A letter in a magazine article regarding floating problems when the horse was on the driver’s side but not when on the passenger side caught my attention and prompted me to respond. My own observations have been gathered over forty-nine years as a competitive horseman, colt breaker and Master Farrier.
As a colt breaker I used to wonder why some colts mouthed better on one side than the other – was it because of something I was doing? I would change my methods with that particular horse, spend more time on the slow side, but still they behaved differently and were uneven to control.
Then as a farrier, I noticed when shoeing these ‘uneven’ horses for the first time that about 99% of them were always half a size different in their front hoofs.
So, relating that back to their initial mouthing tendency, there seemed to be a pattern emerging that the colt which was slow to yield on the near-side rein nearly always had his off-fore hoof half a size larger. It was exactly the reverse for the colt who was slow to yield on the off side rein and was larger in the near-side front hoof. The same pattern followed diagonally on the hind foot sizes.
That was about 1970, and by then I had been working with horses for around fifteen years, quite happily ignorant of how they really worked.
From then on, every horse I came into contact with either as a breaker, a rider or as a farrier, I closely observed the relationship between hoof sizes and what I call ‘athletic tendencies’, and they could be separated into three groups – left handed, right handed or ambidextrous.
I used to subject owners and riders of horses I was shoeing to a quick quiz. After establishing my own opinion of their horse’s tendencies, I would ask them if the horse worked better one particular way than the other. Their answer always consolidated my theory.
When the horse’s hooves were identical in size, upon my quick quiz, these horses proved to be not only balanced in either direction but also good at whatever they were tried at, and obviously ambidextrous.
So, going back to the original breaking-in procedure, I was now able to work out a young horse’s tendencies, even before putting him into any mouthing gear, and I could adopt different mouthing techniques to allow for his left or right handedness. It was also possible to anticipate which way he would turn if he decided to buck, even in a panic situation.
Further long term observation has shown that foals as young as three weeks old already show hoof size differences, and it is quite possible to detect a left handed or right handed or ambidextrous trait even then
To return to the letter, Robyn’s experience in floating her horse and noting that it was OK on the driver’s side, and terrible on the passenger side, would indicate that her horse is simply right handed, and needs to spread his near hind (his dominant hind leg) past the point of his hip to balance in the float.
So when her horse is put into the passenger side, his near hind (which is his strong hind) is up against the outside wall of the float, and he cannot spread his leg out as wide as he needs to balance, hence panic and scrambling occurs.
Full credit to Robyn for achieving a solution to her problem, now she can also understand the origin of her horse’s behaviour – he is a right handed horse which will only ever be comfortable on the driver’s side or floated at a forty five degree angle.