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.
- 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.
Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.