Horses naturally carry about 60% of their weight on their front end and just 40% on their hind end. They use their head and neck a lot for balance, swinging that big head as counterbalance on tight corners, and bobbing it up and down at the walk and canter/gallop to help them balance.
On their own, most horses do a great job of balancing themselves, but when we start asking them to do “other” things, being aware of their balance and helping them to use their bodies most effectively will give them more confidence and help them use themselves to their best advantage and avoid potential injuries.
Balanced from front to back
One of our goals in helping our horses improve their balance is to help them start using those powerful hindquarters and well angulated hind limbs to carry more of their body weight. A horse who is moving effectively and using themselves well should easily be able to move to more of 50-50 balance instead of their natural 60-40, and horses who have dedicated time spend on strength training and balance can develop true collection, where up to 70% of their weight is carried on their hind limbs.
A huge part of improving their overall balance is strengthening their hind limbs to start carrying more body weight.
Balanced Side to Side
Every person has a dominant hand, to some degree. While some people are quite ambidextrous, either naturally or through training their weaker hand, others (like myself) have one hand that doesn’t really know how to do anything.
Horses also have a dominant side and a weaker side, which means they’ll be much more balanced and comfortable in one direction than the other, though of course with variation. Some naturally athletic and flexible horses are already quite balanced, while others, are a permanent banana until dedicated strengthening and suppling help them learn to stretch their strong side and strengthen their supple side.
When watching for good medial lateral balance, or correct bend, we tend to get distracted by the head and neck, which can give us information but often distracts us with trying to pull the head in the right direction instead of focusing on their hind feet. That’s where good bend starts – with the inside hind leg.
Watch for the inside hind leg (the one on the inside of the circle or bend) to be placed well underneath their body, following in the track of the forefoot. If it’s stiffly stuck in the middle of the circle, away from his body, that’s a great sign that he’s not balanced in the bend.