Loin From Above

Send your thanks to Blondemare for providing this set of photos of her horse, April, so that we might all get a chance to see the loin from above.

In the last Long And Short Of It article (Part 3 – Loin), I talked about the desirable shape of the loin from the top being more like an equilateral triangle than an isosolese triangle, and how the former is created by a short, deep, broad loin.  Well, here we have one:

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Even though this picture is taken at an angle and with the photographer standing too far forward (center body and straight on is where we like to see photos taken from to minimize distortion of angles and lengths), we can still see that this horse’s loin is deep and short.  The ribcage carries back really well and the LS joint is just a touch in front of the point of hip.

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From above we can see how truly far back that ribcage is, as well now we can see the breadth of the loin, easily exceeding the length of the loin itself (L1 – first yellow dot – to LS joint – second yellow dot).

Our horse, April, possesses a fantastic loin, one of the virtually indestructible kind.

Blondemare had photos of a second horse, but the angles of them were too great to see clearly, but I sure appreciate the time and effort she put forth.  Thank you!

 

Reminder:  I will be away from a computer for a week, so this is the last blog post until I return.  For those reading Tao, finish up Part 1 as I’ll be posting my thoughts on it as soon as I return.   I look forward to a lively discussion.   Cheers!

Is My Butt Too Big?

We inherently know that a horse can only carry so much weight. Duh! Any living creature can only carry so much weight before succumbing to the burden. If you ask most people who know at least a little bit about horses, the general consensus is that a horse can comfortably carry 15-20% of its body weight.

Here are two short articles about two different studies. The first strongly supports the 15-20% range; the second supports a slightly higher number.

I’m not convinced that either study fully appreciated the number of variables that come into play.

  • Horses are not designed well to carry weight to start with
  • That weight over time (short term time and long term time) is going to have an effect
  • That beyond the ability of the rider to balance with the horse, that the skill, or lack of skill, of the rider to increase the horse’s engagement consistently is a huge factor for weight carrying ability
  • That general conditioning of the horse is going to affect a horse’s ability to carry weight, and last but not least,
  • That the horse’s conformation plays a huge role as we’ve begun to discover after analyzing the toplines of our six candidate horses, and might also general constitution; will, personality, temperament…play a role?

I loved the mention of loin width in the first article and how horses that possessed more loin broadness suffered less muscular strain.  Somebody in the study connected some of the dots.  And I loved the mention in the Japanese study of the effect an unbalanced rider has on a horse.

Overall I think these studies are really just tips of the iceberg studies. They reveal bits of valuable information, but don’t take enough parameters into consideration.  Giving some basic duh! results isn’t particularly helpful in further educating people. The lighter, fitter and more skilled a rider, and the better managed, conditioned and trained the horse is, the easier and more efficient it is for the horse to carry the rider. This leads to longevity more so than making sure one doesn’t exceed a certain percentage point of their horse’s body weight.   Having a guideline like we’re given in these studies is, I suppose a good thing, especially for people who don’t have common sense. Though, I’d venture to guess that most of those people wouldn’t bother with looking up or following a guideline, anyway, so what’s the point?

My #1 size guideline is that my horse’s butt be bigger than mine.

Starving Horses – Washington State

Gayle has given us a heads up on a dire situation.  She writes:   I came across this after hearing about it from my vet.  This is in Snohomish County in Washington state:  horses are starving and it’s a slow road before animal control does something about it.  Already a few have died from starvation. My question is how can we get the media’s attention on this?  Thought I’d ask you or anyone else that may know a way to get some action done.  People are willing to pull these guys out, but owner isn’t budging.  Thanks (link following):   http://www.facebook.com/pages/Starving-Horses-on-E-Lowell-Larimer-Road/188328514657500

I note on the Facebook page that there’s suppose to be an interview on a local station this evening.  Hopefully that will get Animal Control in gear.

35

  •  The jersey number of Phil Esposito.
  • The atomic number of bromine.
  • The US Interstate highway that runs between Texas and Minnesota. 

And the number of years without a Triple Crown winner. Orb (tracing back to Ruffian’s full sister, Laughter, on his dam’s side) was soundly beaten in the Preakness this past Saturday. I don’t think he ran badly – he did pass two in the stretch – but he fell victim to his need for a decent pace (opening half mile was quite slow) and being uncomfortable trapped on the rail. It leaves a lot of questions specific to the situation, but also on a broader front.

There were four Triple Crown winners in the 40’s and then none until Secretariat’s win in ’73 (followed by Seattle Slew in ’77 and Affirmed in ’78). We’re in a multi-decade long funk like we were between the 40’s and 70’s. Why? Are we going through a phase of breeding where the horses aren’t good enough, or has the competition and talent increased such that it’s nigh impossible for one individual to standout?

The Kentucky Derby is always the most traffic laden of the three races. I consider it the second hardest of the three to win based on the large field that always goes to post. A lot of expected winners have run into bad racing luck, getting shuffled back, getting trapped in the pack, being interfered with, or having to go extremely wide covering extra distance. Orb managed to stay out of trouble by settling near the back of the pack and then circling wide, which was right in his racing style wheelhouse. Everyone was practically gushing over his performance on an off-track, I thought it was okay.  He benefitted from a super fast opening and was passing tired horses.

The Preakness is the shortest of the trio and least suited to come-from-behind horses like Orb. Front runners and those with tactical speed have an advantage.  Oxbow, this year’s winner, ran a pretty impressive Derby finishing sixth.  He was near the front for all those super fast fractions and was the only front runner not to crawl home.  Once he got the easy lead in The Preakness with a sedate pace, the race was over.

The final leg, The Belmont, is the grueling mile and a half. The field is usually short for this race, the distance not an American TB favorite. A lot of horses have won the first two races only to have their crown denied at Belmont Park. Five horses won the Derby and Preakness in the 60’s only to lose in the Belmont. An additional two (to the three Triple Crown winners) did the same in the 70’s – that was a big decade in racing; one we’ve arguably been unable to repeat, three in each the 80’s and 90’s conquered the first two legs and another five have managed the task since the turn of the century.

There’s always a lot of talk about the timing of the three races; just two weeks between The Derby and The Preakness, and The Belmont three weeks after that. Three races in five weeks done by horses that typically only race once every couple of months or so. Of course, if the Triple Crown was for four or five year olds, with better training bases on more mature bodies instead of for three year olds in the spring…

The racing industry is desperately hoping for another Triple Crown winner to increase interest and support to a sector that’s been harshly criticised over the years; a horse that the people can rally behind. It won’t be this year.

The Long And Short Of It – Part 3 – Loin

The loin is arguably one of the most important structures in the horse. It is inherently weak in its design, being a freespan (having no ribs to add support and strength), and therefore is susceptible to injury. The loin of the horse is equivalent to the transmission of a car; it transfers power created by the haunch (engine) forward. A mismatch of a powerful haunch (engine) to a weaker loin (transmission) all but guarantees ‘spinning tires’ and often structural failure.

To put it in simple terms;

  • The shorter the loin is in length, the more strength it possesses.
  • The deeper the loin, the more strength it possesses.
  • The broader the loin, the more strength it possesses.

The strongest loin is therefore a short, deep, broad one. This type of loin is virtually indestructible and guarantees full transmission of haunch power brought forward, but can produce a rough ride if it gets muscle bound. Think of it in terms of a body builder with their massive strength, but often times lacking flexibility. A horse with this loin absolutely must have a training focus on creating and maintaining suppleness. Of course we now know that how far the ribcage carries back plays a role in lateral flexibility. A short loin guarantees ribs that carry back well for lateral flexibility, so the potential for suppleness is clearly there with a short loin.

The weakest loin is a long, shallow, narrow one. This type of loin is highly susceptible to damage. It can combine with other traits to make a rather smooth ride because the horse that possesses it often hollows the back and becomes a leg mover, but invariably it breaks down under anything but the lightest of workloads.

Six lumbar vertebrae make up the loin.

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There is no specific loin measuring system in terms of garnering a specific percentage. We use various body references to determine its length.

1) The ‘quick and dirty’ hand measurement discussed in the Part 2b – Ribcage article. Greater than a spread hand’s width (8″) and the loin is long; about a spread hand’s width and the loin is medium, and less than a spread hand’s width and the loin is short.

2) The loin should ideally be as deep as the chest. A significant difference and a loin is very likely long. Note: Excellent riding and training can deepen and strengthen a loin.

3) The further behind the point of hip that the LS joint is, the more likely the loin is long.

4) Probably the most telling view for the loin is a top down view. Marking the points of hip, the LS joint and the first lumbar vertebrae, then connecting the points (minus the LS joint) will produce a triangle. An equilateral triangle with the LS joint inside the base line would be a short, broad, deep and strong loin, whereas an isosolese triangle is going to indicate a longer, less broad, less deep and therefore less strength.

Equilateral Triangle

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Isosolese Triangle

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Let’s take a look at our six horses, concentrating on their loins. 

Horse #1 – QH stallion:  This is a short loin with great depth.  We don’t have any overhead shots of our horses, but if we did this horse would also be broad across his loin.  Our horse with the biggest hip has a loin of more than sufficient strength.

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Horse #2 – QH gelding: This loin is longer than our first horse because the LS joint is placed further back.  If it was placed in the same location as our first horse, the loins would be identical.  Still this loin remains medium in length and has excellent depth and breadth.

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Horse #3 – 4yr old QH: This loin is also medium in length, but just.  It’s not as deep as our first two horses, but likely possesses good breadth.   

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Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion: Another short, solid loin.  It lacks a bit of depth, which I blame on the table top croup preventing engagement.

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Horse #5 – TB Gelding:  The shortest loin of our group.  It has good depth (don’t let the distended belly fool your eye).  This is another one that likely isn’t particularly broad and thus why it isn’t as deep relative to the shortness.

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Horse #6 – Paint mare:  Here we have a long loin that lacks significant depth and likely breadth as well.  This is a highly susceptible construction and we can be thankful that she doesn’t possess the same kind of hip as our first three horses or she’d be in big trouble.

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   Summary 

Based on what we have analyzed so far; hip, back, loin, lumbo-sacral joint, ribcage, to a lesser degree the withers, and setting aside any personal or breed biases, or anything else we might know or suspect about the individuals in question, how must this group of horses be ranked? Before you peek, think about it. Which horse at this stage seems to have the most athletic potential AND ability to stay sound through the back and loin doing whatever task they may be asked in the future…all other things being equal and relative. And who appears to have the least? And why?

In reverse order:

6. Horse #6, Paint mare. Her back is long, her loin is long, her ribcage does not carry back well, and neither do her withers. She possesses adequate hip length and might very well produce some easy gaits to sit to by means of hollowing the back and being a leg mover. Of the group, this horse requires the most knowledgeable rider to prevent topline breakdown and improve its strength.

5. Horse #4, Arabian Stallion. There is just no getting around the table top croup, it’s just that severe of a fault and the camel withers don’t help. What saves this horse from breaking down through the topline are the shorter back, the short loin and the ribcage that carries back well, all of which add significant structural strength.  While this is no novice ride, this horse is far less likely to succumb to topline breakdown from hollow riding than our Paint mare.  For that reason he garners one spot up from the bottom.

4. Horse #2, roan QH gelding.  Simply based on having the poorest LS joint placement of the remaining candidates, increasing the difficulty of engagement. 

The next two placings are very close and arguments can be made for switching them based on discipline and type of issues a person prefers to deal with. 

Tie for 2nd – Horse #1, QH stallion and Horse #3, grey QH gelding.  Our stallion is shorter backed, has a short, deep, broad loin, a huge hip, a good LS joint placement, and ribs that carry back well giving us super longitudinal strength, super power potential, super potential to engage, but perhaps lacking a bit of lateral flexibility through the body compared to the grey gelding with a longer (yet still medium) back, a medium loin (that does lack a bit of depth), a big hip, a very good LS joint placement and ribs that carry back well.  His withers aren’t as well defined or designed, but still functional.  This one may possess a bit more flexibility, but also may tend to evade through the body more.  Still plenty of power and engagement ability, this one might very well ride a bit smoother.

1. Horse #5, TB gelding. The horse with the least hip length currently heads our list because there is so much strength in the rest of his topline that that lack of pure power can be overlooked – as long as we’re not going to ask him to be a sprinter, or an International/GP competitor. He has a great short loin and LS joint placement, withers and a ribcage that carry back really well to add longitudinal strength to the medium back and should possess a good amount of lateral flexibility as well.  This horse should present as the most viable individual, for the most people, with the widest range of knowledge and ability.  There is not so much power or movement potential that a beginner/novice couldn’t handle this horse, and yet there’s enough longitudinal strength to protect the horse against that sack of potato rider.  Additionally there’s plenty of lateral flexibility and engagement potential that a more advanced rider could also enjoy this topline. For those reasons this horse takes the top spot – for now.

We’ve only just begun our analysis of this group of horses; there’s so much more to look at and consider. I suspect *wink* that the current rankings may change as we delve deeper into the conformation of these individuals. Will your original choice end up at the top of the list? (Insert appropriate musical cue) Stay tuned for the next series of articles discussing body levelness and shoulders.

NEW! Book Of The Summer Club

…because there’s no way I can do it in a month’s time.

I thought it would be great if *we* occasionally picked a horsie book to read and talk about ala Oprah.  Nothing can replace putting our hands on the horse and working directly with it, but there’s still value in discovering from books.

I went ahead and picked *our* first book, though, I’d be happy to go with a consensus for the next one. 

The Tao Of Equus: A Woman’s Journey Of Healing And Transformation Through The Way Of The Horse by Linda Kohanov

I know!  Super Oprahesque, right?  But I’m telling you it’s got some good stuff in it.  So, I invite all to pick up a copy and begin reading.  It’s readily available on Amazon and I note that there are less expensive used copies of the book that can be purchased.  My first blog installment won’t be until about mid-June so there’s time.  Please join me.

In other news, the final Part 3 of The Long And Short Of It series should be up by Friday (17th).  I apologize for the slowness of late, but I’ve been out of the country.  There will be two other shorter interruptions for Hooves in June and July, while I head out to do some long overdue horsey things.

From Behind

For those that don’t know, I started my horse adventures with Standardbreds as a teenager.  It’s a long story, not terribly interesting, but that’s where it began.  I will carry a deep fondness for the breed for all eternity; they treated me well.  I still own one that I bred, raised, trained and competed.  Half blind now, he’s living the pasture ornament’s life.

I’ve got tens of thousands of driving miles behind me; many more than riding miles, and thusly I always feel more at home behind a horse than on a horse.   Both offer a different perspective of equal importance and so I encourage all to drive your horses, if not for the pleasure of it, then for the information you can garner.

Being positioned behind the butt of a horse isn’t necessarily a glamorous place to be.  Indeed, you can be pooped on.  But that kind of a view affords a window to your horse’s gaits that you otherwise never get to see.  Most people watch horses move from the side.  A vet or farrier will occasionally watch a horse from the front or back when doing diagnostics, but mostly it’s that side view that people watch.  Not so when you drive a horse.

Take a look at this helmet cam view. 

The tail sometimes makes it tough to see, but I assure you, when you’re sitting there, you can see the legs and feet.  You can see the flight and footfalls.  You can see the timing of the gait.  (This is a pacer, but it applies to walking and trotting just as well).  You can see if a horse is travelling with the haunch to one side, if one foot wings while the other one paddles.  You can get a sense of how the stifle points ‘out’ so that when the leg comes forward it can clear the ribcage.  You can see the hocks articulating, if they twist.  You can see if a foot lands flat or if it twists.  You can see if each hind foot is stepping equally forward because you can immediately see the hoof prints below you.  You can see if a horse will interefere, when and where, as well, how important timing of the footfalls are to avoid interference.  And if you look higher, you can see how the haunch muscles work, if they are even, if one hip is higher than the other.  In the lines there’s a very clear feeling of the mouth, if the horse carries the bit equally or if he grabs one side of the bit harder than the other.  You can see and feel if the horse carries their shoulders straight, their neck, and their head.  Sure, some of these things you can see and feel when upon the horse, but sometimes feeling them from a different perspective helps.  

The time on that race was 1:52.1 for the mile.  That’s real decent.  Man, I miss my Standardbreds right in this moment.