The Up And Down Of It – Levelness Of Build

There are many who still think the way to determine the levelness of a horse’s build is to compare wither to croup.  If both are the same distance from the ground, then the horse is level built.  If the withers are lower than the croup, the horse is downhill built, and if the withers are higher than the croup, the horse is uphill built.

Simply put, that is wrong.

Have a look at our skeleton horse and notice that the withers are created by vertebrae spines.  

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Those spines vary in length from individual to individual as evidenced by comparing a Thoroughbred, with their typical prominent withers, to that of a QH, with their general lower withers.  So how then should levelness of build be measured?    

Simply put, by looking at the spine, itself.

First we locate the lower cervical curve and the LS joint, and then we draw a line from point to point.  If that line is parallel to the ground, the horse is level built.  If the line slopes upwards (left to right), the horse is downhill built, and if the line slopes downwards, the horse is uphill built.

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Let’s have a look at our guinea pig horses and see how they measure up.

Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

Take a look at him unmarked.  What is your first impression?  You’ll probably have noticed that with all that flesh you can’t see the lower cervical curve.  So how do we know where it is?  The best way is of course to palpate.  The lower cervical curve creates the widest part of the neck just before it passes between the scapulae.  Stand in front of your horse and place a hand on either side of the neck below the poll.  Now run your hands down the neck.  You’ll feel it begin to get wider and then as you hit the widest part of the neck, you’ll also feel the cervical vertebrae very close to the surface.  That’s the lower cervical curve.  In some photos we’ll be able to easily spot that point due to lighting differences.  In other photos we’ll best guess it.

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We can see that this horse is a bit downhill built via the ‘old’ measuring way (wither height vs croup height) but also via the ‘new’ measuring way by looking at his spine.

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Horse #2 – QH Gelding

What about this one?

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He’s very similar to our first horse.

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Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

Does our third QH also look downhill?

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This QH has almost identical wither and croup heights, but is more downhill in body balance than our first two.   Your first thought might be, ‘That’s because he’s got his head lower than the other two.’  But the lower cervical curve doesn’t change its orientation within the neck.   Its ‘posture’ can be changed, as in the lower curve can be ‘deepened’ by the horse hollowing its back and ‘dropping its base of neck’, at which point the horse’s head would be higher and we’d see a bulge at the base, or the lower cervical curve can become ‘shallower’ by the horse engaging, rounding its back, and ‘lifting its base of neck’, at which point the horse would lower its head (relative) and hang it freely from the poll.  Our grey QH actually shows some neck telescoping going on suggesting that his base of neck is, in fact, ‘raised’.  If he was under saddle, we could be reasonably happy with his ‘long and low’ frame.

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Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

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Aha!  Our first horse with withers higher than croup, but look how much more prominent they are than our previous grey QH.  In the end, our Arabian is level built.

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 Horse #5 – TB Gelding

What about this one?

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Yes, this one is downhill too as expected.  Most QH’s and TB’s are going to be downhill built.  It’s the nature of breeding for speed/racehorses, which undermines riding these horses in other disciplines.

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Horse #6 – Paint Mare

Here’s your last chance to test your eye.

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Yes, Paint horses often fall into the downhill category as well, since they are essentially QH’s with color.  Note that this horse has a similar downhill build to our grey QH, but has her head up.  Putting her head up didn’t suddenly make her more level built.

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What amount of importance should be placed on levelness of build? 

A level built horse carries more than 50% of its body weight on its forehand, making him heavy on the forehand.  Even an uphill built horse carries more than 50% of its body weight on its forehand.  That weight percentage increases the more downhill built a horse is structured.  Forehand weight is all well and good – for a racehorse – but not for a riding horse. (See Hooves Blog article – Speed Kills – for an explanation of the biomechanical difference between a racehorse and a dressage horse.)

Since we know that we must ‘lighten’ a horse in front, get them ‘off their forehand by transferring weight onto a lowered haunch’, to improve its ability to carry a rider in balance and with the least amount of stress to its body, it only stands to reason (logically) that horses of level or uphill build will find that task easier.

Consider as well some of the things we ask a horse to do, such as jumping fences.  A downhill built horse is not only going to struggle to carry its rider in balance, but it will also find it difficult to get that heavily weighted front end up and out of the way in time to navigate a jump of any significant height.

You might ask; what about horses in speed events (other than flat racing)?  Well, let’s consider barrel racing.  It is an event that requires a horse to navigate three barrels, with the fast time winning.  I contend that the best horse for this event is one of level build and here’s why;

To be truly fast around the barrels a horse has to be able to engage to a high degree significantly lowering its haunch to ‘slide’ around the barrel tightly on that haunch, then once around the other side with its haunch still lowered it can then thrust off the haunch and powerfully launch itself forward ‘onto’ its forehand (as if coming out of a starting gate or roping chute) and ‘race’ hollow and on its forehand to the next barrel, where it should then reengage to a high degree, lighten its forehand, and sit on its haunch to once again slide around the next barrel…rinse and repeat. 

This is the fastest and most efficient way around the barrels.  It’s not, however, what we typically see.  Most of the time we see horses coming into the barrel heavy on their forehands and then the rider pulling on the brakes (er…mouth) and yanking the horse’s nose and head around the barrel (with the tiedown/martingale taut as the horse struggles to keep its balance during this contortion), the horse stalls and loses all momentum,  gets either too close to the barrel with the shoulder or too far from it losing valuable ground, before pulling itself back into gear with its front legs, instead of propelling itself forward from the powerful haunch, which has been left in China.  Yes, barrel racers would do well to spend at least half their training time and focus (of themselves and their horse) in dressage.

Levelness of build is pretty darn important because it can’t ever be changed; only temporarily manipulated by strength of conditioning and work.  The horse lives with it its entire life and either struggles against it or is helped by it in daily under saddle work.

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65 thoughts on “The Up And Down Of It – Levelness Of Build

  1. Is it fair to say that the majority of all horses (regardless of breed) tend to fall into the “downhill build” range? And is there a percentile range that is considered acceptable? Say a deviation of 5% from level will not influence how the horse moves, all things being equal. Hope that makes sense.

    • As with many traits, a little isn’t necessarily a deathnell. And if a bit of a downhill build is paired with certain other exceptional riding traits, then it can become a non-issue.

      Because TB’s and QH’s (Paints and their relatives) make up such a large portion of horses worldwide, then indeed the ‘majority’ (more than 50%) of horses might be downhill to some degree, but there are breeds that are almost always at least level built;

      Iberians (Andis, Lusis, Lips, Fres), Warmbloods, Morgans, Saddlebreds, Hackneys, Arabians, Rocky Mountain and many of their gaited friends, Drafts – (Perch, Clyde, Shire, Belg and all the exotics), many Pony breeds and others.

  2. Well this is an eye opener! I’ve always wondered why some horses seem downhill when standing, only to have the “downhill” disappear when they move. I’m gonna have to study this. Thanks

  3. This makes me fear … because to me, those QHs that you used as examples look pretty good compared to some of what is out there in the stock breeds. And, since by this method, a horse will often be even MORE downhill than they look by the wither-croup comparison, I’m afraid that in the extreme cases these days we might be looking at a 20 degree downhill angle in some cases O_O

    Perhaps personal preference comes into it, but I’ve never managed to feel comfortable on a very downhill horse. The feeling is so completely different from riding a level horse that just puts their head down to stretch…

    Really informative post, thanks!

  4. Yay, back to confo posts. I have a barnful of stock types and one WB thrown in for comparison. There is a huge difference in how this horse travels compared to the tanks. He’s looser in every aspect of movement as if every piece of him is more gently attached, he has schwung (sp?) and wider ranges of motion. He’s level or uphill in build, longer strided, slower legged. It’s an interesting journey into a different type of horse, not better or worse, just different. I see more weakness in some ways, he’s goofy going down steep hills, his engine is on the small side and comparatively, he’s narrow and light of muscle. A dressage rider may jump at his movement with appreciative eyes but I certainly would never attempt to turn a barrel on him. Form to function. Love how in depth Mercedes takes these posts!

    There’s a post on FB Confo Critique of a horse of poor type for its intended use….do we crush the owner’s heart with a full critique and teach or say nothing?

    • If a person is open to learning, then we teach (gently). If a person is bragging on how good their horse is at something (that clearly it can’t be), then we crush. 🙂

  5. Thanks for this info – I’ve only ever evaluated the ‘old’ way. Any chance of posting a couple of horses that show a more uphill conformation (with the lines also drawn in)? Thanks 🙂

    • I’ve actually only ever seen a couple of truly uphill built horses. One was a Swedish Warmblood and the other was either a Rienlander or a Gelderlander. Of course, I don’t have a link to them, but I’ll keep my eyes open and if I come across one, I’ll post it. Feel free (everyone) to peruse the Internet and see if *you* can come up with a truly uphill built horse. 🙂

      • That is interesting as the Gelderlander is almost completely a carriage horse and aren’t considered particularly “good” to ride.

    • That stallion does appear to be standing on level ground and the photo appears to also be a level shot, in which case, yes, this is an uphill built horse.

      • See? Good teacher! I checked the WB in my barn and it surely seems he’s slightly downhill. Hmmpf. More critiquing is in order……..

  6. The Morgan Horse standard is indeed level or slightly uphill. Show bloodlines in particular have the high neck and head which makes it much easier to move the weight back to the haunches. If we were not enamored with imported anything and everything, the native Morgans could be the premier sport horses of America. Their size, however, limits their appeal to European-habituated judges. A good big horse usually beats a smaller good horse. Of course, my point of view may be coloured a bit!

    • The Morgan is a fine breed and credit must go to its breeders who seem to have succeeded in maintaining traits of quality and not falling to irrational show fads, where so many other breed breeders in NA have failed.

      Yes, its size does limit it to some extent. There isn’t pure power from size, which limits its ability to leap over those GP jumps, and there’s a lack of outstanding speed for other events, but overall it’s a very good choice as an all-around riding horse (AND driving horse, of course) that can do most anything at, at least, a medium level and often times higher. It can also be a good choice for crossbreeding.

  7. Are you going to do a separate discussion on how levelness of spine is affected by proper training and the postural dynamic that is truly collection versus the old rules that really don’t tell us about how the horse and its spine function as opposed in addition to these static aspect of its build. If so, I’ll wait.

    • Have at it. There is so much to talk about, that I’m happy to share the talking with someone else, and you’ve always been very good at breaking things down. I’d even be willing to put it as an article on its own rather than a post if you’d prefer.

    • I would like to see collection discussed in further detail. Where do collection, engagement and balance begin? Can a horse be balanced, soft and supple with self-carriage or is this only achieved with heavy drive and contact and a lowered croup? Is a level 1 horse collected or is that only achieved in the upper levels? I believe there is a gray area that is avoided in discussion. If it’s stated that only upper level dressage horses are collected, does that remove every other discipline from the ability to collect? How about reining horses? Is a spin a collected movement? A sliding stop? How about a lead change on a western riding horse with zero contact on the reins, or as Mercedes described, a barrel horse compressing to create the tightest, fastest turn it can. I believe there are degrees to collection as a horse has to coil, bend, lower, lift parts of its body to perform a host of maneuvers which IMO require a high degree of collection to perform. Anyone care to comment?

      • Engagement and collection come in different degrees/amounts…yes.

        Is a sliding stop collected? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, the same way sometimes an extended trot in a dressage test is collected and sometimes it’s not. 🙂 So, that’s the wrong question to be asking.

        Does a correct sliding stop require collection?
        Only one answer to that: Yes
        How much collection does a correct sliding stop require?
        Only one answer to that: The highest degree.

        Rephrasing the questions gets the most accurate information.

        • People can be mislead to believe that if they aren’t riding upper levels of dressage, their horse is not collected or doesn’t need to be. All successful horses need to be able to utilize their bodies in an effect way and all can benefit from a rider with a conscious understanding of how to achieve that. There are strung out, hollow backed horses, there are passage and piaffe, but most of us fall somewhere in between. Conversations go to the extreme of collection but skip over the middle ground of effective movment or a horse that is ‘gathered together’, balanced and travelling appropriately.

  8. A new vs old confo critique of horses of any breed that have been tampered with due to fads in the show ring would be so interesting! Some breeds do not even look like they did at one time, Arabs especially I think. Take maybe one of the first foundation horses imported vs a current champion?

    • Yes, I have plans to do just that for Arabs as was requested by someone a few months ago. We do have a ‘royally’ bred Arabian in our *test* group. He possesses at least one of those ‘modern’ traits that has been discussed in a previous article in this series.

  9. My horse is half Westphalian and half Quarter Horse. She turned out level. I prayed to the right gods, clearly. 🙂

    I have the privilege of riding some well-bred jumping stock on my days off. They are light in the front end and an absolute blast to ride. Unless you want to race or cut, get something level!

  10. A note on why to look at the ls joint (4-6 inches deep into the hip structure) to bottom curve of the neck: please review the skeleton and note that the bottom of the spine is flat, that is what we ‘ride’, that straight alignment of vertebrae. If it goes downhill, we have a horse that is downhilll when standing. If it goes uphill or level, we have a riding horse not a racing horse because we are starting with a horse that will collect easily. Most disciplines that require collection, which is just about everything except flat racing, are easier for a riding horse to perform well in.

    Collection, as I like to say and probably copied from someone smarter than me, is a postural dynamic. Collection changes with movement. Full collection is only possible when the spine is forming a convex bow, the more bow, the more bow to the limits of the bones, the greater the collection. But no spine can stay in that position. Hence my use of the phrase of postural dynamic.

    Note also that I said nothing about the head or where the head was in the limits of that posture. The head is attached to the spine, but nothing about the head or the placement of the nose creates collection, the placement of the head is the result of collection, not a precursor.

    So how does the spine work with the muscles to create collection. For that we need a technical person to put up pictures, that is not me, of muscles. But the short explanation is that the spine is help up by muscles under the spine (and that includes the neck). Hence, when one wants to create collection, one engages the correct muscle below the spine. A fairly famous writer on the subject of conformation and horse biomechanics, Deb Bennett, borrowed a phrase from a 19th century scientist who studied whale anatomy and described the locomotion of the whale through a ‘ring of muscles’. The horse has a ring as well. Iliopsoas (principally, this is greatly generalized) attaching below the spine and into the hip and the big belly muscles for the torso, and the scalenus muscle in particular in the neck. All of these muscles are below the spine, so we lift the back and neck into collection by stretching the spine and neck out by muscle attachements at the end of bony convex ‘bows’. This also applies to tails which will form a rainbow curve in a ‘collected’ horse. In the torso, we see the center of the back rise (filling the rider’s seat is a common phrase). The muscles that attach below the spine and hook into the hip and the muscles attaching into the ribs and lower neck, apply pressure in the thoracic and lumbar areas to form the upper part of the ring, and the big belly muscles contract to complete the ring in the torso. We see the neck straighten (though that is often difficult to understand on first reading) because the S curves formed by the neck bones in the resting horse, flatten out.The ‘bow being drawn’ affect of the scalenus muscle engaging (contracting) creates the arch where the withers lift between the shoulder blades, the lower curve (base of the neck) is raised as the neck bones align more in a straight line at the base, and the head drops and nose sinks towards the vertical as the top curve of the neck also straightens. The stretching of the spine continues into the sacral vertebrae and down the tail until the spine is one long arch from neck to the tip of the tail. A horse stretched in that manner cannot help but be collected, and it is not about pulling in the nose, or shortening strides, etc., those are all results of what has occured in the spine in a collected horse. Without the arch along the spine, lengthening the topline in the jargon, one may have a lot of things, mostly bad, but one does not have a collected horse.

    I’ll break this into another part or two, because it is getting too long.

  11. Previously I described the most basic mechanics of engaging the muscles to affect the posture of the spine, and left our poor horse all bowed up. What goes up, must come down. That happens for a number of reasons. The different gaits require the back to give in different ways, so within a gait we may need to relax into a less collected posture before resuming the more collected posture. Obviously, various sports require movements between speed and collection, such as our barrel horse or cutting horse, or a jumper. Even in dressage, movements are required to be more or less collected, and manuevers such as extensions of the trot require less collection than the piaffe, a canter pirouette more collection than an extended canter. But the most important reason what goes up must go down is how muscles function. When a muscle contracts, it squeezes out blood, if it remains contracted, it is damaged by the lack of blood flow, so we never maintain collection for long, it destroys, not builds, muscles if we do. For the same reason you never try to build muscle in the topline of the horse, only the big muscles of the belly and butt, and to a lesser extent, the scalenus muscle. How do you build muscle, by releasing it repeatedly, to bring in blood flow. So when your dressage horse responds to its training by building a full double back, you have spent more time relaxing the top line muscle than contracting it. You have allowed it to stretch gently and blossom. You may notice that the belly gets firmer and deeper with a noticeable muscle line, you’ve tightened those muscles up. But no muscle should become hard, if you have hard muscle, you have a medical problem to be treated by therapy, massage, etc. and fixing your training. If your horse in training loses all muscling over its topline, you have a problem. You aren’t strengthening anything, you are killing muscle fibers. Tight hamstrings, also bad.

    So now we know we have to unbow our horse, and we do that by changes of direction, changes of gait, changes of body positioning, expecially relaxing and stretching the top line (long and low). If you are riding your horse in big circles around an arena or straight out on the trail, you will have a hard time getting the horse to collect. So what are our prerequisites to getting the horse to start along the continuum that is collection? We need to look at the spine a little bit more. If you’ve been around horses any amount of time, you’ve probably heard about a horse being locked up in the poll. The place where the neck meets the head, is a specialized vertebra that can make limited movements before its processes lock it down. This limited movement is the lock and key to the rest of the spine. If the horse cannot give its head freely to create the offset where the chin comes to the inside and gently tucks (and no you don’t have to pull the head around to your knee, this is much milder) so that one sees the inside corner of the eye as described in many ‘english’ training books, it has locked its spine to you. You might force the nose in, make the legs move faster, and approximate a circle, but you will have a no control of the spine to be able to bend. If the horse doesn’t bend, you will never get collection. A horse that can’t tuck its chin into the inside does not relax its spine to you so that you can do all the other things necessary to help your horse learn to collect under a rider (horses can almost invariably collect without us to some degree unless they have injuries or been so poorly trained that they no longer can move naturally). Note also that this is not something you can achieve by pulling or forcing the neck around, the horse has to ‘give’ this motion to be effective. Another ‘problem’ to look for in asking for this, is having the horse’s ears start to tilt or the whole face tilt up and back at you. It is easier for the horse to chose not to give but to allow the second vertebra to be engaged which allows the horse to tilt its head. It seems to be giving you what you want, but the horse can do that and remain stiff. The next place it can go wrong is the infamous third vertebra or broken poll, where the horses completes the yes motion while screaming no. You can find examples of how to get the horse to give at Deb Bennett’s site (she calls it head twirling) or in some of the cowboy gurus (and not all cowboy gurus are created equal, but I’ve warned you of the wrong ways, watch and learn).

    Another ground exercise to help you and your horse to develop the posture and muscles for collection, backing properly, head relaxed, relaxed handler, horse, everything, and then back up one step at a time with a stretched top line. Don’t back with the horse’s head in the air, nose pointed to the sky, back hollow, that destroys what you are trying to build. Head tucks in the give to the inside (and you can create the inside by changing your ask-at first you might to want to change sides of the horse to create a ‘new’ inside), totally relaxed neck with dropped head (doesn’t have to be to the ground), and back up cleanly on the diagonals, and use enough energy (not pulling, this is your body language to the horse, not pushing etc.) to keep from having dragging toes. The horse that hasn’t done this before will get upset, tighten, hollow, occasionally, etc. Stop, ask the horse to relax drop its head, give and then step again. You should see the horse learn to raise its back, take clean steps and really use its butt. You have achieved a low level of collection. Congratulations. You have also covered some other important training goals, a relaxation technique to drop the head, and the horse waiting for you to give commands, and by taking a step and stopping, building in speed control and the stop.

    Another important ground exercise, engaging the hindquarter. A horse in collection moves its rear legs in a specific way, it steps forward less, and under to the midline of the body, more. Practice it yourself, bend your knee, bring your step into your center line and push up and off. Then step straight forward with a long stride. What is the difference in the way you move and how you feel as you move? How does this tie into our horse’s bowed and relaxed top line? Hollow your back and try the same steps, how does it feel? A horse with a hollow back is a ‘leg mover’, it cannot engage, step under to the midline with great flexion of the rear leg. A horse with a hollow back is forever trailing its back legs out behind it, falling on the forehand and never balanced, let alone collected. A relaxed spine allows the horse to swing its ribcage out of the way of its stifle, step under and use its large butt muscles for locomotion, the way a horse was meant to do. A horse that steps up and under with a loose back and well articulated joints will develop big full thick abductor and adductor mucles. big gluteous muscles and will have full and flexible hamstrings, in other words, within the limits of its bone structure, a butt as big and filled out as a mack truck. How to engagethe hindquarter in groundwork, on a loose lead line, with the horse giving its head and relaxed, it walks forward and you ask the rear leg to step towards the midline, usually pointing at the leg or a gentle swing of the tail of the lead rope at the flank as the inside leg is ready to stop forward will encourage the horse to step under. Again a nervous horse with a hollow back and nose in the air cannot do this. In doing this, of course you work both sides, and you will probably quickly spot ‘crookedness’ in your horse, one side, the horse will be able to step under more easily. You will notice this also creates ‘bend’ in the horse’s rib cage if done properly. Again, congratulations, you have achieved a low level of collection. You have also furthered your horse’s relaxtion, this seems to have a very calming affect once they learn the movement, it tends to focus the brain, and it is your emergency stop in the making, sufficiently engaging each hind foot slows and stops a horse, they simply can’t step under and go forward fast at the same time, if they are real excited, they may spin around you as they keep stepping under, but they don’t run off in a straight line. Speed is inimical to collection, collection is inimical to speed.

    • Hey, this is just as technical as the post! I just don’t have the education to process it fully, but I read this stuff a couple of times, and I think I get the jist. In the movie El Dorado, John Wayne rides into the bad guys ranch to see what’s going on. He decides not to stay, and has to back his horse up the length of the bunk house where all the cowpokes are ready to blast him. I’m going to watch the movie again this weekend, and try to see if the horse is really collected, based on what I have learned here. I’ve always thought that was the coolest scene. It’s rare, but there is some great riding in some of these movies.

      • here are links to some images: I realize what I gave you are my standards and others may disagree: but given my standards, are these horses backing correctly? What looks right, what looks wrong? It is important to train your eye so you know when you are getting a good reaction when you try this at home.

        http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&docid=1aY7TmklDR-L0M&tbnid=BKvY_ECUtGcppM:&ved=0CAgQjRwwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gentle-horse-training.com%2Fbacking-horse.html&ei=fGfMUY__H46O9ASEvICwBQ&psig=AFQjCNGC9tc76JDfOeldeNv3z6K4VKblqg&ust=1372436732600375

        http://media.gazettextra.com/img/photos/2010/10/13/Arabian3_t715.jpg?529764a1de2bdd0f74a9fb4f856b01a9d617b3e9

        http://americashorsedaily.com/horse-training-in-reverse/

        (the above is an article, with a drawing, ask yourself why they used a drawing? Do note that some of my suggestions are different than the article, don’t pull even to get the head and shoudlers realigned with the hip, we aren’t looking to ever pull horses anywhere, they have feet, great athleticism, we should always direct, not pull)

        the above image is a great angle to see several things you don’t want to see if you are looking to train in collection. The horse is relaxed, but the topline is totally unengaged, and the huge clump of dirt the horse just picked up tells you things about why legs don’t work right when you haven’t engaged the spine properly.

      • maybe it will help to look at some still pictures of the horse moving back, they are easier to study:

        At first glance, this horse appears pretty round, but what is really happening, look at the neck, the feet dragging up dirt, the placement of the hind feet, the mouth, is the center of the back up, and if the center of the back is up, what does it say about the saddle fit?

        What is happening here, do we have a relaxed horse who is unlocked at the poll and relaxed, again, note the dirt being dragged by the feet:

        Notice the high head and bulging underneck:

        look at the feet and the dirt in this picture,

        A little different flavor of horse and rider, notice neck position, leg position

        Not a rein back, but a great shot of breaking at the third vertebra and tilting ears:

        • These are great shots to review. I like to think of backing as a forward exercise in reverse. There needs to be impulsion from the legs, not the hands. Pulling harder on the reins makes things go from bad to worse. The jaw locks, then the knees followed by the back. On the ground, impulsion should come from a whip (or lead) tap on the chest without increasing pressure on the halter/bridle. Under saddle, legs should be applied to ‘push’ the horse backwards. A horse that backs correctly usually bridles correctly too.

          • Reining back is definitely a ‘forward’ movement. I’ve often explained it as; apply your leg to tell your horse to move forward and at the very instant he’s thinking of stepping forward, simply close your hands on the reins and lighten your seat. Then the moment the horse thinks about shifting their weight to begin the reverse, soften the hand and give.

    • These are great posts, jrga. I reserve the right to copy and paste them into a future article for the blog. 🙂 Some may not quite grasp the entire concept just yet, but I think as we continue to explore the traits of these six it’ll come together.

      If anyone (but not you, because you already know the answer) wants to take a guess on the order of this group of horses in terms of the ability and ease to collect, go for it.

      • feel free to use whatever you need.

        Of course the ease of collection versus the ability to stay sound in highly collected work, that is the more interesting question. Maybe people could try answering both and explain their answers, of course. But you haven’t done legs in depth yet, we’ve done topline and just touching on legs, mostly in to plow or not too plow and bone in the racehorse posting.

        • Yes, we haven’t covered all that we’d need to get a full picture to accurately answer the question of order of grading. But if they make their choices now, with their reasons (good idea) then as we progress I think it’ll make more sense why their choices may or may not change order. Does that make sense?

    • Very well written and interesting. A video came to mind regarding the poll locking, I though I would share the link.

      • an excellent video for many reasons, it shows how one can start to unlock the poll, you can see the negative affect of merely pulling the neck around on the horse as Ms. Savoie explains why you don’t want to do that as it does nothing to the poll, and doesn’t give you access to the spine (hindquarters don’t come through). We can also see a rider who is trying to learn how to communicate with reins, but who has basically learned to pull at all times, the horse is facing rearward traction, even starts to back. Contact is not about rearward traction.The rider needs to develop more bend in the elbow and a little higher hand position and learn to use the arm less and the fingers, slight wrist motion more. The arms, especially at the walk should swing forward freely from the shoulder to give the horse freedom of movement, the horse owns the reins and your arms, you own your shoulders and your core. The release the Ms. Savoie asked for, release the rein, the flexion should remain, tells us this isn’t about pulling the nose or head around, the horse gives us this motion. Notice every time the rider asked correctly, the neck arched. The horse also tended to lose it immediately because the rider pulls. The flexion can come on a loose rein by a slight movement that never takes the slack out of the rein. And answer to the question can a horse on a loose rein in a reining manuever be collected, yes. This is a movement that can’t really be learned with a curb bit, curb bits are for finished horses, this is learned with a halter, a bosal or snaffle bit. Notice as the horse moved in the later part of the video, when the rider’s hands got out of the way, the tail arched and swung nicely and the horse could move its legs more freely. Also notice the effect of nagging with the spur on the horse’s tail.

  12. I’ll bite and place the horses in my order of preference which I’ve done in the past. I’m going to consider longevity as a factor also so I made some changes:
    #1 – Grey QH IMO this horse has the best package of the bunch. He has adequate length of pastern, angle of hock, a strong hip, open shoulder, nice neck length and attachment.
    #2 – Liver QH He was 3rd but I’m bumping him to 2nd because he has a better hock than horse #3, though he has a weaker front leg, appears tied in and slightly calf kneed. Hmmm.
    #3 – Roan QH Since we’re talking collection, I bumped him down a notch because he’s too straight in the hocks, hind legs look too short for his body. Could have hock issues in time. I love his substance though.
    #4 – TB gelding Despite his loin, I like this horse. His cannons are long and I see him traveling heavy in front but am not sure why.
    #5 – Arab gelding – His croup takes him out of the running for me, as do his legs out behind his body. His pelvic angle doesn’t appear to support collection at all.
    #6 – Paint mare Her body parts don’t fit together, she’s too long, downhill and calf kneed for me to consider her for anything. Her neck tells the story of how she’ll move.

  13. I guess I misunderstood that I was supposed to be grading the horses only on the parts we were discussing. Again, I just don’t have the eye for this. I will place my choices at the end of the tutorial.

  14. I like the Arabian… he’s shiny 🙂 Really, though, I do enjoy Arabs, and of that bunch of horses I would probably most enjoy climbing on him. After that, horse #1 looks decently balanced (and also shiny) 😀

    And I sure hope that wasn’t a sale pic of that TB — they did him no favors.

  15. I would like to add that while it is true that a horse, standing square on concrete, is usually carrying the greater portion of its weight on the fore, once they get moving, the weight shifts to the hinds. Imagine giving your child, should you have one, a “pony ride” on your back. When you’re resting there, waiting for him to mount up, you have more weight on your hands than on your knees. Once you get moving, however, your weight shifts to the back. You can practically go along on your fingertips. This is why hind hooves are usually healthier than front hooves – they work harder. That old saw about front hooves being crummier because they bear more weight is both illogical (why on earth would that even be true??), and wrong!

    My $.02 from a hoof perspective 🙂

    • That’s only true IF the horse engages its haunch. Most do not, either impeded by their conformation or by their rider (or both). A horse has to collect to a significant degree just to be carrying their weight evenly distributed 50/50. There is a reason why horses carry more weight on their forehands. They are prey animals and as such one of their survival tactics is escape speed and the ability to go from 0-60 very quickly. They were never intended by nature to carry a burden on their backs. It is because we’ve asked them to do that, that they then need to shift their weight and use different muscles to support us and protect their bodies from stress and injuries.

      I disagree that hind hooves ‘work harder’ and I’ve actually never heard anyone say that front hooves were crummier in general (for any specified reason). It is true, though, that front feet are larger than the hinds relative to each other and this increased surface area is because the horse carries more weight on their forehands and thus need that additional surface to distribute concussive pressures.

    • I’d say the difference from front to hind could be the angle of the leg itself. The knee rotates back, the hock rotates fore. I think this needs to be factored into the equation. If we give ‘pony rides’, our front legs (arms) are bending more like a hock and our hinds (legs) have no bend at all.

      • the hind leg is effectively a ‘spring’ and the front leg is a load bearing column, who does that affect how a foot bears the weight that passes over it?

    • how many hours is the typical horse ridden compared to grazing or standing in a small enclosure or stall? For most of today’s horses (unlike working animals of the past), the hours probably work out to 1 of work under saddle to about 23 not under saddle and many horses aren’t even ridden every day, factor that in and time ridden is a tiny fraction of most horses’ lives. Quite frankly, most horses spend way more hours lounging on the forehand than they ever spend level or collected enough to keep the weight off the forehand. Whether being on the forehand makes hooves inherently crummier may not be due to weight on the forehand, but that isn’t because most horses aren’t on the forehand pretty much all the time, under saddle or not.

      • Front hooves aren’t inherently crummier – I was referring to a common myth: that front hooves are crummier than hinds because they work harder (this being a reason that many horses are shod up front, but not behind). It is true that most horses are ridden very little, and it is true that my statement holds when the horse is engaged.

        All the hooves are identical when the horse is born. The changes to the shape occur in response to use and environment, as well as trimming and genetics. All very important! Don’t keep your horses in stalls, do get your babies trimmed by the time they’re two weeks old and frequently throughout the first year.

  16. you will be particularly helpful in conversations when the conformation series moves into leg structures, obviously, how the legs are made and conformation faults in the legs also greatly affect how the hooves will eventually shape themselves.

  17. Pingback: Is this conformation assessment correct?

  18. Sharon May Davis
    https://www.facebook.com/SharonMayDavis?fref=ts
    has some fascinating and disturbing results from her autopsies of riding horses-
    First, anatomy illustrations showing ligaments attaching to all cervical vertabra are incorrect. Most modern horses have ligaments attaching to c2-c4. This means that the horse’s front end, c5-7, are held up by muscular strength alone. Worse, up to 40% of all Tb’s and Tbx (that includes QH, Paints, Appys, Warmbloods, and ‘sport’ horses have malformations of the cervical vertebra. C7 and 6 are most common. This affects their proprioreception as well as their soundness and stamina.
    The bone malformation is hereditary, so please get the word out and educate breeders!

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