In this excerpt from her book Is Your Horse 100%? equine bodywork specialist Margaret Henkels explains how the horse’s stance can tell you about his physical health.
The horse’s stance is how he stands when he’s at ease. You see where he places his feet, if he stands straight laterally as well as front to back, and how his neck holds his head. The “box” is used to describe a horse that is standing square and has each leg directly under him, like the legs of a table. This is the most balanced standing position for a horse.
The horse’s stance tells you right away how balanced he is. Any hindquarters imbalance or restriction shows in the stance position, as well as shoulder imbalances. Stance also shows lateral imbalance, which is when the front or hind legs don’t line up.
As you know, many horses do not often stand “in the box.” A common conformation reason for this is that the sacral and pelvic area has tight fascia adhesions (scar tissue, knots, or other structural “compensations” for injury), pulling his hind legs into an offset stance. He can’t stand straight easily because his tissue is twisted and tight. Fascia balancing in the hindquarters and shoulders advances the horse’s stance.
Stance is an excellent quick guide for checking for strain of any kind in the horse. With strain, or even mild injury, the horse usually doesn’t stand square. The usual stance of the horse shows how balanced he is. Many of us have seen horses stand in awkward positions. Often, we notice this, but don’t give it much thought. An awkward stance shows a completely dysfunctional balance in a running animal, and stance is a quick clue to pelvic imbalance and shoulder problems.
A balanced horse goes easily into a “box” stance often. He does not cross his legs awkwardly or stand on top of his own feet, as I have seen some horses do. Offset hind-leg positions of any kind always indicate deep fascial strains that limit canter leads, collection, and even walking straight. Often, these are not difficult imbalances to release.
This offset stance is not about cosmetic appearances. You should always look at hind-leg stance when assessing conformation and movement of the horse. If the horse doesn’t look balanced and in even proportion, he usually doesn’t move consistently well. Sometimes, it takes about 10 minutes to watch the horse as he stands. Some horses come to balance quickly, while others move around or stand at rest before coming to their own usual stance. Also, you’ll notice the front leg to hind leg relationship.
With practice, you will learn to notice if the spacing is even or where it varies. An example of spacing is when the front hooves are wider spaced than the hind hooves. Or, in reverse, the hind hooves are wider than the front. Look for each leg to be square under that corner of the body, like a table.
An offset stance does not imply lack of genetic gifts, it’s a fascia-balancing situation. In fact, while the hind legs can look very awkward on a horse, they usually respond very quickly to balancing. Common examples of these advances include the “tripod” stance where the front legs look balanced but the hind legs are very close together, with one hoof usually farther forward than the other. This stance is very common for horses with hindquarters or pelvic imbalance.
However, great news: it’s usually quite simple to progress to a balanced stance with regular fascia changes. No matter how unbalanced your horse is, steady contact with sensitive hands leads you quickly to find the fascial problems.
Head and Neck
After you notice how the horse stands, you can look at his head and neck. The neck’s length, curve, and shape tells you how balanced the front of the horse is. Most often, a thin, undeveloped neck means that the shoulders are extremely tight, preventing the neck from developing. The poll won’t have flexion on a tight neck. So, in an overall view of the front, the neck’s situation points you to the need for head and poll balancing, as well as major fascia release work in the shoulders, shoulder creases, and withers. A tight poll, tight jaws, and tight head fascia also result in an inability of the horse to breathe easily.
A rigid, clamped tail is found in about 35 percent of horses. While it seems a cosmetic issue, tail flexibility is a big deal regarding hindquarters power and flexion.
When you look at the horse’s stance, also notice how his tail hangs. The tail position shows you a lot about his pelvic balance. You can save yourself much time restoring the hindquarters balance by handling the tail to release rigidity for complete flexion. Tail changes efficiently help resolve hind imbalances in an off stance of any kind.