The Up And Down Of It – The Rest Of The Front Limb

I’ve talked in previous articles (ie. Speed Kills) about the importance of straightness of the fore limb. A quick summary goes something like this; the horse’s front legs act as supporting/foundation pillars. Crooked supports and those too thin for the weight above crack and eventually break.

If a person plans to ride their horse on its forehand, do speed events, race their horse, jump it or any other activity that stresses those front legs by specifically weighting and torquing them, then straightness and substance should rate high on the conformation criteria scale.

If, on the other hand, a person plans to correctly gymnasticize their horse asking for a shift of weight rearward onto the spring-like hind limbs on a consistent basis, and be considerate of the horse during cross-training, then fore limb crookedness and substance, while still important, can drop a notch.

The conformation pictures we have of our sample horses do not allow us to view much in the way of front limb crookedness, so when considering a horse for purchase or breeding one should insist on additional views. There are still some important conformation aspects we can look at from our side view shots; knee alignment, pastern and cannon bone length, pastern slope and toe to heel foot balance.

Knee alignment – when viewed from the side, the horse’s knee should ‘pop’ out a little bit.  If there’s a perfectly straight line down the front of the leg then the horse is too straight through the knee and calf-kneed.  This is a significant fault, and if the knee falls clearly behind that line it becomes a serious fault on similar terms to ewe-necks, post leggedness and poorly placed LS joints.  If the knee ‘pops’ too much, it’s also a fault, though not as severe as calf-knees, and is called over-at-the-knee, or buck knees.  You’ll see this latter type of knee fault quite frequently in Thoroughbreds.

Note:  Farriers should never try and ‘fix’ these kinds of knee conformation faults by trimming feet to lessen the effects.  And yes, many do try.  The last horse I worked on that was significantly over-at-the- knees and had a farrier trying to shoe it out of the horse, the horse broke a coffin bone from the stress being placed on the foot.  The horse also suffered from significant pain at the base of his neck, through his shoulders and withers.

Pastern and Cannon bone length – there’s no specific measurement for cannon bone length.  It’s an eyeball measurement about what constitutes longer vs shorter, however, if the horse’s knee is placed relatively high in relation to the ground, the cannon bone length is likely to be long and if the knee is relatively low in relation to the ground, the cannon bone length is likely to be short.  A short forearm is often accompanied by a long cannon bone, but not always as in some cases a long scapula, short forearm, short cannon bone can exist.   While people may disagree on cannon bone length in a specific horse, most everyone will agree that a short cannon bone is preferable for almost all horses.  Longer cannon bones would be part of the requirements for the action of gaited horses.

Fortunately, pastern length is much easier to determine.  If the pastern is greater than 75% the length of the cannon bone, the pastern is long.  If the pastern is less than 50% the length of the cannon bone than the pastern is short.

The slope of the pastern should be such that it can absorb concussive shock.  It does NOT have to be equal to the horse’s shoulder slope and it is not a fault if the two are different.

Note: Farriers should not try and make a horse’s pastern slope equal to the horse’s shoulder slope through trimming or shoeing means.  And yes, some do.  The foot should always be trimmed for balance in direct relationship to the underlying foot structures, not outward appearances.

Pasterns that are overly sloped can place too much stress on tendons and ligaments, straining or tearing them, and can also cause the horse to smack the back of the fetlock on the ground, risking fracture of the sesamoid bones.

Pasterns that are overly upright reduce the ability to absorb concussive shock, in turn creating abnormal wear and tear on joints and bone, early onset of arthritic conditions and stress fractures.

In this area the best structure for the horse is a medium pastern length of medium slope.  While longer, more sloping pasterns can provide a ‘softer’ riding experience, it is at the possible expense of the horse’s soundness.  By the same token, short, overly upright pasterns should also be avoided.

It should be noted that short, or upright, or short and upright pasterns do not in and of themselves created a ‘short and choppy’ stride as is often reported.  It is the humerus bone, its length, horizontal orientation and/or the existence of a closed shoulder angle that creates a ‘short choppy’ stride (as discussed in a previous article – The Up And Down Of It – Humerus Bone).  What a short, or upright, or short and upright pastern will do is create a more ‘jarring’ riding experience.

Foot balance –  this topic really requires an entire article or two or three of its own, but I did want to mention here that foot balance or foot imbalance can be the difference between night and day for a horse, how it stands, how sound it stays, and how well it performs at any level.

Some horses are more sensitive to foot imbalances than others.  Typically horses with good, solid and relatively proper bone structure above can stand up better to foot imbalances, often not showing signs until years later.  By the same token, more stoic, survival intense personalities or those with strong constitutions will be less sensitive to foot imbalances as showing weakness to the world means certain death.

Regardless of the horse, this is one area that the average horse owner doesn’t pay enough attention to by taking the quality of farrier work as a given.  After all, they are the professionals so they should know, right?  Wrong.  Like any profession there will always be members who are poor, most will be average, and a few will be excellent.   The saying, ‘no foot, no horse’ exists for a reason – because it’s true.

I can’t emphasize the importance of proper foot balance for horses enough.  If you’ve never thought about it before, you should be getting that awful pit in your stomach feeling right now that you’ve missed something really important all these years.  Yes, even if your horse/s aren’t currently head bobbing lame or have/are performing successfully.

Now it’s time to take a look at our sample horses and see how they measure up.

Horse #1 – 10yr old QH Stallion

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This horse is too straight through the knee and therefore is a bit calf-kneed.

We measure the cannon bone from mid knee to mid fetlock joint and we measure the pastern from mid fetlock joint to P1.  Then to get our pastern percentage we divide the pastern measurement by the cannon bone measurement.  This horse has a short cannon bone and his pastern is right about 50% the length of it.  His pastern is also upright.  Without actually being able to measure the circumference of his cannon bone to determine if he carries the minimum requirement of 7” per thousand pounds, we’re going to have eyeball it.  IMO, I don’t think this horse carries quite enough bone.

When we consider that this horse is also downhill built putting more weight on the forehand, we might begin to get nervous about the prospects of him staying sound.  Those upright, shorter (but not technically ‘short’) pasterns are going to reduce his ability to absorb concussive forces, which puts even more strain on the calf-knees, which is as I mentioned earlier, is a pretty serious fault.

While I’m not embracing what I see so far from this lower limb, I’m not entirely turned off and here’s why:  the horse is the sum of his parts and as far as we’ve delved so far, this horse has a superior loin and haunch.  That means that if this horse can utilize his haunch, he’ll be able to lift weight off his forehand relieving tremendous stress off those forelimbs.  We can then be more forgiving of the imperfections up front.

Since he is a stallion, it would be prudent to get that front view angle photograph to further assess the straightness or crookedness of the front legs.  If it turned out that everything else was in order, and the stallion had proven himself in performance (and stayed sound on those front legs), then at that point (and assuming we don’t find anything else we don’t like going further in this conformation study) a complementary mare would be one that possessed perfectly aligned knees and pasterns that sloped a bit more generously.  If she also possessed a touch more length to those pasterns, that would be a bonus.

We can’t see this horse’s feet to comment in that regard.

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Horse #2 – QH Gelding

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Your first inclination may be to say that this horss is also calf-kneed, but he’s not.  His stance of front legs too far underneath the body can give the illusion of calf-knees.  If he was standing correctly, he’d have perfectly aligned knees from side.  They also appear to be of substantial size.  In general this horse carries more substance than our QH stallion.  His cannon bone is short and his pastern is an ideal medium length, though more upright.  This horse is also short in his forearm with a lot of fore limb length taken up by his scapula.  This isn’t a fault, but it affects lateral movement.  A horse structured like this may find he hits himself if asked for too deep a lateral movement, particularly if heavy on the forehand.  Fortunately, he has that good length of humerus bone to help.

The big issue for this horse is his feet.  Here we can clearly see those front feet are horrendously unbalanced, such that he’s actually broken back in the pastern.  Undoubtedly the feet are why this horse is standing awkwardly in front on the points of his coffin bones.  If this horse isn’t obviously lame on these front feet, it’s a wonder and the owner can thank this horse’s otherwise solid bone structure and stoicism.

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Horse #3 – 4yr old QH

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This horse has a well-aligned knee and short cannon bone.  His pastern is as the upper most end of medium in length and has a very pleasing slope.  The only thing that would make this lower leg combination better is a bit more substance, otherwise it’s very good and very functional.  We can’t see this horse’s feet to assess.

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Horse #4 – Arabian Stallion

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I’ve talked a bit about this horse’s front leg issues in a previous article (or comments section).   His knees are higher than ideal from cannon bones longer than ideal and this gives him a shortened forearm.  His right knee is bucked a bit and the right pastern more upright than the left because of his obvious clubbed foot.  The pastern length is otherwise fine.

I’m not a fan of clubbed feet, even though many horses go on to have serviceable lives, some even in higher performance.  Club feet are hereditary and require an above average skilled farrier to recognize them, not try to fix them etc…  This horse shows quite a bit of difference between those front feet – even with the left front foot also showing a clubby look – and difference between legs (steeper pastern, higher fetlock and knee joint, bucked knee) such that that unevenness has no choice but to carry on up his limbs, into his shoulders, into his withers, into his neck, and along the length of his back.   He’s only four in this picture, but as he ages the asymmetry in his fore limbs is going to wear on his body.

When I also take into account the serious fault of his table top croup and the camel withers, which we’ve discussed before, I can only conclude that the best thing to do for the breed is to cull this one and geld him no matter how good the rest of his conformation that we have not yet talked about.

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Horse #5 – TB Gelding

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Our TB is as straight through the knee as we want to see.  It’s actually quite nice seeing one that isn’t over-at-the-knee or tied in.  Here we have a horse that stands over a lot of air and that’s essentially because he’s got a lot of leg length in general.  Even though he has excellent bone proportions throughout the entire limb, his cannon bone and pastern are on the longish side of things.  He also lacks the most substance of all our sample horses.  On the positive side of things, his joints, tendons and ligaments look very clean.  If a front view revealed good straightness throughout, this isn’t a terrible set of front legs by a long shot.  They’re functional and with a little consideration they should serve this horse well enough.

We can’t quite see all the front feet, but we can determine for sure that this horse doesn’t have those ‘racetrack’ feet.  He might be a bit boxy in those front feet if anything.

One other thing I’d like to point out is the muscling of the forearm.  Take a moment to scroll back and compare the amount of muscling on our TB and Arab to our three QH’s.  While we expect there to be a difference, it’s a bit too much.  Our TB, in particular, is lacking in this department.

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Horse #6 – Paint Mare

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It’s really hard to see this horse’s knee alignment.  I think she’s okay, though.  Her cannon bone length is okay, as is her pastern length and slope.  Her feet on the other hand are not balanced and do her no favors.  I’d like to see her carry a bit more bone as well.

If I was teacher and she a student, she’d easily get a passing grade on this subject, but I’d write to her parents that I felt she’d underachieved somewhat.  Her legs are good enough for our TB to stay sound on, but she’s not our TB.  She’s our Paint mare with the weak loin, the too long scapula, the too low point of shoulder, the downhill build, the bit too long back, the bit too short and a bit too horizontal humerus, and we haven’t even got to that neck yet.  This makes me want to see that front view of her fore limbs because any crookedness there and my thoughts about her being able to stay sound on them becomes debateable.  At the time of this photo, she did have clean joints, tendons and ligaments, so that bodes well moving forward.

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Speaking Of The Foamy Mouth

In the most recent link we saw a horse with enough foam coming from his mouth to top every Starbuck’s latte for a week.  That’s too much and a clear indication of an unhappy horse, who finally had had enough and simply left.

Have a look at this short blog article entitled The One Picture.  The author points out several issues with the picture that are spot on.  I’d like to point out a few more, starting with the foamed mouth.  It’s still too much.  This horse has no white on his face, so that’s a big gob of froth about to splatter his chest.  If the flash wasn’t so tight, there’d be more foam flying out of this horse’s mouth.  The cavesson also looks to be cranked beyond tight.

Now look at the horse’s throat and how the skin is folded.  This horse isn’t just behind the vertical, he’s a lot behind the vertical with a throat closed tighter than a shuttered up summer cottage in mid winter.  I also have a real issue with the horse being pushed into this level of work at just 4 years old.  Remember what happened to the fancy grey mare this rider rode back in 2006?  Does anyone think this horse will have a better fate?

As the author mentions, a lot of people will praise this photo, the rider and the horse’s way of going.  They’ll be unable to identify all that’s wrong, but there is one flashing red neon sign, that anyone can be taught to see, that clearly indicates this horse is not engaged.  Simply look at the flexion of the weight bearing front fetlock and compare it to the flexion of the weight bearing rear fetlock.  As evidenced in the photo, this horse is solidly on his forehand, bearing strikingly more weight on the front leg than on the hind.  Engagement requires a horse to shift weight to the haunch.  My downhill, post-legged, Heinz 57 horse, can shift more weight to his haunch than what this royally bred, solidly conformed horse is displaying.  Imagine what *we* could do with this kind of horse if we were also Internationally acclaimed trainers and riders.

In conclusion, it’s wrong, all day long, every day and someone of this level should know better.  So the question I’d like to pose to this rider, to the judges and everyone else involved:  Do you not know better, or do you simply not care that you’re hurting the horse, that you’re corrupting the discipline, and that you’re setting the worst possible example for up and coming owners, riders, trainers and judges by systematically killing the future of good horsemanship.

Oh, and do you also not realize the horse is unsound behind?

The Power Of A Martingale

Hate ‘em!

Let’s just get the supportive argument of ‘if it’s adjusted correctly then they are a great tool in the toolbox’ argument.

  1. I don’t care about the people who use them sparingly.
  2. I don’t care about the people who use them correctly (and sparingly).

There!  We’ve now eliminated the ‘exceptions to the rule’ 5% and we can move onto the truth of 95% of the martingale use around the globe.

The intended purpose of this little piece of leather was to prevent the rider from getting smacked in the face by the horse’s poll or upper neck.   For that situation to occur, the horse has to either have really lost its balance, the horse has to have some severe behavior issue in the moment, or the horse has to have a ewe neck, be muscled horribly, and ridden on 6” of rein.

A secondary outcome of sporting a martingale, that I believe is what people really use them for, is to prevent the horse from being able to evade the boisterous rider hand.  You could also just call it poor training and poor riding; your choice.

Hunter

This is one way to adjust stride and get in the right number for the line, problem is it’s not a long term fix.   I’m sure this team is working on the half halt from the seat as a rebalancing tool (and rotating that leg from the hip socket so the heel (spur) doesn’t inadvertently pinch the horse), then they’ll be ditching the martingale – I’m sure.

Barrel Racer

There’s no doubt this horse is being pulled around the barrel by his face.  He’s come into the barrel with too much speed (too much on his forehand) and got in too deep.  The rider now cranks on his face to try and reduce the circuit around the backside of the barrel.  The horse has no choice but to hollow and cross his jaw and gape in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his tongue.  Thank goodness for that martingale!

Jumper

There’s just nothing better than setting a horse up to get the right distance to the next fence by hauling on his face.  Bravo!

Polo 1

Polo 2

Keep your eye on the ball Princes!  Those martingales and draw reins will make sure the horses can’t evade your hand even if they are all over their forehands, hollow, and trying to stay on their feet.  Prince William gets a few extra bonus points for his horse’s milder protest (when the picture was taken he’d just released the hand brake).

I came across this little article about bitting polo ponies and couldn’t help but chortle.  I loved the talk of ‘leverage for stopping at speed’ and ‘it’s not the bit, it’s the rider’s hands’, so it’s okay to throw the kitchen sink on as long as you have soft hands when you pull on the horse’s mouth.    I’m hoping that one day they’ll realize the way to stop a horse is to shift weight to the horse’s haunch.  Kind of like this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Spooks_Gotta_Whiz.jpg

Yeah, yeah, that’s going to chew up the polo field.  The fact remains, as long as a horse is on its forehand, it’s not going to want to stop or be easy to stop.  Its balance and weight is forward and down like that snowball rolling down a hill.  Putting something with more bite in its mouth doesn’t help the horse readjust its balance and weight back onto its haunches, no matter how educated the rider’s hands.  It’s more likely to teach the horse how to evade contact, brace through its jaw, poll, throat, neck, shoulder, back and loin.  And it’s more likely to make the horse hard-mouthed.  The proper way to slow a horse down quickly is to engage the haunch.  Funny thing about doing that – there’d be no chance of the rider getting smacked in the face by the back of the horse’s head, therefore no martingale would be required.

Zanhar was kind enough to send me a couple of pictures of her horse several months ago.  (And for those of you that have also sent me pictures et al a while back – I still have them, I haven’t forgotten, eventually I’ll cover a topic and I’ll utilize them.  Thank you for sending.)

18 year old Thoroughbred hunter worked in a martingale:

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2 years later as a 20 year old after having stopped using the martingale:

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What was once an inverted, shortened bull neck is now a long, arching, correctly muscled neck.  Certainly that didn’t just happen by taking off the martingale, other work was involved, but it does show:

  1. The horse didn’t need the martingale in the first place
  2. The martingale didn’t help the horse move correctly
  3. The martingale gave the horse something to lean on and brace against

The horse never lies and neither does its body.  Horses that regularly wear martingales, side reins, draw reins, or any of the other number of ‘put your head here’ apparatus can be picked out of a lineup by a blind man.  Even if none of those artificial aids are used and only the rider’s hands are employed to place the horse’s head ‘here’, one can still identify that horse’s poor training and riding by the incorrect muscle patterns it will wear.

Zanhar made a significant change in how her horse was trained and ridden, and her horse shows the spectacular results of those improvements.  Great job!

*Side note:  I’m heading off for a week’s vacation.

The Art Of Craptastic

Just as there are people who work diligently and with singular purpose toward the goal of mastery in their profession, so there are also those with equal determination to suck at what they do for a living.  Let’s take for example the riding instructor, who sits in one spot for the duration of the lesson often times in some remote corner of the arena.  Never before have I seen so many sit down riding instructors as I have since moving to California.  And these are not people new to the profession, but rather nationally successful people in their discipline of choice.  Winners in the show ring with the wall of ribbons, awards and medals to prove it.

I inherently know that all those prizes don’t mean diddly squat in the scheme of things, but your average riding customer clearly does not since these instructors always seem to have a full lesson schedule with more waiting in the wings to receive this particular brand of teaching.  I can’t decide if it’s laziness  or boredom that keeps them planted on their derrieres.  Maybe it’s something else?

Here’s a recent article that’s making the rounds on the Internet that discusses why America is producing a large quantity of mediocre instructors.  http://theridinginstructor.net/75/top-3-reasons-why-america-producing-so-many-mediocre-instructors/  I’m not sure these are my top three reasons, but I won’t argue the validity or truth of the reasons presented.  For argument sake let’s just go with them.  Now that the top three reasons have been identified and discussed – what now?

At this point I am reminded of how a big company works, or the Government.  Meeting announced.  Problem dissected.  Potential catalysts discussed at length.   Good meeting all, let’s go for lunch.  Six months later another meeting is called. 

‘How are we doing on that matter we discussed at out last meeting, George?’ 

‘Well, sir, we’ve confirmed that those were indeed the top three reasons.’

‘Excellent! Excellent!’

‘We’re thinking of putting together a small team to further analyze the situation.’

‘Good!  Good!  What’s for lunch?’

I can’t realistically do a thing about the current state of American instructorship.  It’s beyond my means, capabilities and willpower.  What I can do, though, is warn off people who might become potential clients.  So following is a list of warning signs that you might be entering a Craptastic Instructor Zone:

1) As previously mentioned, unless the instructor is confined to a wheelchair or body cast there’s no good reason for them to be sitting or standing still during the lesson.  One of the greatest tools an instructor uses at his or her disposal is their eyes.  They are constantly adjusting their position to see horse and rider from different perspectives to be able to pick up on nuances.

2) Students that have been students ‘forever’.  Except for the very odd exception, a good instructor will teach a student all that they know and then move the student on.  No one instructor knows everything.  There are great athlete and coach combinations, but very few that stick it out together for a whole career.  There’s a reason for that.  While familiarity with one another can have its advantages, it can also have its disadvantages.  I’ve seen many cases of instructors purposely (and sometimes inadvertently) making their students dependant on them.  Beware the instructor with a long list of ‘forever’ students, especially if they’re still working on how to halt the horse without throwing out the anchor after all those years.

3) A smorgasbord of ‘new’ students.  This might simply indicate the instructor is new to the region having moved there recently.  That’s easily found out.  But for an instructor who’s been around long enough to have established themselves, big turn over in the student ranks can indicate big issues like that particular coffee shop in town on the corner, run by the Ogre, that always has the ‘Help Wanted’ sign in their window.

4) Disproportionate amount of ‘accidents’.  Riders falling off, horses running off, tack breaking, weekly ambulance or vet visits etc…  While all of these things happen from time to time, an instructor whose students and horses are plagued by accidents and injuries is the proverbial flashing red neon sign.

5) Unhappy participants.   If rider and horse aren’t happy in the lesson and no attempt is being made to rectified that, walk away unless you like being miserable and paying for that privilege.

6) Avoid the instructor who puts students on lame or drugged horses and especially if they a) don’t recognize the horse is lame, b) don’t care that the horse is lame, or c) carry the needle in their back pocket.

7) You’ve all seen – and heard – the hockey (soccer/baseball/football etc…) parent.  Well, they also come in the form of riding instructors.  You’ll see them at shows all uptight, making their students nervous, ‘coaching’ (read yelling at) their students, and otherwise displaying uninstructor-like behaviors.  Again, unless you like to pay for that type of treatment – pass.

8) Too much sugar is fluff.  That’s right, a cotton candy instructor is just another form of a dependency maker, unless you’re five years old.  Teaching requires balance.  You’ll never progress as a rider unless you are challenged, occasionally pushed, and corrected.  If all you ever hear is how awesome you’re doing, rest assured you aren’t actually that awesome.  Unless you’re five.  In which case, you are definitely going to be a gold medalist in the Olympics.

9) Either an instructor that never schools their school or client’s horses, or the instructor that has to get on every horse before a student rides at a show, or in a lesson.

10) If students regularly ask questions that don’t get answered directly, the answers don’t make sense, no clarification is offered when a student is confused, or answers always leave the student unsatisfied, then the instructor is wanting in the communication, and likely knowledge, departments.  Maybe try another language?

11) Displaying and talking about credentials everywhere, all the time, is either one super insecure instructor or one that knows they don’t know anything of value and needs to cover it up.  By the same token, a complete lack of credentials or history and continued avoidance of the topic when asked is a red flag.  Everyone has their own tolerance level for papered or show ring credentials.  Be more impressed with the person in front of you and what comes out of their mouth than the certificates and ribbons hanging in the office.  Feel super confident when both match.

It can be a trying endeavor to find a good riding instructor, but the profession is no different than any other.  If you need a mechanic for your car you don’t just run your finger down the Yellow Pages, pick a garage at random and hope for the best.  You talk to friends and family.  You call the BBB.  You look on Yelp for reviews.  You call and talk to someone at the business.  You maybe do a drive-by in your Mother’s car.  Then you make an informed decision.

Go watch an instructor give some lessons, not just one.  Talk to students, current and former.  Have a close look at the lesson horses.  Interrogate the instructor, asking some of the tougher questions not just how much per hour.  Nobody should feel so desperate for instruction as to settle for mediocrity.  And if people stop settling for mediocrity, it’ll cease to exist.  It’s a simple case of supply and demand.

Always remember; it takes more time, energy and resources to unlearn bad lessons than to learn them right the first time around.

Supplement Article To The Supplement Article

I’m indulging Paint Mare’s need to be the center of attention by doing one final installment.  🙂  Lakes thought she’d like to see an above view of Paint Mare’s horse’s loin, as otherwise it appears to be very well constructed.  Here’s that picture.

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There is great broadness to the horse’s loin with ribs carrying back well.  It doesn’t get a whole lot better.

In the first supplement article I talked about some musculature issues going on with the horse that I felt could be improved relatively easily.  Paint Mare has included a more recent photo of her horse.

Paint Mare wrote:  The one I sent in was from June 2012, and right now she doesn’t seem quite as muscled up.  But I think she might have lost some of the bad muscling on her neck? She has a groove for her windpipe now instead of a solid mass of neck.

June 2012

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Resent 2013

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Clearly the horse is better ‘conditioned’ in the first photo and carrying a bit less weight, but I would ask Paint Mare since when has she changed her training and riding approach with this horse.  Based on her comments and the attention she’s paid this mare, the current results are unexpected.

Yes, there is greater definition in the crease in the underline of the neck, but the rest of the muscling isn’t right and hasn’t improved.  Now her neck is starting to look more like a bull neck.  If she was using that neck better, lifting the base of it correctly and dropping her head freely from the poll we would be seeing some of the tubular complexus muscle.  Also the dip would have vanished and the ‘hump’ before that would also have decreased in size, while the flat spot before that, extending to the poll, would have filled in.

It appears as if there’s less muscle bunching directly in front of the scapula, but that’s only because her head is forward and not turned as in the first photo.  The muddy shoulder bed is still there, less defined with the lower overall conditioning of the horse but still there.

She also has more breast muscling, her back is tighter and for a greater portion of its length and her abdominals have weakened and sagged, which gives the impression she’s not as deep through the loin (though she is) and those things are all the result of being more on the forehand.

The other odd difference is that the mare now stands about three degrees more upright through the pastern than she did in the June 2012 photo.  Her coronet band is more horizontal and this change (obviously in her feet – too much heel) has changed her stance in front so that rather than standing ‘in’ the ground, she stands ‘on’ the ground with more tension and rigidity through the front end.

What I think has happened is that this mare has hurt herself.  It’s very difficult to see because of the dark background, but when viewed on my computer at full size there’s a very clear ‘hump’ and ‘dip’ in the back that was not present in the June 2012 photo.  I also noted that the overhead loin views that Paint Mare sent me also didn’t look right, but none are from the best angle to see.  Even the overhead photo I included at the top doesn’t show the kind of spinal definition it should, which also leads me to suspect an issue.

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Thank you very much, Paint Mare, for allowing the use of your mare as a guinea pig.