WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #128
FROM HORSE AND RIDER - AUGUST 2011
CLINTON ANDERSON'S PHILOSOPHY
TRAIN BOTH 'LEFTY' AND 'RIGHTY'
Each side of your horse's brain is like a completely separate
horse, and you must train them both.
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER
DID YOU KNOW THAT EACH side of your horse's brain is like a
completely separate horse? You've got Lefty, and you've got
Righty. Lefty hears, smells, thinks, and reacts apart from what
Righty does. This means that in order to have a well-balanced,
responsive horse, you must act as if you have two horses and
train both sides.
For instance, say you're going on a trail ride and walk your
horse up your driveway past the mailbox. He sees the mailbox out
of his left eye, and he doesn't spook at it or even seem to care
that it's there.
You come home three hours later, and he sees the same mailbox out
of his right eye, and this time he spooks and jumps away from it.
That eye, which sees independently of the other, has never "seen"
the mailbox before. So you must take the time to desensitize your
horse to the mailbox - rather than get frustrated with him.
Or, say you're at a horse show, where banners are hung on the
arena fence. Your horse goes around to the left just fine, but
spooks at the banners when you turn him and go the other way
(where he "sees" the banners with the "other side" of his brain).
He's saying to himself, "What's this?! I've never seen it
before!" Meanwhile, you're thinking, "Silly horse! You just saw
those same banners a second ago." But what you're forgetting is
that Lefty and Righty don't share information.
Here, one side of my horse's brain is fearful of the signs in the
arena. But his other side (next page) doesn't mind them at all.
Always train both sides of your horse's brain, never assuming the
- two are the same.
NEW SIDE, NEW HORSE
Here's another way of thinking about it. If I handed you an
unfamiliar horse and asked you to teach him to back up, you'd
first ask the horse to take one step backwards, then reward him.
Once he understood the concept, you'd ask him to back two steps,
then three, building from there.
What you wouldn't do is expect him to be able to back the length
of the arena right from the start.
Now, what if I handed you a different horse and asked you to
teach him to back up as well? Would you start by asking him to
take 10 steps backwards? Of course not. You'd first ask for one
step, then two, and so on, building just as you did with the
And that's how you must treat the two sides of your own horse.
When you're introducing him to a new exercise, devote time to
training each side separately. If you've just taught him to yield
his hindquarters to the right, for example, don't assume his
other side will know how to yield to the left.
So you start over, and teach the second side with the same
patience you used teaching the first, starting back at step
number one and rewarding the slightest try.
THE SIDES DON'T MATCH, EITHER
Here's something else to remember: In addition to learning
separately, the two sides of your horse's brain don't necessarily
"match up." You may find, for example, that your horse catches on
to a lesson faster on his left side than he does on his right, or
vice versa. Just like people, who are either left-handed or
- right-handed, horses tend to favor one side over the other as
How we use our horses can play a role in this lack of symmetry,
too. It's common, for example, for horses to be quieter and more
relaxed on their left side than on their right. That's because we
tend to spend more time on the left side of our horses' bodies.
We lead, saddle, and mount from the left side. Our horses get
used to being handled on that side, and they may never have
learned how to respond appropriately when they see someone out of
their right eye. That means they'll be spookier on their right
WHAT TO DO?
The solution, of course, is to deal with each side separately,
assessing what each needs and responding accordingly. If your
horse's two sides are unbalanced, work to even them out so that
both are equally relaxed and responsive.
Do this by spending two-thirds of your time tending to your
horse's "bad" side (the one that's stiffer, pushier, or more
reactive), and one-third working on the other.
To further complicate things, know that a horse's good and bad
sides can - switch on and off. That means once you have him soft,
calm, and responsive on his spooky right side, he might then be
"bad" on what used to be his good side-on the left. Or vice
versa. It's always going to be a bit of a balancing act. Just be
aware of what you've got going on with each side on any given
day, and work your horse accordingly.
If you do that, you'll keep him evened out and continue to make
This series is adapted with permission from Clinton Anderson;
Philosophy, the book that accompanies his new "Fundamentals"
training package. For more information on educational materials,
or to learn about Clinton's clinics, appearances, training gear,
and horses for sale, go to DownunderHorsemanship.com. Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at the ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on Fox Sports Net.
For a slide-show review of yielding the hindquarters while
mounted, search that phrase at HorseandRider.com.