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Briefings: May/June 2019

Unevenness in Foals May Develop from Lateral Grazing

Despite not having hands, horses can be described as being left-handed, right-handed or ambidextrous. This can also be referred to as sidedness or laterality. In studies conducted by Dr. Meike van Heel et al., the prevalence of uneven feet is tested as a result of lateral grazing behavior induced by conformational traits in foals. 

It is believed that most Thoroughbreds favor the left side, whereas a large percentage of Quarter Horses are assumed ambidextrous. When grazing, foals tend to stand with one foot slightly behind them in order to reach the grass. As they grow, their feet become imbalanced from the uneven weight distribution across their legs. Some foals will lose their handedness as they mature, but others will maintain it after age 3. 

The question is whether the horse’s breed conformation is an influencing factor of lateralization or if human training of leading on the left side is influencing young horses to favor one side over the other. After studying 24 warmblood foals’ foraging habits over the course of a year, as well as pressure measurements of loading patterns beneath the feet, van Heel was able to make the conclusion with her team that conformational traits might bring on sidedness, which indirectly causes uneven feet. 


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