Is Your Horse Moving Symmetrically? Watch His Withers

By analyzing “wither drop,” researchers found that some horses tend to drop their withers lower when bringing one foreleg forward than the other. Here’s what that means for equestrians.
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horse moving symmetrically
Researchers say some horses tend to drop their withers lower when bringing one foreleg forward than the other. Based on initial investigations, they said, it appears that drop might have more to do with natural laterality than pathological (disease- or injury-related) asymmetry. | Photo: iStock

When we want to see if a horse is moving symmetrically, we often focus on their gaits or the slip of the saddle. But Swedish researchers recently tested a new way to evaluate unevenness: the withers. Not side-to-side movements; rather, what up-and-down wither movement might reveal about asymmetry.

They found that, at the walk, some horses tend to drop their withers lower when bringing one foreleg forward than the other. In these initial investigations, they said, it appears that drop might have more to do with natural laterality than pathological (disease- or injury-related) asymmetry. Such information could be useful for both scientists and equestrians, the team said.

“To be able to better diagnose laterality is likely of benefit both for the trainer that tries to increase symmetry while training the horse, as well as for the clinician trying to determine if a slight asymmetry is lameness or ‘only laterality,’” said Agneta Egenvall, DVM, PhD, a professor in veterinary epidemiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science, in Uppsala

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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