This week I have been working at a couple of new yards. Both are run by professional trainers. Both have issues that are due to how the riders’ weight bears and how it affects the horses that they are bringing on.

One trainer sits very heavily to the left. There is an indent in all 3 of his horse’s backs where he weight bears too heavily on this side. This makes all his horses less able to work correctly on the right rein

The other trainer does just the opposite. All her weight bears on the right. This makes her horses less efficient on the left rein.

All riders have a dominant side (ie they are more ‘plugged in’ on their efficient side). This is not related to right- or left-handedness; it’s more like being ‘regular’ or ‘goofy-footed’ on a surfboard. Horses pick up on this uneven weight bearing and they deal with it by adjusting their posture and way of going to compensate for the uneven weight distribution across their backs. Often the hind leg on the rider’s more ‘plugged in’ side will not track correctly due to the increased tension in the musculature.

What the horses do is increase the tension in their lower back muscles on the rider’s more weight bearing side, shortening those muscles and making that hip appear higher than the other. This is often mistaken for hip misalignment. While some horses do indeed have misaligned hip bones, any asymmetry here is much more likely to be due to differential muscular tension. So that is the first thing to check (before getting a chiropractor in or a vet to do x-rays).

It’s easy enough to work it out yourself if you want to. You need two people: one has to be the horse and the other the rider. Person one is the horse; they kneel down with their hands on the floor. Person two sits on person 1 as they do on a horse, then intentionally sit a lot heavier on one side. Person 1 (the horse) will instinctively react by tensioning their back muscles on that side! Now person 1 should try to move their (‘hind’) leg on that side: they will immediately realise that the leg cannot function as it should on the more weight bearing side. Now person 1 knows exactly how it feels for a horse with an ‘asymmetric’ rider on board. Easy! Now switch roles so person 2 is the horse, so you both get this direct feedback.

I did a lot of these horse/human comparisons in my book Sports Massage for Horses. The exercise under ‘Working on the Forehand’ is now famous and is used all over the world to demonstrate how it feels for a horse to work in this way. That’s why I had to publish and copyright it!