Sometimes the technical terms and jargon used by horse owners and horseback riders can be confusing to beginners and those outside of the “horse world”. Recently, we’ve been exploring some of these concepts through a blog, and today we are going to talk about what it means to say a horse is “heavy on the forehand”.
You might hear this term referenced along with words like “collected,” “uphill/downhill,” “strung out,” or “half halt.” All of these terms are ways to describe how a horse is moving.
Though to most people outside of the horse world, a trot is just a trot, for those who compete and show horses, the way the horse propels themselves forward at each gait is very important for the horses training, long-term soundness (and rideability), and success in competitions. Just like a human athlete trying to improve their skills in their sport, horse trainers often work to improve HOW a horse carries themselves as they move and transition from one gait to another.
Horses are large animals with huge muscle groups, but the strongest muscles are in a horse’s hindquarters. Although the hindquarters are the strongest, a horse’s front-end is the heaviest.
Because of this structure, horses can move in one of two basic ways:
- By shifting weight from the front on to the hindquarters and primarily propelling themselves forward via the strong hind muscles, or
- By lifting the front-end just enough to strike forward with the front legs and letting the hindquarters follow in stride.
Horses who primarily move in the first way are said to be “collected” and moving “from the hind,” while horses in the latter group might be described as “heavy on the forehand” or “strung out”. The collected horse moves in a balanced way, driven forward by the powerful hindquarters, but when a horse is heavy on the forehand, that motor can only follow the front end, and is unable to balance the horse through transitions or corners. For this reason, horses who are heavy on the forehand tend be less surefooted, and more likely to stumble.
A note on collection: the collected horse is round and arched upward slightly through the back and neck, resulting naturally in what can look to an amateur like simply a tucked in nose. Because of this recognizable feature of collection, some amateur riders – and even professionals – can confuse a “collected” horse with a horse that has learned, simply, to tuck its nose in towards its body when being ridden. Be a savvy rider and know that collection comes from the hind end- not from how a horse is trained to carry their head.
Training your horse to get up off the forehand and move “uphill,” is an important step to training a winning performance horse.
The picture below shows a horse that’s heavy on the forehand and a horse that is up off the forehand. Notice in the first picture that the base of the horse’s neck appears to be the lowest point of his back- but in the second photo the horse’s shoulders are lifted and the horse appears to be going uphill along the back. The horse in the second photo (the same horse after extended conditioning and training) is collected and moving off his haunches.