Knowing a Horse's Laterality Could Affect Training

Knowing whether a horse favors his left or right leg can help owners and trainers develop better training programs for him, according to Amanda Warren-Smith, PhD, of the Millthorpe Equine Research Centre in New South Wales, Australia. An easy way to determine his laterality is with a pedometer designed for people.

Laterality is the preference an animal shows for one side of its body. For instance, most people are right-handed. Likewise, some horses tend to favor one leg over the other, said Warren-Smith.

"Knowing the 'handedness' of a horse can potentially help with balance and training, as well as awareness of musculoskeletal health," she said.

In a recent study, Warren-Smith and researchers put human pedometers into normal exercise boots on six horses and monitored the horses' activity in a paddock over five days. Most of the horses did not show a preference for one leg over the other, but two horses definitely preferred their left leg.

Although the study was primarily to find out if pedometers could be used to assess laterality in horses--and they can--Warren-Smith said using equipment such as pedometers can give owners an accurate and objective assessment of their horse without influencing his actions.

"Being able to assess the motor preference of horses would benefit riders or trainers when (re-)training a horse that is having difficulty in performing certain movements that oppose its innate bias," she said.

"Having an improved appreciation of the innate asymmetries in horses should prompt appropriate customization of training programs to ensure the inclusion of appropriate training exercises to help the horse's 'weaker' side."

In addition, knowing a horse's laterality might help a trainer better strategize a horse's race or show career or it could provide important information when assessing young horses for certain performance activities.

The study, "The use of pedometers to estimate motor laterality in grazing horses," was published in the July-August 2010 issue of Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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