Natural Asymmetry by definition, is a slanted propulsion of the hind legs of the horse, by which cause a lateral shift or offset in the front legs. There is assumption that the reason for this is the location of the foal in the womb.
Many different veterinarians have made big efforts to investigate this “phenomenon”. From the bio-mechanical point of view, natural asymmetry should mean one-sided shortening of the longissimus muscle on the hollow side of the back. Through this muscle shortening, the pelvis is pulled forward on the hollow side. Looking from the front or behind the horse will walk and run with a slanted angle to it's body. The muscles of the croup would also be asymmetrically built, so that the horse will push more on this side than it will carry.
There are some incredibly bizarre explanations for this, from trying to explain it from the deep anatomical point of view, to the comparison with a rally or race car in terms of statics and stability in the curve (which also comes from a Dr. vet by the way). The common result of all the investigations on this, are the recommendations and advice on how to “straighten” the horse in the best way. Of course one might wonder why we would never get such advice for dog or cat. They move the same way as the horse. So we come to the point where we have to ask the question, how and why this is happening. How can it be that even the most acknowledged doctors of veterinary medicine give such advice that is to change this creature in a bio-mechanical form? To force this creature with pain into an unnatural form?
To find the explanation we should look back to the old “masters” of the “riding skill”.
To the non dressage interested rider, this sentence should be known as:
“Ride your horse forward and set it up”.
This sentence mirrors the whole aberration in the attempt to understand a horses body and psyche. Steinbrecht makes it unmistakeably clear that he uses horses for riding and that “dressage has the purpose, through systematically organized gymnastic exercises, to enable the muscles of the horse to give the skeleton required direction which is necessary for the duty of riding”. Through this, Steinbrecht is able to see very clearly:
“In his natural state the horse can follow his natural affinity at the shoulder, and through this he gains no damage because he has no external weight to carry, he makes his movements according to his own will and he uses his hind legs according to his need to support forelegs, as they are unrestricted. But when under a rider he has to take on the riders weight, and he not only has to move in different gaits at the will of the rider, but he must also do this in a certain tempo and for as long as rider wishes, so he must be able to do this without damage to his legs, straight and in balance, under the principle that a correct balanced load is easier to carry than one which is out of balance”.
Looking back at that time, Steinbrecht may have deserved respect as a man who wanted to train horses for the use of riding with as little damage as possible caused to the horse. When measured today, with ethical principles, this can never be the case. His whole book illustrates how to handle the horse with the imposition of force, denying these creatures any free will, and using them as a tool for the human. And this is valid for all other “masters” of the “riding skill”. They all followed this principle, which has lead us to present days and the misery of how our horses are treated. Big praise has been spoken about Gueriniere because he defined shoulder-in, which made what easier exactly? Straighten the horse so that horse can optimally go through the corner, that horse can perform one round volte and which ever other artificial movement the rider desires? Does the horse need this? Certainly not.
I find it devastating that the lack of knowledge about the nature of the horse, his psyche, to the biomechanics of his body and even to basic anatomical facts still exists, and is even celebrated!
The only explanation I can find is that people have one priority over all and that is to use the horse. Before anything else, first comes the wish to (mis) use the horse, and then one tries to explain it from the position of health. But this leads down the wrong path because health must always come first, as with us, and so even with the horse. This is what we must concede about every living being, is not it?
It is obvious that the asymmetry in the highly-bred horses that have to endure life in an unnatural position (box, paddocks, small paddocks) is extremely pronounced. This is reflected in the whole body, it can be read in the whole body, from muscles to joints, bones, hooves and organs.
The horse is kept unnatural and used unnatural. This leads to congestion resulting from overexertion and sustained contraction of the muscles, they tense and harden. If this condition lasts too long, it leads to sprains, cramps, muscle fiber tears, etc. Hardened muscles and inflexible tendons do not give enough to provide the necessary possibility of movement to the joint(s).
When horse refuses to move it is gernarally an alarm sign and not insubordination.
With such horses there can be no correct bending, lateral flexion is always forced by the pain of the bit or trauma to the head of the horse. There can be no correct "straightening" because the nature of the horse does not allow it, unless you force the horse with pain into an unnatural straigteness.
The natural asymmetry which the horse could not balance himself because of unnatural keeping and use is also clearly seen in the hooves. They have grow differently, and in many cases one hoof is wide and flat and the other is narrower and steeper. This in turn leads to more tension and unbalance in the body and creates a vicious circle. This is followed by incorrect diagnoses, incorrect treatments and it's all at the expense of the horse. It's downright frightening to determine that the doctors of veterinary medicine, on a regular basis, give advice like the following:
- To exercize shoulder out and shoulder-in (meant to do this with the use of a bit, and this again means to force the horse in an unnatural position through pain).
- To lunge (meant to force the horse using cavassion or halter in unnatural movement)
- Rider should help to straighten the horse from it's back (which probably needs no comment, but again with bit, pain, force and on top of that the weight of the rider on it's back)
- Site gaits (again bit, pain, compulsion)
And then there are a variety of different therapies on how best to straighten the poor horse. Do we really want to straighten our horses by hook or by crook? Should we even be allowed to do this? What is natural asymmetry at all, does it have some justification or is it just a freak of nature?
In nature, everything has its place and reason.
Nature has not provided the horse to come into the world in box stalls, nor even in paddocks or small pastures. Nature has provided for the horse the expanse of the land, and when the mother mare gets up after giving birth, then she should be able to continue on with the moving herd and her foal should be able to do the same. In the foals first hours of life, their bodies are defined and formed. Their hooves are worn evenly and shaped, their bodies are flooded with oxygen and the lungs can fully develop, the abundance of natural movement can optimally develope the bodys symmetry, which of course can never be so unnatural as the horses who are born and kept in captivity. The horse should be able to and would like to look behind and all around him, he needs to see any threat and he may need to see an escape route, the minimal natural asymmetry, which is there and designed by nature, and can never be "straightened". Any attempt to do this, according to current methods, treatments and advice means to force the horse into an unnatural position (usually with the use of bit and/or other violent means of manipulation) and this means damage to the horse's body.
Shall we ride the horses, despite this asymmetry? That can not be healthy?
Rather, the rider must rethink when it comes to riding. It is urgently necessary to understand that no creature, no being is here to satisfy our selfish wishes. We must not harm another being in order to provide ourselves with good feelings. With horses this is especially obvious, the owners swear to love the animal, they buy blankets, pay fees for the keeping, employ different therapists, but all this can not smother the fact that the horse is kept primarily for one reason... to be used. Our own frustration and pain must be recognized, and it must be cured, so that man can feel what he does to the horse. And then, if and when you get something that is much more valuable, the true friendship of the horse, then perhaps the greatest moments of grace arise if the horse will allow, with his own free thought and will, that man gets to sit on his back ... for a moment, which will be worth more than a whole lifetime of enforced riding before it. I wish this experience to every rider.