Very few farriers, trainers or horse riders think seriously about the left and right handed tendencies of the horses in their care.
It is a very interesting study, and when understood it has a huge influence on us and the way we may work better with the horse, to achieve far better results.
From the age of one month it becomes obvious in their hoof development, that in left handed foals the near fore will be slightly larger than the off fore; it can often be seen visually or it can be felt with your fingertips at the widest part of the coronary band. (Practise this and you will find that the fingertips can pick up even a slight difference and give you a great advantage in fine tuning your hoof care.)
Obviously the right handed foal will have the opposite tendencies while the ambidextrous foal will be even on both hooves.
This same difference is also applicable to the hinds and will be diagonally opposite to the fronts. So that we can understand the working tendencies, it is important to know that the left handed horse’s near fore and off hind are the dominant legs and thus have the larger hooves. The right handed horse has dominance in the off fore and the near hind. The ambidextrous horse will be even all around.
Moving forwards, the left handed horse will be easier to mouth on the near side; it will be able to turn in smaller circles to the left at the walk, trot and canter, but at the gallop on a race track it will be able to rail better in a clockwise direction with its strong leg on the outside. Galloped anticlockwise, its strong leg will cause it to drift out on the corners and also in the run under pressure to the line.
However, in the case of the left handed horse doing rollbacks as for cutting or camp drafting or polocrosse, they need to move slightly backwards first to engage their hind quarters, and they will spin much better to the right, as it is their stronger leg.
The exact opposite describes the athletic tendencies of the right handed horse.
Unless we really understand that the horse is born with these natural athletic tendencies, we may start going wrong from the very first time we put a hand on the young horse. So, before starting the mouthing process, it is very important to be able to identify the left or right hand tendencies and you will then be able to avoid causing resistance on the weaker side by simply understanding that this youngster needs more room to move in bigger circles on its weak side than on its dominant side. We often hear of a galloper needing a lugging bit to stop it from running out on the turns, when all it needs is to run in the opposite direction so that the strong leg is on the outside.
The well informed or observant trainer or rider or competitor will have already worked out that their horse performs better one way than the other but they also need to convey this to their farrier, who should then be able to work towards reducing the stress on the larger hoof and allowing the small hoof to develop and become closer in size to the larger hoof. It is so easy to get it all wrong by starting on the smaller hoof first and un-intentionally over trimming the hoof.
The correct sequence for hoof preparation on a left handed horse must always be NF, OF, OH, NH. And for the right handed horse it must be OF, NF, NH, OH. This system will result in us always dressing the dominant hoof first each and every time and will also give a better chance at getting all hooves even, as the aim is to achieve even hooves so that the horse will feel like it’s ambidextrous.
This recognition of left and right handedness can be seen in every form of horse activity, even at rodeos, where depending on which way the chute gate opens, the horse has to jump out to the left or the right, but when its fronts hit the ground, the left handed horse will buck to the left and the right handed horse will buck to the right, always to their strong side.
The truly ambidextrous horses are few and far between, but their hooves are all exactly the same size, they invariably have good conformation and correct leg alignment. They will usually be confident and competitive at anything you choose to set them to – however be aware that if they do buck they can do so very well either way.
There is always one exception to every ideal principle though – I have only ever found one horse which had the two big hooves on the same side, in this case it was the near fore and the near hind; it was a pacer and I still can’t fathom any reason why it was so for this horse.