Just like people, many horses have a strong side and a weaker side of their body. This can be due to conformation, past injury, tension in the body or incorrect training or training equipment. With a careful and structured training plan, you can help your horse strengthen the weak side of his or her body to create a more balanced, physically comfortable horse. Many owners of OTTB (Off the Track Thoroughbreds) note that their horse tends to have problems on one side or another, typically due to their track training.
Recently, I came across this short (under 2 minutes) video where dressage Grand Prix rider Jody Hartstone talks about how to get the correct canter lead. I had never seen this method before, so was a bit doubtful but traditional “ask for the canter” techniques have been hit and miss for us. While at the barn today, I gave it a try…. it worked! He picked up his correct lead the first time I asked! Although this is not something you can do in a show situation, it will certainly help you achieve the correct lead and therefore practice building your horse’s muscles at home.
(NOTE: If your horse has recently started struggling with his leads, talk to your vet and rule out any causes of pain. Things like saddle fit, joint health, vitamin deficiency leading to weak muscles, neurological deficits, muscle strain or sublaxations in the cervical/thoracolumbar spine are all things that can affect your horse’s ability to canter or give them trouble to pick up a lead.)