Conformation and Unsoundness: Pick a Leg, Any Leg

Horsemanship Level 4: Identifying Lameness

When you deepen your study of conformation you will begin to look at its effects on a horse’s movement, which can tell you much about its ability, soundness, and scope.  For Level 4 Horsemanship, we ask you to begin sharpening your eye by identifying unsoundness and distinguishing which leg is lame.

Sometimes lameness is obvious.  You pull your horse out of the paddock and it is what we call ‘three-legged lame’: that is, it is reluctant to put weight on one of its legs.  Or, as with laminitis, it leans back on its heels in a ‘sawhorse stance’ to take pressure off the toes.  However, sometimes your horse is simply ‘not right’: he may be stumbling, reluctant to move forward, unwilling to change canter leads or feel uneven in the trot.

Tactile check

Scrapes can look dramatic but usually heal well if left alone

Before trotting your horse up, run your hands over each of his legs.  Any visible injury, heat, swelling, or unusual sensitivity is an immediate clue that something is wrong, and you can save him the pain of a trot-up if the problem is clear.

Walk check

Some lameness can be spotted at the walk, with an obvious limp when the bad leg is weight-bearing.  Again, there’s no need to put a horse who is so obviously lame through a trot up, which may exacerbate any injury.


Subtle lameness shows best at the trot.  Use a hard smooth surface, like a driveway, and have the handler jog briskly with a loose lead so the horse can move her head freely. Watch the horse trot directly away from you, towards you, and past you to see from all angles. You will be looking for:
Jo trot up

  • Head movement.  If a foreleg is sore the horse will throw up her head as the hoof of the sore leg strikes the ground.  If it is a hind-leg the head will drop as the sore leg strikes.
  • Tracking up.  The hind legs should reach equally far forward in relation to the front. A horse will usually take shorter steps with the sore leg to avoid weighting it.
  • Hitching.  A horse may ‘hitch’ a sore hind leg by lifting the hip, or the leg may appear stiff as the horse braces against pain.
  • Sound.  You may hear a difference in the sound of the hoof-beats as the horse strikes harder with her good leg than her bad.

If you cannot spot the sore leg on the straight line, put the horse on a longe-line in both directions.  Subtle unsoundnesses will often show up on a circle as the horse has to weight the inside foreleg more.

Spotting lameness takes practice.  Watch horses working at the trot so you have a good idea of what normal looks like.  Lameness can be caused by a myriad of troubles, from the minor, like bruises or hoof abscesses, to the career-threatening like laminitis, arthritis, or tendon and ligment injuries.  Regardless of the severity, early identification and treatment almost always improves the outcome.

Current & Upcoming Classes

Beginner Horseback ArcheryBeg HA Aaron

Whether you are an expert rider or archer, or a complete beginner at both, this is your starting point.  You will spend about an hour and a half on the ground learning the techniques of Hungarian archery from the Kassai school.  After that you will begin shooting from horseback while our handlers lead your mounts past the targets at the walk.  Experienced riders may have the option to try shooting at faster paces without handlers if they are competent and comfortable at the walk.

Sunday 26 July, 10am – 1pm
cost: $149 + gst
prerequisites: none

Intermediate Horseback ArcheryRob & Winnie

If you have taken our Beginner course previously and have a minimum of Riding Level 1 or the equivalent this course is for you.  Riders with Level 1 will walk and trot, Level 2 Riders will be able to shoot at the canter.  Last time we practised multiple targets on canter circles — what will we get up to this time?

Sunday 26 July, 2pm – 5pm
cost: $75 + gst
prerequisites: Riding Level 1, Beginner Horseback Archery


Beginner Riding & Horsemanship

This six-week series will teach you to groom, tack up, and handle your horses as well as getting you started in the saddle.  By the end of six weeks you should be ready to test for Horsemanship Level 1, and a second run through the course will get most people to Riding Level 1. Choose between Saturday or Sunday classes — or take both to get you to your goal twice as fast!

Saturdays 2 Apr – 7 May, 4pm – 6pm
Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 4pm – 6pm
cost: $300 for 6 classes

Riding & Horsemanship Level 2leading in hand

The Level 2 course covers the same topic areas as Level 1 but in greater depth.  You will progress through the Horsemanship Level 2 curriculum while continuing to work on achieving your Riding Levels 1 or 2.  If you are unsure whether you should sign up for Level 2 or Beginner, just pick the class which has space.  The courses run simultaneously and riders are informally assessed during the first class, with placements shuffled to make sure everyone is riding with a group of the appropriate level.

Saturdays 2 Apr – 7 May, 4pm – 6pm
Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 4pm – 6pm
cost: $300 for 6 classes

Horsemanship Level 3-4IMG_2794

This six-week course is intended to get you through either Level 3 or Level 4 Horsemanship, but there are no prerequisites.  That means anyone who wants to learn about saddlery, vet & first aid, grooming, foot & shoeing and other stable management topics can take the course.  A great way to learn about horse care, taught by certified Pony Club alumni.

Saturdays 2 Apr – 7 May, 5pm – 6pm
Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 4pm – 5pm
cost: $130 for 6 classes

Jack 2Riding Level 3+

Welcome to the Open class!  Here you will further hone your riding skills, adding jumping, cross country, quadrille and mounted games work as you work towards your next riding level.

Saturdays 2 Apr – 7 May, 6pm – 7pm
Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 3pm – 4pm
cost: $200 for 6 classes

Mounted Combat Fundamentals

This five-week course covers the Mounted Combat Skills for the Green Spur.

Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 6:30pm – 8pmChris vs Jen
cost: $120 for 5 classes

Intermediate Mounted Combat

Students in this five-week class will spend approximately an hour and a quarter each week working from horseback on longsword, spear, and grappling skills, as well as mounted games and general riding exercises.  The remainder of the class is taken on the ground and from the falsemount, working on more advanced weapon and unarmed skills.  Students should have their horses tacked up and warmed up ahead of class to maximize training time.  Participants who do not yet have their Green Spurs may take part in class from the ground and falsemount.

Saturdays 21 May – 25 Jun, 6pm – 8pm
cost: $160 for 5 classes




Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
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