The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

13.9.2021 How should a normal horse feel to ride?

A Guest Blog from Sue Dyson

It may seem a simplistic question to ask how a normal horse should feel to a rider, but I have observed that many riders are unaware how a horse free from musculoskeletal pain should perform. This is either because they have never had the opportunity to ride a pain-free horse, or because they have become accustomed to riding horses that have adapted their movement to minimise discomfort.

A normal horse that has undergone correct basic training and has well-fitting tack for horse and rider should move willingly in walk, trot and canter in straight lines and circles. The horse should not need to be kicked repeatedly or given verbal encouragement. The horse should be equally willing in an arena as when out hacking. The horse should not be tense or spook repeatedly and should maintain a regular rhythm.

In rising trot, the horse should feel similar when sitting on the left or right diagonals. There should be a similar tension in the left and right reins; the horse should ‘take a contact’ rather than avoid rein tension. The horse should feel similar on the left and right reins and turn easily to the left or to the right. There should be a swing of the back behind the saddle, particularly in walk and trot. If the rider changes from rising to sitting trot the horse should maintain a similar rhythm, speed and posture, with similar swing of the back.

A normal horse should push energetically with the hindlimbs so that the horse feels as though it is powerful. It should not drag the toes of the hindlimbs. Canter is a three-beat gait with a suspension phase, so that after push-off from the leading forelimb all four limbs should be off the ground. The movement of the horse’s back should rotate the rider’s pelvis backwards and forwards. It is not normal for the rider to feel that their pelvis is being rotated. The canter should feel smooth, rather than ‘jarry’; the rider should not feel that their upper body is being rocked backwards and forwards, which occurs if the horse is croup high and on the forehand. The horse’s body should be reasonably straight. It is not normal for a horse to change legs behind or spontaneously break from canter to trot repeatedly.

The horse’s gait should not change substantially with a change in surface. It is not normal for a horse to markedly shorten the step length when moving on a firm surface compared with a softer surface, unless the hard surface is slippery. The horse should also move similarly moving uphill and downhill, without undue hesitation.

When jumping the horse should push off evenly from the hindlimbs and jump squarely across a fence. The horse should be willing to land with the left and right forelimbs leading, with similar frequency. Depending on the athletic ability of the horse it should be able to adjust stride length and alter the take-off position without undue difficulty. If the horse ‘helicopters’ over a fence, landing in a heap this is not normal.

If a horse deviates from these normal observations then the rider needs to consider that something may be wrong which may need investigation.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion