“Your essentials to equine therapy part 1” By Sarah Holmes, MSc., BSc. (hons), MMAA

Sarah Holmes

Sarah Holmes

An introduction to equine back asymmetry

Let’s start at the very beginning. We all strive for our horses to be as even as possible, and have been promoting that since we started riding – so why do so many horses still find it difficult to be straight? Asymmetry, or side-to-side imbalance, is much more common that you might have thought!

There is a necessity for the horse to be worked evenly on each rein to reduce negative effects of overloading one side of the body, favouring one rein or a leading limb. However, the horse is naturally one-sided just as we are left or right-handed! Despite working evenly, there will still be a weakness to one side and therefore an asymmetry. This can be seen by performance or behavioural related issues, for example;

– stiffness to one rein

– bucking during or transitioning into canter

– difficulty to remain in the correct lead in canter

– unable to engage the hindquarters

– bridle lameness

– jumping flat or favouring one landing limb

– difficulty in lateral movements


Over a period of time uneven loading of the horse can be detrimental to the joints and soft tissues of the body, often shown by back pain, muscle atrophy/hypertrophy, early arthritis and limb related lameness. The asymmetries could be subtle enough that they are not easily recognised when they are in the field or in their stable; the majority of cases are noticed because their ridden work or behaviour is not as good as it could be. More often than not they are disregarded as a ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’ horse, even before body asymmetry or pain have been ruled out.

It is important to also consider that injury, poorly fitted tack, rider imbalance, poor hoof conformation or even a slip in the field all contribute to compensatory asymmetry, which often remains even when the problem has been resolved. Have a look at the pictures provided, which show pre- and post-treatment asymmetry angles.


Mary Bird View Pre PostMary Caudal View Pre PostThis mare developed significant asymmetry in the withers, thoracic and lumbar spine, and pelvis. It became progressively more apparent after several months after a major trauma to her forelimb. She wasn’t in any work as she was retired and had no injuries or accidents after the initial trauma. As we consider the body as a whole unit we can see that, despite it being a forelimb trauma, it had detrimental effect on the rest of the body! The post-treatment pictures show the improvement in symmetry after just one treatment.

What shall I do about it?

Get your horse checked. Knowing where your horse’s weak areas are can give you essential insight into the most effective way to train him. The more effective the training then the less likely he is to become sore and the more likely he is to continue to be comfortable and willing. Even if you don’t think anything is wrong then best practise is to get it checked as you may not notice. Always make sure you get it checked by a qualified and knowledgeable practitioner.

Sarah Holmes runs her own physical therapy and rehabilitation business, she is qualified to Masters degree level and practises throughout the Kent and the South East. For more information visit www.easeinmotion.co.uk, phone 07854085263, or find her on Facebook; Sarah Holmes: Ease In Motion.

Leave a Reply