Is your horse on the forehand?

Somebody asked for more information about how to tell if a horse is on the forehand. It's really about training your eye and understanding the biomechanics.

We want to see balance. If all the weight is pushed forward into the poll and the withers are dropped, your horse will be on the forehand, this can be damaging to both the forelimbs and the nuchal ligament if they are worked on the forehand constantly.

To me it's about lift through the wither and not primarily about head position or hind end push. By lifting the wither the hind end can then push through and the head will naturally be carried where it needs to be, not in the air, nor on the floor, somewhere happy in the middle. How do we achieve lift through the wither? By developing relaxation in the neck and engaging the thoracic sling so they can lift themselves, not by trying to lift our horse with our hands and legs.

For those who haven't witnessed my previous soapboxes, the thoracic sling is a combination of muscles which attach the forelimb to the body, see previous posts for a more in depth explanation.

The top graphic shows a typical horse working towards being balanced. I say working towards as I'd want more lift from the wither and more engagement from behind, but we need a visual of where we are going not the super pretty end picture.

The bottom graphics show what happens when a horse is on the forehand. Tension in the neck, weight into the poll, hind end unsupported, dropping through the thoracic sling and back. Ask yourself, does that look strong and functional?

At some stage your horse will be on the forehand.
Young horses are typically on the forehand as they have not yet developed those crucial thoracic sling muscles as will older horses or horses that have been out of work for some time.

But many horses do not develop these muscles well enough throughout life, usually due to incorrect training. This then compromises the horse and they will compensate with the rest of their body leading to dysfunction and injury. If a horse is out of work these muscles will reduce so will need restrengthening before returning work. The higher the level, the more time strengthening will be needed.

So we must first teach our horses how to work in balance before expecting anything else from them. Start with in hand exercises, in walk, on the ground then overtime transfer these to under saddle, the horse must first learn to balance and carry itself without also trying to balance and carry a rider.
As the horse strengthens and develops correctly (I'm meaning years here not weeks!) the head can then be carried higher for the more collected work, but only once they have developed correctly in the first place, this is not something you should be aiming for until you have progressed up the scales or training.

P.s This graphic doesn't mean you have to ride with no bridle, something i did recently, but shows you don't need your hands to achieve lift, in fact you dont really need your hands at all

Artwork by Naomi Tavian