The Long And Short Of It – Part 1 – Hip/Pelvis

Conformation is an extensive topic and many get overwhelmed.  To help make it easier to digest, I’m going to break things down into really small chunks and hope that prevents choking on the technical data. 

Following is part one of three discussions on the length of the hip, back and loin, respectively, and what that means to the horse.  For clarity and comprehension sake assume the discussion is always about ‘riding’ horses, as opposed to ‘draft’ or ‘racehorses’.   Many aspects will apply to the latter two as well, but there are also exceptions.  I will periodically make mention of those exceptions, but for everything else go with ‘this applies to riding horses regardless of discipline’.

As mentioned in the article ‘To Plow Or Not To Plow’, hip length is important for power potential; the more length, the more power potential.  This potential is based on two principles; more length for muscle mass, and more length for leverage.   There is no such thing as a ‘too long’ hip in equines, but there certainly is ‘not having enough length’

The horse needs to possess power to perform tasks.  Arguably, some tasks require more power than others, but it also takes power to engage and collect and while we don’t need every horse to collect to the highest degree, we do need them to engage to protect themselves and perform even the simplest tasks correctly and well.

I’m going to use the same set of horses for all three parts of this series.  I’ve randomly picked individuals from sale ads; some from www.dreamhorse.com/ and some from www.equinenow.com/

  • Poor hip length: < 30%
  • Average/Adequate hip length:  30-32%
  • Good hip length:  33%+
  • Great hip length:  35%+

To determine hip length we measure the horse’s body length and divide that number into the hip length number to arrive at a percentage. 

  • Body length is measured from point of shoulder to point of buttock. 
  • Hip length is measured from point of hip to point of buttock.

Here is a picture of the horse’s skeleton with the three points marked (in red) so you can see where to find the bony points.  Palpating your own horses will improve your ability to spot the points on other horses without touching.  It is harder to see these points when covered in flesh, and even harder sometimes in photos.  We often use differences in lighting and shading to spot the points in photos.

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Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

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Because of the amount of muscle and how smoothly it ties from one body part to another it’s more difficult to see the points, particularly the point of shoulder.  There is a shading difference and a ‘wrinkle’ in the skin/muscle that helps us find the point of hip.  Being even a bit off in the points can greatly affect the measurement from a photo.  When the eye gets good enough you no longer need to get out the ruler and protractor to have a real sense of the horse’s proportions, ratios and angles.

Below I’ve marked where I believe the points to be.  Now measure body length and hip length and divide the hip number by the body number to come to a percentage.

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My measurement comes to a hip of just under 36.5%.  Our figures are going to vary a little bit depending on how big (or small) the diagram is on our screens and how accurate we each are at measuring from point to point, but we should all be getting a hip figure that clearly states this horse has ‘great’ length of hip.

Horse #2 – QH Gelding

The roaning on this horse makes it a bit harder to see the point of hip, but he’s got a little dark speck right on the front edge of it.  The point of shoulder is easier see.  Now, before you peek, does this horse appear to have as much hip length as the first horse, or less?  If less, do you think he’ll still fall in the ‘great’ category?

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My measurement on this horse’s hip is a bit under 35%, so not as generous as horse one, but certainly a quite good length of hip.

Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

This horse has lots of smooth muscling on his haunch, especially pants muscling.  His pelvis is steeper, but does it have length to it?  Does it possess ‘good’ length?  His front end muscling is very muddy, so seeing the point of shoulder is difficult.

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I measure about 34.5%, so another one with a quite good hip length.  Don’t get fooled by a steeper pelvis that at quick glance can appear short.  Quarter Horses get knocked for some disastrous traits purposely bred into them over the years (and we’ll get to those at some point down the road), but one area where they rarely fail is in pelvic length.

Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

It’s really easy to see the point of shoulder and buttock on this horse.  The point of hip is a bit harder, but there’s a darker spot of shading that helps us locate it.  Now that we’ve seen three very good lengths of hip, what is your first impression about this horse?

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This one is about 31%, falling in the adequate/average category.  It’ll get the job done for the horse, but he isn’t going to be setting the world on fire in the power department.  He’s a much lighter built horse, and this is not a breed we think about for pure power but they have been praised for their speed.  Speed develops from power potential, though, so this one is not going to be particularly fast for his breed. 

There is one thing to take special note of; this horse possesses what is termed ‘table top croup’.  This is a significant fault in a horse as it makes engagement and collection more difficult to achieve.  With the pelvis so flat, the natural tendency will be for hollowing the back, trailing the hocks, and high-headedness.

 Horse #5 – TB Gelding

So what are your first impressions about this guy’s hip?

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If you thought, ‘well, that doesn’t look like a very good length of hip’, then you were right.  This guy has about 29% and that is poor.  He does possess two ‘saving graces’.  One of them is an exceptional lumbo-sacral joint placement.  This is a situation where a trait or group of traits can significantly balance/nullify/make less weak a poor trait.  The second ‘saving grace’ will be discussed in Part 3 of this series.

Horse #6 – Paint Mare

So, what do you think about this mare’s hip length?

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If you guessed adequate/average then you were right.  She’s about 31%, same as the Arabian stallion.  I suspect, though, that some of you thought she fell into the poor category as the TB gelding before her. 

We’re going to talk more about this one in Part 3 of the series as well, since this horse – even with the better hip length – is a far weaker individual than the TB gelding with the poor hip length.  This is a case exactly opposite to that of the TB gelding; here we have a horse that possesses a faulty, but highly significant trait, which overrides many good traits and makes the entire individual weak.

Take a look in your barn and around the Internet and test your eye.  Look at hips and guess at their length then take the time to find the points and measure to confirm or correct your estimations.  It’s the only way to develop your eye.

52 thoughts on “The Long And Short Of It – Part 1 – Hip/Pelvis

  1. This is exactly the kind of post I need. I am guessing you will tell us in another post what conformation qualities will help to overcome this fault and perhaps if there are some exercises also that might help.

    • Yes, of course. First is being able to identify the various individual parts and what they mean on their own, and then determining what the various parts as a whole mean to the horse. I’ll summarize in part 3 for this particular set of horses.

  2. Mercedes, there is really no comment I can offer on your conformation critiques because of course you are right. So I thought rather than saying nothing, I would do something different.

    My guess is that I am somewhat older than most of you here. I had no formal training. I have never worked in the horse industry. So when I look at a horse it is from a completely different perspective. This is how I rate these horses.

    First place: Horse 4
    2
    Tie 3,6
    5
    1

    • Don’t be too sure on the age thing. :-)

      You’ve rated the horses, but for what? Based on what? Certainly not solidity in conformation; as in the individual that is most athletic and can stand up to the pounding of activity. And if not rated on form to function and the ability to stay sound and healthy throughout life, then what advantage for the horse exists in your rating system other than to aesthetically please you, which has no bearing on longevity.

      Certainly everyone can look at horses differently, indeed, that’s what we’ve done over the centuries and why we have exceptional horses and pieces of crap horses and everything in between. I’m for the horse, always. So I only look at the horse for what its life will be and if that life is going to be one of struggle because someone thought breeding in a weakness was a good idea, then that’s not cool and not all right with me.

      Perhaps when I’ve completed the entire analysis of this set of horses, from back to front and from feet to ears you’ll see these horses from a different perspective, one that puts them first.

      • Perhaps. But looking over these photos again, I must compliment you on choosing photos that clearly show the horses we are discussing.

  3. VERY interesting! I thought I could evaluate hip length pretty well, going off my eye, but apparently my eye needs work! :-) I will look forward to the rest of this series.

    (Which ones would I want? The TB, poor hip and all, because that’s “my” breed and I have certainly seen worse-built ones, or – and I surprise myself with this – the grey QH, #3. I just plain like him, I think because he looks so well-balanced. If I wanted a Western horse I’d certainly look for one like him. Partly because of his color – what can I say, I’m a total sucker for greys!)

  4. Wow… this is a great post! It’s just the thing I need, to look at horses with a guided eye and compare them. I have a tendency to let good muscling and a shiny coat impress me, without looking deeper at the bone structure. Thanks!

    • Good muscling would indicate that the horse is moving correctly and if the horse is moving correctly then either a) it’s well-conformed or, b) somebody knows what they are doing. Perhaps, though, if what you normally judged as good is not matching up to good bone structure below then you’re interpreting muscle patterns incorrectly, for a horse can have a lot of muscle and it can be all wrong.

  5. Please keep this up! I try to educate myself on as many aspects of horses/training/riding/care etc. as I can, but conformation seems such a huge and somewhat foreign topic that I never even tried to delve in. I’m looking forward to evaluating the 6-year-old QH I not-so-responsibly bred for when I was in high school. (Hindsight is always 20/20 after all)

  6. Great post Mercedes. I’m glad this has followed closely to your previous post on FHOTD. You gave me good insight into the TB mare I’d shared photos of – that her hip length is making up for the steepness / shorness of her croup – if I recall you measured her hip at 34%. I love my stock and TB type horses, therefore I’m an ‘ass’ gal and can’t get past a short hip or super flat croup. I’ve also noticed that horses with a pelvic angle that is short and tilted back as is the case of the Arab in this post, also tend to cross-fire behind when circling at the canter. It appears easy for them to do that without discomfort or imbalance. I always noticed this to be prevelent in Arabs over the year but never really understood why. I also board a QH gelding who has good length but a tile back and he’ll crossfire all day on the lunge if allowed.

    • Crossfire is a term usually used in gaited horses that perform lateral gaits, like the pace. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion based on what you’ve observed. :-)

      Arabians are also notorious for forging at the trot. Hint: Yes, it often has to do with a too flat pelvis.

      • It’s always been cross fire or cross canter as a term to describe 2 separate leads in one stride in all my years. It’s a pet peeve of mine and I would never pick out a horse that consistently chooses to disunite when running free. It drives me crazy – Halter (stock) horses are notorious for doing it too! As far as the hroses you portrayed, I’m leaning toward the gray (grulla?) horse as my top pick for overall conformation. I do like the #1 QH stallion, he’s beautiful, but I believe his excessive butt highness will affect many disciplines and his ability to carry himself.

        • Cross-fire is different than cross-canter.
          Cross-fire means when a hind foot hits the opposite front foot on the inside or towards the inside of center of the front foot.
          Cross-canter is when a horse takes one canter lead with the hind legs and the opposite canter lead with the forelegs. The horse may then ALSO cross-fire when cross-cantering because the horse is now performing a lateral gait…albeit a bad one.

          • Of the info I can find on cross-firing, most comments regarding this indicate the disparity of leads except for Julie Goodnight who states that a horse on 2 leads is cross cantering. Apparently, many of us use the term cross-fire. I never heard it used as a reference to interference. But logically, cross canter makes more sense. I still see so many professional photos of horses cross cantering and can’t understand why they use these to promote their breeding stock.

          • I don’t doubt you can find references to people using the terms interchangeably, but they mean two very different things. Just as you’ll hear WP people say their horses are collected, when they are nothing of the sort. :-)

  7. Thank you for this post. It was easy to understand for beginers like myself. I can’t wait to get home and start measuring my horses!

  8. Thanks for this post. When it comes to conformation, I know what I like, but it’s so helpful to see the breakdown and approach it more scientifically than “looks good” or “looks bad”. I pulled out a picture of my mare that I had on my work computer, put my ruler up to the screen and I think her hip is in the 36-37% territory . I’m going to bring a measuring tape to the barn and try this in real life in case I’m not placing the points right on the photo.

  9. Yes! What an excellent way to break down conformation. Easy to understand and will be easy to add knowledge to as we go along. I appreciate not only knowing what to look for but also why. Do you have any classroom teaching experience? This is a well thought out lesson plan! My pick of this bunch is #1. Wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating oats! :)

    • I do have a limited amount of classroom teaching experience. Not in a conventional school environment, but certainly have had to ‘teach’ to a group of people with someone overseeing and grading me. I think more importantly, I understand that people learn differently, so I try to incorporate that knowledge when giving lessons, doing seminars and clinics, or in this case writing an information article. I’m happy to hear that I’ve succeeded in this case.

      We’ll see at the end of it all if you’re willing to stay with your original pick. *wink*

  10. Brilliant post! I’d have shot myself if I had not agreed with you on pretty much all of these horses as you were right! I am an Arab obsessive, first and last and that Arab- not sure I would have rated him as well as you did, you were very restrained and impartial, which of course I would not be as I should have and did, judge him as an Arab- now tell me it has won the “Great all-encompassing poobah of the WORLD” (held in the US only, of course) and I ….well, I’d believe you but it would not change my opinion of the horse! Why do Arab breeders think the tail should come out half way down the back? (Says she who does not breed Arabs anymore!!)
    I would not have #1 in my field- what is his HYPP status? – but then I have to admit to only ever having met two QH that I actually liked (show QHs that is, I have seen loads of working cowhorses I admired and even a couple of reining horses I half liked if it were not for knowing they were being ridden, seriously, at age 18 months)
    OK, don’t just sit there go and do the #3, I want the front end bit….

    • Never fear all shall be revealed in the end. *We* aren’t done with the Arabian stallion, or any of the others. :-) People too often take conformation ‘personal’, and they mistake personal preferences and biases as important traits when they aren’t. Of course, I have a rather strong opinion about all these individuals, but letting the facts speak for themselves is more educational.

  11. Since other people have posted their picks, before we get to the rest of the posts, I’ll say that the horse that caught my eye the most at first was #3, the grey QH. But when I try to really look and evaluate critically, #2, the roan, keeps growing on me. I think I was having some trouble seeing past the funny colour and rough coat to the horse underneath. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

  12. I just got out a ruler and measured my arab (who I always thought had a crappy hip length). Boy was I wrong. I guess this is why he powers down the trail without wasting much energy…

    • There are other factors that determine the end result and how much power the horse actually achieves, (we’ll get to those later), but the base potential can only come from length of pelvis.

  13. I have to remind myself that this is a discussion on hips. Great placement of the horses. I am an Arabian owner, never have owned a Quarter horse, although there are a lot of them around here. I just bought an almost 3 year old Paint with Zippo Pine Bar breeding. The roan Quarter horse to me looks like the type that could work all day. I will be anxious to read further discussions on this group. Great article!

  14. Another great post. Thanks for starting this blog Mercedes. I love reading well thought out and educational posts on my favourite subject, horses!

  15. Nice article, good pictures. While as my name indicates I am pro Arabian, that #4 horse is a “cutsie” little gleding prospect. Since this is a training article on confromational issues, I will also add I would not buy him on a bet. He has NO bone or substance, which is certain he is not Crabbet bred and NOT a sporthorse prospect. This Arabian is also very young compared to several others in this group. I am also not a fan of table top croups either. I may send you a Crabbet stallion photo to the email site just for grins and giggles. A sport horse type, not a breed ring type, with a lot of bone and substance he also produces.
    I rather like the #1 horse dispite he is a lot high in the hip, but I would think he can run just a bit. He has the presence needed for a stallion and is 10 years old, which means he may also have done something. The roan #3 is okay, but really plain in the head and neck and would not be my choice to buy. The grey-gurilla is lovely to look at, but there is something I really do not like about him. Just cannot put my finger on it, yet. The TB, well TB’s just are not my thing, especially that young and would also not be my choice. Can’t offer much on the paint mare, but she does rate a bit better than the TB.
    Looks like you are off to a good start and I have made you my “home page” for MSN. Looks like FHoTD has gone away?

    Have fun!
    D.

    • I don’t want to give away the punchline with this group of horses just yet. I’d rather people came to the correct conclusions about the individuals in front of them on their own, when they have all the information. I will say, though, I did consider age (and many other factors) when choosing the individuals. I do not have the age of the Arabian, but he’s mature enough that he will not change in any substantial way to affect the summary of his conformation and athletic potential. For instance, he’ll always possess the serious fault of a table top croup. He was born with it, he’ll die with it.

      Some of the things you list in your comment are purely subjective aethestic points that have no bearing on a horse’s athletism and ability to do a task, and I’d really like for people to put those things aside when assessing horses. Once a fair assessment is made, if you have two individuals who are otherwise equal, then that is the time to consider personal preferences to make your final choice of which one you’ll take home.

      Thank you for making Hooves your home page. I hope I can continue to keep you interested in visiting.

      Yes, it does appear that Fugly is off-the-air, which is a shame. I won’t be able to replace it because I’m not Cathy and she did a great job, but I do feel as strongly about most of the same things and I’m happy to provide a place here to discuss them.

  16. Mercedes, Cheddar here. Like the blog, and to see you are still working on conformation. You might want to consider disguising the horses by using photoshop to create outlines just to avoid complaints of angry people to the server host that you have infringed on their photo copyright or damaged their sale potential. You may have a fair use claim as this post is clearly intended as educational, but the internet world is getting to be a lot pickier than the good old days. The US government doesn’t help much by backing laws to make it easier to make everything a crime these days. You can always use photos people submit to you from the blog here, obviously those will have permission. If I can get a picture of Rascal that is decent I would be glad to send it to you so you can tear him apart and put him back together again. If I have one of the pictures from last year, I can send both so you can point out how a young horse grows, bottom up, lower legs first, spine last, if you want.

      • That’s great. I will have to get a good recent picture with him stood up from the side. As an aside, looking for horse to stand up in work, while there are some bone issues with the tb, little long for me in the cannon and fetlock , and little light as is typical for racing type, other plusses in rear end and overall balance, give me the tb.

      • I have 6 to choose from. If you are looking for a particular strength or fault, I can probably come up with either! No two are at all alike even though 3 are half siblings.

        • Send them all if the pictures are good for conformation analysis. Putting together a ‘test’ right now for us, so could use a couple more candidates. Just very basic information, age when picture was taken and breed.

  17. Can’t wait for the ”punchline” as you put it. Though I’m usually a thoroughbred person, that chestnut doesn’t do much for me. The paint almost makes my badly conformed paint mare look good. For some reason I can’t put my finger on (bad reason I know!) I find myself gravitating toward horse #2 though that wouldn’t normally be my ‘type’.

  18. This is off topic, but I’m hoping someone on here can give me some advice. I just heard about a group of horses in British Columbia that are in pretty dire straits. The SPCA visited there a number of times a few years ago but none of the horses were seized at that time. As is par for the course in our area, the SPCA is not really interested in helping horses, so I’m not surprised that nothing was done then.

    There is approx. 30 horses on the property, many of which are young stallions. The stallions are kept in stalls, 24/7, in a very old barn without much light. The last time there were shavings on the property was in November. The horses don’t get trimmed, but their feet do rot off in the stalls, which are basically never cleaned. Halters are not removed as most of the horses are now unhandled, when the stalls do get cleaned, the owner simply herds the horse into a different stall. Some of the stallions have been inside for almost 20 years, and there has not been any turnout for approx 10 years now. The young colts are moved into the barn when they start breeding the mares, there are new foal crops every year and no idea who is bred to who. I would imagine none of the other basic care is being done, such as deworming, as most of the horses haven’t been handled.

    20 years or so ago, this owner ran a really nice barn and the stock (AQHA) was quite high end and well cared for. Her mental health has apparently been declining (obviously) and she will no longer allow people she doesn’t know to even enter the property. So, while I would love to get in there to blow the lid off this, I can’t. As for the weight of the horses, I was not told they were starving or even significantly under weight, so I’m confident that the SPCA will not be of any help now either.

    Because I am in a very small town, I also don’t want to be in the limelight. I can accept critisism for that, and it is what it is, and it’s not going to change. All that said, how does a person go about getting attention on this, when the society that’s supposed to protect these animals doesn’t and you can’t get onto the property to get the pictures which could force action from the society? Any advice would be appreciated!

  19. So for the last few days I have been testing my eyes on Craigslist horse ads. Not the best, I know. I started out looking at quarter horses and was surprised to find that even a lot of the poorly bred ones have decent hips. Then I started looking at Tennessee walkers because they are pretty popular in my area. Most of them have terrible hips. Even the well bred ones. The “big lick” ones too. Which disgusted me even more than I was before because it seems like they would need a lot of power from behind to do that horrible German Shepard crouch with the big padded shoes on the front. Before the twh people jump all over me, there were a few that were average to good, but they all seemed to be a heavier type, mostly trail horses. Also measured my ancient old quarter horse and he measured in about 35%. Poor old boy, just can’t make up for those shark fin withers. :) Can’t wait for the next installment. Having lots of fun with this!

    • Good to hear you’ve been practicing and hope others have as well because there’s going to be a test. :-)

      You’ll be hard pressed to find a QH, of any quality, not possessing a pretty decent hip. It’s simply a requirement to perform tasks like cutting, reining, racing, barrels, etc… Any task that needs bursts of speed or quick agile movements requires hip length. There are other traits as well, but the potential has to be there. Even with the diversity of the QH breed becoming specialists in several disciplines, that big hip is still a requirement to succeed.

      The TWH is a different story, gaited horses are a different story. They typically aren’t strong horses in the scheme of things. They’re a lot of show and very little go. Yes, they can get moving around the ring at a pretty good clip, but it’s all relative. The prime focus is flamboyance, comfort of ride and endurance. Remember their roots as plantation horses. Any strength they utilize doesn’t come from engagement of the haunch, but rather from the hollowing and tensing of the back. And we all know what happens when we lift with our backs instead of our legs…we aren’t as strong AND we hurt ourselves.

      Do they need to have such generous hips to do their jobs? Clearly not. Do we want them to have such generous hips? No, not as generous as our Horse #1 because that much muscle mass cuts into endurance. Should they have more hip length than they general do? Yep, most definitely. At the high end of average/adequate and into the low/mid range of good would be ideal for the TWH and most gaited horse. The key then becomes to teach people how to properly train and ride gaited horses so that they ‘engage’ AND gait at the same time, thus protecting themselves by using their bodies in a better, more efficient manner.

  20. Excellent article and I’m also hugely looking forward to the rest of the series. I’m another who’s had a ”decent” eye re: conformation, movement and potential, but not even in the same stratosphere as you. Would never be able to break it down clearly as to what made me like or dislike something. Love the concise, scientific approach you’ve taken and how clear you make it for even the most doltish amongst us ;-)

  21. Simply marvelous analysis. I judge conformation professionally and agree with you 100%. I have the number 1 horse on top by 20 miles not only because of his hip but also shoulder and overall balance. Tell the truth, that one was not in a sale ad, was he? GREAT JOB! Thank you!

    PS: the flat croup CAN actually permit a horse to have loads of power. Lots of the European warmbloods have very flat croups and jump great. I do agree, though personally I would prefer slightly too steep a croup to a very flat one

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