Latest Blogposts

Lateral bending

left-bent-or-right-bentIt’s an interesting fact that almost every horse bends naturally more easily to one side than to the other. 

We call this the lateral bending of the horse.

But before we continue, be aware that there is a semantic difference between the lateral bend in the ‘spine’ and the lateral bend in the ‘body’.

If you want to read more about the lateral bend in the spine, click here:

But in this article, we talk about the lateral bend in the body.

The lateral bending of the body is a result of the natural movement of the spine, the muscles, and the use of the front and hind legs.

That means:

The body is bent from neck to tail, and is naturally bent to the left or to the right.

However, some horses have a continuous ‘S’-curve in their body.

But to keep it simple, let’s stick to the right and left bent horse for now.

Both the right bent and the left bent horse have a:

  • concave, hollow side with short, stiff and strong muscles.
  • convex, stretched side with long, supple, weak and less developed muscles.

Right bent..right-bendedConcave side….Left-bendedLeft bent

At the end of this article, I will give you a checklist so you can figure out your horse’s lateral bend.

But first, let’s discuss the:

Symptoms of a left bent horse

A left bent horse will easily bend to the left and not as easy to the right.

Therefore, a very clear symptom of a left bent horse is that it will walk easily to the left and not as easy to the right in the arena.

Lateral asymmetry Left-bendedlateral asymmetry

When you ride this horse, it can feel as if the horse holds on to the bit on the right side and does not want to accept the bit on the left side.

This is because of the long right side and the shorter left side of the horse.

But there are more things you may notice on a left bent horse:

horse falling outsidehorse falling inside<– While riding a circle to the left, the left bent horse bends easier, and can tend to over-bend to the left.

This can make it fall out through the outside shoulder.

–> On a circle to the right a left bent horse will prefer to fall inwards rather than bend its body.

It will try to keep the left bending and falls in on the inside shoulder; making the circle smaller.

lateral asymmetry

<– Another striking symptom is that, due to the weak muscles on the right side, and/or improper rotation of the chest vertebrae, the saddle can move to the right.

The rider can then slide to the right and get crooked in her own body. Also, the stirrup on the right will hang lower.

We generally think that the cause is in the saddle, but you see that very often, it’s in the crookedness of the horse.

So adding more padding to the right side of the saddle, or shortening the stirrup on the right side, is not a solution here. We need to realize that it only fights the symptom.

The right bent horse has the opposite specifics and symptoms.

Knowing this, we must train ourselves to recognize the symptoms and acknowledge that our horse is not perfectly straight. Plus, Straightness Training is a valuable solution to bring our horse in balance.

Of course, the rider should also work on his own asymmetry and alignment of spine and pelvis.

But before we continue about Straightness Training, let’s address this often asked question about the lateral bending:

Are there more left bent or right bent horses?

It is interesting to see that there are different ‘beliefs’ on this subject.

According to the old masters such as Antoine de Pluvinel, François Robichon de La Guérinière and Gustav Steinbrecht and a few modern-day specialists, there are more left bent horses. According to some other trainers, there are more right bent horses.

Let’s see what riding masters have to say about the lateral bend of the horse:

Antoine de Pluvinel (1552 – 1620)

Pluvinel was the first of the French riding masters. He wrote L’Instruction du Roy l’exercice de monter à cheval (‘Instruction of the King in the art of riding’) and was tutor to King Louis XIII.

Pluvinel already noticed that horses bend easier to one side than to the other.

He wrote: “In general I work more on the right lead than on the left, like most of the horses has taught me. I always start on the right lead as most horses tend to go left.”

Book Antoine de PluvinelIn Pluvinel’s book, King Louis XIII asks Pluvinel: “Why do you start on the right rein and not on the left, as it is a lot harder?”

Pluvinel’s answer is: “Several people looked for the cause at the unborn foal that in the womb bents completely to the left. Other said that horses at rest prefer to lie on the right side. However, I am not concerned with such arcane philosophies, because it arises purely out of habit: Everything happens to the left of the horse: tying, saddling, brushing, feeding, handling etc. And if a man leads the horse on the left, he prefers also to pull the head to the left.”

The King: “Its clear and understandable that for these reasons the horses are start on the right circle, the most difficult circle”.

François Robichon de La Guérinière (1688-1751)

Book François Robichon de La GuérinièreLa Guérinière was a French riding master. He is one of the most influential riders on the art of riding.

His famous book L’École de Cavalerie (‘The School of Horsemanship’) states about the lateral bend:

“Almost all horses find it easier to bend to the left.”

La Guérinière is credited for the invention of the shoulder-in on the straight line.

It’s interesting that especially the shoulder-in to the right (picture) is THE remedy for the naturally left bent horse.

Gustav Steinbrecht (1808 – 1885)

Steinbrecht writes in his famous Gymnasium des Pferdes about the lateral bend:

“It is a generally known fact that green horses have more difficulties on one side than on the other and that most horses initially have these difficulties on the right rein.

Gustav SteinbrechtTo discover the actual reason for this phenomenon is more the task of a researcher in natural sciences than of the practical horse trainer. It doesn’t matter to the horse trainer whether it is related to the fetus lying in the womb or because the groom approached him mostly on the left. In both cases, he can do nothing about it.

I want to mention this phenomenon only to warn against the mistake which often arises: the predominant working of one side while neglecting the other. It is indeed advisable to bend the stiff side more frequently by practicing the appropriate exercises a greater number of times.

Remember the old masters were accustomed beginning all exercises on the right hand, to then change to the left rein and ending after another change back to the right rein so that the bends to the right were always practiced twice as much.”

So here you can see that Pluvinel, La Guérinière, and Steinbrecht were convinced that most horses are left bent. But some more recent riding masters didn’t agree to that:

Wilhelm Museler (1887 – 1952)

Museler bookMuseler was a well-known rider and competed in dressage and showjumping on a high level.

In his book Riding Logic, Museler mentions that all horses are naturally crooked.

He wrote: “People say this is related to the location of the unborn animal in the womb”.

Unlike the old masters, he believed that there are more right bent horses: “Most horses – like dogs – are crooked from ‘right’ back to ‘left’ front. The hindquarters will fall to the right.”

Üdo Burger (1914 – 1985)

Burger was one of Germany’s most esteemed veterinary surgeons and accomplished horseman.

In his book Vollendete Reitkunst (‘The way to perfect horsemanship’) he wrote about the lateral bend:

“A naturally straight horse does not exist. All horses are congenitally ‘crooked’, in the sense that their spine is more concave on one side than the other. This curvature is sometimes believed to be due to the position of the fetus in the womb, but there is no evidence to support the theory. Uneven development of both sides of the body is usual with human beings also.”

And have you heard of the ‘circling instinct’? Burger writes about this interesting point of view:

“All humans and animals show a tendency to walk in circles if they are blindfolded or deprived of points of orientation as in the dark of the night, in thick fog or in a dense forest. Walking in a perfectly straight direction necessitates constant correction of deviation with the help of the eyes.

The circling instinct is very noticeable in young children and young animals, and in the early stages of life it is no handicap because it always leads the infant back to his starting point whenever he becomes disorientated in his first exploration of the world.”

Then, instead of only left bent or right bent, horses can also have both; causing a bit of an ‘S-shape’. Burger writes about the S-shape in his book:

S-Shape“Some reputedly incorrigible horses, that one rider after another has vainly tried to manage will have learned to twist themselves in a perpetual ‘S’ shape which has enabled them to evade all controls that their riders could think of. Although they willingly turn their head and neck right when the rider pulls on the right rein, in doing so they turn their hindquarters the other way.”

Dr. Reiner Klimke (1936 – 1999)

Right bent

Dr. Reiner Klimke was a German equestrian, who won six gold and two bronze medals in dressage at the Summer Olympics — a record for equestrian events. He appeared in six Olympic Games from 1960 to 1988 (excluding 1980).

In his book Basic training of the young riding horse, Klimke states, like Museler, that there are more right bent horses than left bent.

So there are clearly different ‘opinions’ about this, and we still don’t know what is the truth:

Are there more left bent horses, like the old masters wrote? Or should we go with the more modern riding masters, are there more right bent horses?


Throughout the centuries, riding masters and riders have been dealing with the phenomenon of natural asymmetry and many also wrote about the lateral bend.

It is striking to realize that, besides many similar ideas and convictions, there are some very different perspectives, ideas, and beliefs that affected the training of horses.

Some trainers claim that there are more left-bended horses, others claim there are more right-bended horses.

Scientifically, there has been no proof so far whether there are more right-bended or left-bended horses.

Therefore, it is important that we examine each horse as an individual and are willing to think outside the box.

Every horse should receive tailor-made training to be able to develop symmetrically:

The horse’s body needs to be able to bend equally to the left and to the right. And this requires a proper use of the skeleton and muscles in the body and legs.

You see, knowing the true cause of natural asymmetry does not really matter, but it is important to realize that lateral asymmetry is a fact that we cannot ignore and we will need to work with it.

We must be able to recognize the symptoms and acknowledge that our horse is not equal to both sides.

So, what about your horse?

Is he left or right bent?


Whatever his lateral bending is, Straightness Training is a valuable solution to bring your horse in balance. It is designed to support you in making your horse supple to both sides.

How does this work? Well, let us take you on a fun learning journey with the free 4 part Mini Mastery Course!

STart developing your horse symmetrically: Sign up for free!

If you want to learn more about how to start Straightness Training, then join our free 4 part Mini Mastery Course!

This is what you’ll discover:

  • How to eliminate the natural asymmetries of your horse that are causing the biggest troubles!
  • How the natural, lateral bending can crush your riding goals, and how to turn things around in a simple way!
  • How to eliminate unnecessary stress, frustration, and disappointment, and fast-track your progression!
  • Six simple keys to making horse training and riding easy, no matter what discipline you’re in, and no matter what breed or age!

This mini-course really is worth watching – it contains a lot of useful insights and tips, which you can use right away.

It also shows the step-by-step approach on how to teach your horse a new exercise, so you can bring what you’ve learned directly into practice!

All 4 video clips are accompanied by easy to understand theory and explanations, which makes it easy to follow and the processes even more clear.

Plus,  the downloadable manuals are very informative, useful and helpful!

So don’t miss out on it and join the course, it’s 100% free:

► Click HERE to Join ST Mini Mastery >>

7 thoughts on “Lateral bending

Comment author said

By Cecilia Müller on 15 January 2015 at 13:44

One S-shaped (but become more and more straightened), two left-bended, one right-bended 🙂 Good variety so I can learn how to deal with it 🙂


Comment author said

By Henriette Henriksen on 15 January 2015 at 13:45

It depends…
In the beginning he was leftbended, but as I commenced the straightness training, over time he became right bended. If I do not pay attention to where he is “right now” and adjust the training to which side he has troubles with, it changes…


Comment author said

By Kate on 17 January 2015 at 08:13

Right bended x3
Left bend x1


Comment author said

By Horseperson on 19 August 2015 at 13:42

The importance of straightening the crooked horse is most important because one cannot collect a crooked horse. Both hind legs must be easily able to step evenly and equally under the center of mass. The left bend horse has a weaker left hind leg and a stronger right hind. Because the left hind is carried “outside” the center of mass, it does not carry its 50% of the load. The right hind on the other hand continually steps under the center of mass carrying more weight and therefore it is stronger. The straightening exercises encourage the left hind to carry more of its fair share of weight through the bending exercises. Once the horse is able to bend easily in both directions in all three gaits on all the school figures, the rider can be fairly assured that the horse is prepared To begin with collection work…….horseperson


Comment author said

By Linda Ketteridge on 28 October 2015 at 03:57

Question. Can inappropriate or ‘bad’ longeing or handling of a very young horse make its assymetry worse? Can it confuse the whole issue of straightness further?


Comment author said

By Lynne Krueger on 11 November 2015 at 03:58

One of my horses, although normally hollow on the right, takes the S shape when asked to turn or circle to the right. He looks just like the drawing above. In order to prevent the S shape, I need to ask for a slight haunches-in (haunches right) that includes a rolling of his ribcage up on the inside. It is of course best to ask for this shape before he chooses the S himself.


Comment author said

By Loretta on 10 July 2016 at 01:35

Don’t forget when evaluating left and right bend preference in a horse consider the same in the rider. Every person has a weak or strong side and some a a good balance and symmetry. There’s is an exercise to put this to the test in the rider and its not on the horse. Consider when you make the first step from standing still to walking. Which foot was used in the first step forwards, left or right. Your stronger and dominant side will have probably have taken the first step. Its when you use the non dominant side to make the first step that you can consider how it fells for a horse to have to redress this when asked to move forward and continue to do so and do it on a circle. Like us they have a determined symmetry and its usually done to which side is the stronger or weaker. I have found it pretty well.most horses its the right side which is the more dominant and the left side is the weaker. I’ve also found that this will switch during the first two years of training and is always in young underdeveloped horses. I suggest doing exercises for the rider to make their own symmetry even and this will always make it easier for the horse. Always work the horse equally on the left and right rein definately do not try to strengthen the horse exclusively on the weak side as you will only exhaust him/her. Good exercise for the rider is to use steps to initiate the first step/lift on the weak side. Just one last thought on why this dissymmetry exits is the Yin Yang phenomenon of left and right, big and small, male and female, outward energy and inward energy.


Leave a Reply