’s feet? What if you could reflect on your training and adjust it by understanding the shape and angle of your horse’s hooves?
The exciting thing is, if you wanted to, you could 🙂
When I run my virtual coaching programmes I always ask for several photos of horse’s feet at pre-described angles. This helps me understand the basic biomechanical challenges the horse has and in turn helps me enormously with putting together training plans for the riders.
I also ask for rider’s description too of course but seeing horse’s feet first allows me to compare what the horse “feels” with what the rider thinks that the horse “does”…
I noticed that my notes on this caught a lot of attention among horse owners who bought my training so I thought I would elaborate a little on the subject.
Let’s chat about the front feet…
Shape of the hoof
The horse’s foot changes throughout its life. All four feet of a horse are different from each other, due to environment, exercise, trimming and active stimulation of the foot. And even wild horses’ hooves are all different, which makes it impossible to use them as a gold standard.
Unless your farrier aggressively changes the shape of your horse’s feet so they are an absolutely matching pair or your horse has especially symmetrical feet with such little differences it is hard to see them on pictures, it is always possible to tell which front foot is his weaker foot and which one is his dominant foot.
The more upright front foot is the one your horse is likely to use more for support. When he grazes, he will prefer to place his for example, left front foot forwards more often whilst “anchoring” himself on his right shoulder and right foot. This he would have done since he was a foal so you can actually know your training plan of your young horse from the moment you see him graze as a foal 🙂
(Interested? See here for more: http://www.thehorse.com/articles/29041/horse-gaits-sound-doesnt-equal-symmetrical)
Once you know this you will also know which fore leg and shoulder your horse tends to lean on, which side of his body is stiffer and which one weaker and hollow. If you look at the solar view of your horse’s feet (as you do when you hoof pick) you can tell if you take him out hacking on varied terrain or if he only works on fluffy surface, you can tell if you keep/work your horse on dry, hard ground or soft and deep. You will be able to tell all this from how his soles look like, how well developed and healthy his frogs are, how deep his lateral grooves are, how thick and spongy his back of the foot (digital cushions) feel like when you give them a squeeze with your fingers (many thanks to Nic Barker at Rockley Farm for showing me this!).
Horses that are right fore leg dominant may have more upright right front hoof whilst their left hoof might have longer toe, at times the hoof pastern axis might be broken back, the heels might be underrun.
How correct training changes the hooves
Due to natural asymmetry there will always be some differences in a healthy horse’s feet but if you schedule a nice plan of “physical education” for your horse or pony you might notice how his feet change in shape…the upright right foot might become less upright with more correct hoof pastern angle and the previously long toed hoof might shorten, heels might appear more under the correct part of the back of the foot and your horse might become a little more “ambidextrous” in his school work 🙂
Here are front feet of a young PRE gelding I had for schooling after he under went a rehabilitation for slight lameness at Rockley Farm. I chose him to show you because the difference in his feet shape is very clear and so easy to spot for those of you who might not have an experience in observing horse’s hooves.
He was sound and in full work at the time above photos were taken but we were still working on his tendency to load his right shoulder more than the left, right poll flexion being more difficult, right bend, weaker left canter to name some schooling challenges. He was a fun horse to work with, always happy to try whatever you asked but to know what made him more “even” meant I was able to eventually create a longer stride in trot (he tended to speed up by going choppier) and he became much more responsive to the leg, straighter and happier to work with engaged hindlegs.
Did this make you curious?
I hope so 🙂 Have you ever looked at your horse’s feet to figure out his overall biomechanics ? Let me know, I am a bio-mech nerd!
Feel free to snap your horse’s or pony’s feet and post it on Aspire’s Facebook page for notes and discussions – happy to chat any time! See you at: www.facebook.com/aspireequestriancademy
- How to breed a foal with two heads? (aspireequestrian.wordpress.com)