The Head You Want To Ride

Even though most of us know that we don’t (aren’t supposed to) ride the horse’s head, many still insist on commenting about the personal aesthetic aspect of such in conformation critiques.  Rather than continuing to fight (and correct the validity of) a comment like; ‘She’s got a pretty, refined head’, in a conformation study, I’ll just talk about the kind of head that is a requirement for the horse to be useful, healthy and sound.  Ergo, the kind of head you want to ride.

Profile:  The horse’s profile (straight, convex or dished) is created simply by the relationship between the cranium and the face.  Think of the cranium as a ball that extends from poll to eye socket, and think of the face as a shoebox that extends from the eye sockets to the tip of the muzzle.  Changing how those two pieces sit relative to each other is what creates the horse’s profile.

Over the years people have selectively bred horses for exaggerated dished profiles, shortened faces and teacup muzzles, purposely (and ignorantly) breeding in facial faults that affect the horse’s ability to breath, chew, have properly rooted teeth with plenty of room, and easily hold a bit (or two in the case of double bridles).  Over-bite, under-bite and other tooth misalignments, that would have seen the individual die in the wild without the advantage of human caretaking,  processed feeds, soaked hay cubes etc…, now exist and propagate.

We also don’t want the horse’s head to look like that of a donkey or mule.  In asinines the cranium (ball) is smaller.  This causes the donkey’s neck vertebrae to attach to the skull from below the ears, unlike the horse whose neck vertebrae should attach to the skull from behind the ears.  When the vertebrae attach from below the ears, it’s called ‘hammer-headed’.  Most horses that are ‘hammer-headed’ are also ‘ewe-necked’; both serious faults in the horse.

Poll:  This should be broad in the horse causing the horse’s ears to be set a good distance apart.

Forehead:  Also needs to be broad so that the eye orbits are widely spaced and on the *sides* of the skull, not on the front.  The orbits are higher placed on the cranium for ‘ox-headed’ breeds; Quarter Horses and Morgans as an example.

Eyes:  Large and almond shaped.  The eyeball should not extend beyond the orbital ridge, if that’s the case then the horse is ‘bug-eyed’ and it can indicate endocrine system issues.  A ‘pig eye’ is a small eye, sometimes rounder and also a fault.

Muzzle:  Like the poll and forehead, the muzzle should be broad with large nostrils.  ‘Tea cup’ muzzle are a fault, directly affecting the ability for the horse to draw in air, as well, disrupting proper tooth rooting.

Mandibles:  The lower jaw bones should possess depth for good tooth rooting and have plenty of space between them; no less than a hand’s width (4”).

Here is an example of one of those ‘pretty, refined’ heads.  Let’s look more closely.   This horse has a ‘straight’ profile.  We can’t help but notice the exceptional broadness of forehead and the large, well-defined and well-placed eyes.   The ears are equally as sculpted as the entire head with their turned-in tips.  We might argue, though, that this horse lacks a touch of broadness in that poll.  Below the eyes are classic inflated sinuses.  The shorter face tapers (a bit too much, perhaps) to a smaller muzzle possessing large nostrils.  We can surmise that this horse should have no issue pulling in air.    The biggest question for this horse’s head is if there’s enough room for the teeth.

It may come as a surprise to many, but this is a purebred Standardbred, one that you certainly can’t label as having a ‘jughead’.  Indeed, I’ve known many Standardbreds to have equally ‘pretty’ heads.

Racing Standardbreds are often required to wear two bits, a driving bit and an overcheck bit.  This horse didn’t possess enough room in her mouth to comfortably carry an overcheck bit, so technically, though pretty, this is not an ideal head for her breed and purpose.  To get around the lack of room in her mouth, she wore an overcheck rein with a leather strap under her chin.  She did not have any chewing or teeth alignment issues.


This next is not a great picture, but I use this horse’s head as an example of eyes that are decidedly ‘frontal’ placed, rather than the more correct ‘side’ placed as the horse before.  The other thing of note is that the horse’s jaw is narrower than its eye orbits.  As with the previous horse, this head is lacking a bit of broadness to the poll, and is a short-faced, but without the tapering.  Overall, this is not nearly as good of a horse head, but many would find it pleasing to look at nonetheless.


This is a classic convex profile typical of the noble breeds.  The eye is large (don’t be fooled by the heavy ‘sleepy’ lid, and is placed lower on the skull than our previous two horses.  There’s plenty of depth to the jowls.  This is another short-faced horse that’s also rather short in the muzzle, but with good depth.


Here on the front view we can see he’s broad through the forehead, poll and muzzle.  This is a good head despite its lack of refinement.


Here is another straight profile with a big, generous and well-placed eye.  The jowls lack a bit of depth, but the muzzle sure doesn’t.  This is a long-faced horse that should have plenty of bar length in its mouth to hold two bits.


Our viewing wouldn’t be complete without looking at a classic dished profile.  This is a good head with plenty of broadness and depth throughout.


And this is an abomination.


Next time you’re looking at a horse’s head, see if you can determine what specifically about it that you’re attracted to and if those traits make for a good horse head, or if you’ve been fooled by irrelevant aesthetics that are detrimental to the horse.


79 thoughts on “The Head You Want To Ride

  1. Good god….did they bind that last head with strips of tape when it was little? I like the Standardbred-it has what I call a “dry” head.

    • As I was saying to trailrider20, if you google pictures of Arabian heads, you’ll find lots of pictures of very similarly shaped Arabian heads. It’s disgusting what people have done to the breed.

  2. Another consideration re ‘engineered’ heads. My old Arab (foaled 1976) does not have a modern teacup muzzle paired with large nostrils but he has the same problem as many with that conformation seem to. The roof of his mouth is very low and even a mild, single jointed snaffle pokes him. He is fine with a mullen mouth or, as I use now, a French link.

    • We had the same problem with our Arab mare (she’s going to be 25 this year). She’s not particularly type-y, but has a small, low-roofed mouth. A sweetheart in all other respects, but she would throw her head up, sometimes violently, if the single joint hit her in the mouth, so we also switched to a French link, and she’s quite happy.

  3. that arab mare in particular is deformed, her leg was across her nose in the womb and her head grew around it. She’s had several foals and NONE of them have heads like hers.

  4. I was finding a friend’s little Lipizzaner stallion, with his very arched head, rather funny-looking, until I saw her riding him in ramener and rassembler (fully and correctly collected). Once his neck was up and his head near vertical, the curve added beautifully to the line of “roundness” all along his body: very elegant.

    Overall, I can’t see a plain head (in proportion to the breed type) being a deal-breaker on an otherwise well put together horse, if you are planning to do performance rather than halter classes. After all, if you think about watching high-level *human* athletes, you never think they have homely faces, because you are so caught up with the total picture and the movement.

    Another aspect to this is human gender expectations being applied to horses. It’s always bothered me to see confo critiques where a mare is praised for having a “pretty, feminine head” because mares and geldings don’t have strong gender differentiation in bodies and heads. You can’t reliably tell a mare from a gelding at a distance, for instance. In fact, you can’t always tell a stallion, if he is under saddle and behaving well, though when you realize he’s a stallion, you often think: that explains the little extra pizzazz. So if there is a breed standard for a head, then a brood mare shouldn’t have a smaller, daintier head than the stallion, unless you want to deliberately breed “pretty, feminine heads” into *all* your horses.

    Though, on the other hand, some attention to the head would be useful if you were shopping for a grade horse of unknown provenance, which is what we all did when I was a teen. Then, a more refined head might signal some thoroughbred or Arabian blood, rather than just your basic feral range pony, and give hopes for performance or speed.

    I realize I am a bit biased as both my current Paint Mare has, and my childhood feral range pony (also a mare) had, good solid big heads 

    • Blondemare, while I agree with you on breeding to extremes, Americans are not the only guilty parties. Consider British bulldogs who cannot breath, Shar-peis with ingrown eyelashes and German Shepherds with dysplasia.

      • When my husband and I were shopping for dogs, German Shepherd and Rottweiler, respectively, we actually chose specifically *German* lined dogs for both breeds, rather than *American* lined dogs. The former are sturdier and generally healthier dogs with better temperaments.

        When I looked for my Andalusian stallion, I specifically looked for a non-American bred stallion…so one that had Spanish or Portugese lines right from Spain/Portugal as close up as possible.

        If I was looking for a TB, a Lip, an Arabian etc., I’d avoid individuals with American pedigrees….as in more than one generation removed from country of origin.

        I will say, though, *your* Morgan people have done an above average job keeping that breed from falling into the typical Americanized pattern of taller/bigger, finer, overly sensitive etc…

        • Oh, believe me, we have issues in the Morgan breed. However, we have never gone down the “in hand” specialty rabbit hole like the QH and the Arabian. Morgan In-hand horses have always had to also be performance horses. We really try to live our motto of “the horse that does everything”.
          We had a big scandal about 10 years ago where our World Champion stallion turned out to be the product of a Saddlebred mare and those in the know were aware of a lot of sneaking of outside blood, particularly Saddlebred, into the breed. We have blood typing now which has put an end to that. However, from a breeder standpoint, I cannot say I am entirely unhappy with the infusion of outside blood: it brought in height and necks that can flex at the poll. We have some purists in the breed who continue to raise what they contend are Traditional Morgans and while they have their good points, a lot of them are nearly pony-sized and have massive necks which cannot flex. My wife has raised Morgans for over 50 years and it is very illuminating to look at the breed magazine pictures from the 1960s. Almost all the noses are out, and when you see the necks, you see why.
          I personally think the American Thoroughbred horse could do with a solid infusion of some good legs and feet and more substance in the body. I like what I have seen on this blog of the typical English Thoroughbred. They look like they could do something besides run around a track and break down!

          • Good post Morganman.

            Got to say I’ve see some great Morgans whilst in the USA. But then my friends over there are really in to the breed and for sure they know a good horse and mix in the right horsey circles. So maybe I’ve been privileged to only see the good.

            But the t/b’s!!??? Well they’ve been shockers! I’d not want one given! And believe me, I’ve a yard full of t/bs . Mine are all national hunt type so have size and substance for stamina and serious jumping. That does mean I’ve a tendency to judge against that stamp.

            So far I’ve personally not seen anything I like there… And as for Canada?! Well I think the USA must send their rejects there!

      • It’s so sad, isn’t it? I still believe ‘we’ are the worst of the worst as we’ve tossed away usefulness and tradition for the sake of the almighty blue ribbon and that is paramount to the health and well being of animals. I state my case with QH’s (HYPP, HERDA, Halter types in general), Tennessee Walker Big Licks (the worst of the worst), Arabians, Thoroughbreds (I’d take an Irish bred over anything producer here!), Percherons (shivers) and I don’t even want to go into the poor dogs. “We” keep breeding them even when the potential for disease or weakness is known. Now that we know the exact genetic links (i.e. Impressive) we can eliminate the gene in one generation but hell, what’ll that do to the $$ in the industry? It always leads to $$. Rotten though, huh?

    • I can’t personally think of any breed standards in either horses or dogs where there’s different head requirement for male and female. So any judging against something that didn’t exist would of course be just be poor subjective opinion.

      (Ordinarily in dog breeds though the height standard is higher for dogs than bitches but of course that’s very different as it’s a size and substance thing which one would expect in the male of a species or breed.)

      • Yes, I totally agree. But it is very common in American “Confo Clinics” in magazines, on-line, and presumably in shows. At random:

        The author of this article does seem to be a stock horse person, though he is judging Thoroughbreds here, and I see the “pretty feminine face” most often in relation to quarter horses, I think.

        • See now, those kinds of conformation studies really irk me. Supposed experts with not a clue. He managed to place the best ‘riding’ type horse first, but for all the wrong reasons. And sweat the neck to make it more elegant? Seriously, we’re still in the day and age of the whole neck sweat thing? There’s no hope for horses with people like this getting their judges cards etc…

          • And these are the posts that people read to learn about conformation. I’ve seen this set of mares before and place them in the same order…but not for the same reasons. The first placed mare is gorgeous IMO and could be a poster mare for American TB’s. Most look like the 3rd place mare with less bone.

          • Yes, this was reprinted from a 2006 Horse and Rider magazine, it says. And he is a judge. So this is recent, and from as mainstream and highly-circulated a source as there is, and it is intended to be educational and authoritative, and to appear objective. I think what happens is that most horse people can pick the best horse based on global impressions when there is such a gap in quality as there is here, and when all of them are reasonably well-conditioned for their body types (probably almost anyone could). But they can’t accurately account for what it is they like, and so their critique is a mix of accurate observations, old fashioned myths, personal preferences, and things that are just plain wrong. The real challenge, as I see it, is picking the best horse from a batch that are fuzzy, skinny, or underdeveloped, or even seeing that the fuzzy skinny horse is better than the fat groomed one. I grew up around some odd-looking grade horses, whose conformation was never going to improve with work. And I developed a horror of the worst conformation faults that can sometimes get in the way of an accurate assessment of better quality horses. For instance, now that I’m back in the lower rungs of fairly nice horses, it’s still a leap of faith for me to believe that a weedy young OTTB doesn’t really have a ewe neck and is in fact going to develop into a stunner in two years! That’s where seeing the underlying bone structure is really important. BTW, I don’t really see much difference in the shoulder slopes between the three horses, though there is a lot of difference in how and where the necks tie on. Am I measuring wrong?

          • All three have very similar shoulder slopes – within a degree of each other, so your aren’t measuring wrong.

            What makes #3 the clear winner is:

            1) the best loin and loin coupling
            2) the best neck structure and attachment
            3) the lowest knee (therefore the shortest cannon bone)

            The other two horses are a toss up in order that depends entirely on what you are willing to deal with. Frankly, I don’t like the legs of any of them. I am always bothered by that time of bone joining that happens in this type of TB. It looks like the pastern is a rectangular LEGO piece that fits into the square LEGO fetlock piece that fits into the rectangular cannon bone LEGO piece – and not well.

          • Merc – can you elaborate on your lego reference? I find these mares to have decent pasterns compared to the norm, less the second placed mare with two different angles in front. Their pastern length is reasonably short, stronger, with hooves that appear to be further under the horse than many current runners. This seems to be the norm with hooves on too-long fetlocks.

            Are you stating that the joints are too large for the attachment of the long bones?

          • It’s a personal preference of mine to have bones and joints flow together more smoothly, so it’s not so evident of ‘here’s a bone, here’s a joint, here’s a bone’. It’s the sharpness and angularity of the connections, which can be visually exaggerated by extra bone length or lumpy joints.

            I think from a form and function standpoint it happens when the individual lacks substance.

          • I haven’t read the article, just looked at the pictures – do I really have to place them? Based on what?

            Gun to head: Horse C is the most level built, has the least messed up neck, but is too upright through the front end, has calf-knees, is too straight behind and lacks substance. Not nearly as much power potential as the first two, but when you don’t have wheels, it doesn’t matter how big the engine. This one suits the average horse owner more so than the others.

            B would be the choice of most and is the *performance* horse of the lot, but I can’t forgive the excessive calf-knees even if I close my eyes. She’s post-legged behind, but it’s the right bone ratios with the lowest hock and stifle set of the group, combined with the huge hip and downhill build, this horse has to be seriously fast and powerful. She does have the most substance of the group. Her neck musculature is also messed up and that follows right into her shoulder. Either she’s lame or been lame, had her head tied to her tail, spent her whole life on her forehand or all of the above.

          • OK, so you confirm below that the three tbd mares have basically the same shoulder angle. I asked because the judge in this article downgraded the two losing mares for having a steep shoulder angle, when in fact all three have the same shoulder angle and the true big difference is how the necks tie in. The judge says A has a ewe neck, but I’m going to go out on a limb now and say perhaps the neck on A is more under-muscled, but might give you more to work with than the neck on B, which ties in too low on the shoulder, and might be more of a true ewe neck despite looking thicker? Also, I don’t see B having a shorter neck than the others, which judge says.

  5. Oh I don’t disagree the what has been done to the noble “ship of the desert” is an abomination. I have an old copy of “My Quest of the Arabian Horse” and all my life that has been the ideal of an arab horse for me. First a good horse, then an arab.

  6. I love Arab horses but can’t stand to even look at those absolutely horrible heads and I can’t believe that folks would want to breed to that type and wreck what is in my view one of the most beautiful and noble breeds.

    Positively F ugly.

    These are particularly horrible. Not just the heads either! :

    • In looking at the stallion page, I also noticed every one of them has had their eyebrow hair and eyelashes shaved off. Poorly conformed individuals, head to toe, AND abused. Disgusting!

      • I hadn’t noticed that until you pointed it out! Eyelashes too? I’m a clip-feign in season but would never go near the lashes and leave absolutely nothing to protect the eye! It’s rather ironic as these were desert horses where wind storms were the norm for the breed. Total fail.

      • I couldn’t see anything I even thought was ‘okish’ on either the made, stallion or foal pages!

        I saw the shaved and oiled faces and don’t see that anything other than weird and not to my taste at all! Definitely not “abuse”.

        The thing that struck me was with those FUgly stallions and Fugly mares with trumpet heads, no wonder the foals looked more like seahorses!

        Wrong. So wrong.

  7. I never knew about the issues with horses with narrow mandible width until I got my current horse. My welsh cob mare looks like she has a beautiful but solid head. Then you try and bit her…disaster. Anything with a joint or two collapses onto her bars as she also has huge lips. Her tongue is fat and her palate low so straight bar bits drive her nuts and small ports help the tongue but she can’t shut her mouth. Currently we compromise and switch between a mullen mouth snaffle when I am riding trails and no contact and a very skinny curved racing d when I need to ask for some collection. French snaffles are out of the question as they collapse completely. Also her head narrows rapidly form her eyes to her bars then she has a normal sized muzzle, this means most bit rings cause pressure on her cheeks against her molar teeth. Sometimes I ride her bitless but no good for dressage and for harness she isn’t responsive enough for safety in no bit, maybe in a few years. Perfect example of form affecting function. That being said as a paddock horse her function would be fine as no teeth issues believe it or not!

  8. I wonder if some of the arabian photos are photoshopped? Or, rather, I’m sure they are all photoshopped to a certain degree (all the ones I clicked on were high-quality professional portraits — anything at that level would get a digital tweak), but I wonder if they have also photoshopped the curve of the face a little? The first photo appears to be from a place called “centrefold arabians” lol. I’ve also thought this sometimes about photos of freaky heavy quarterhorses. I’d be interested to see what these horses look like standing relaxed in a candid shot. Possibly weedy little things?

  9. We do have a big lesson to learn from the dog world – squished heads do nothing for the breed!
    This is going to be especially true in an animal bred to be an athlete rather than a couch potato.

    Re: Arab heads – what does everyone think of this guy?:

    Both head and overall conformation?

    • Interesting. The website promotes him as having sired many champions, including sport horses, but when you look closer, he has only won in-hand, and his foals are all in-hand champions. Even his cross-bred offspring are only winning things like the eventing category for foals (he’s still young, so they are young too). So no evidence that they are growing up into good sport horses. Tobago has a video, but not under saddle, and much of it is “atmospheric” and not much use to evaluate his movement, which seems bouncy, short and unschooled in-hand. Only an Arabian breeder presumably would deliberately include video of a horse rearing and striking out in-hand! Any other breeder would have that edited out (all those abrupt cuts in many sport horse sales videos, where you wonder if something really terrible happened on that next fence!). As for his conformation, it seems like typical contemporary Arabian, table-top croup and probably overangulated back legs (camped out so they look straighter). Maybe the over-angulated long back legs make up for the fact that a horse can’t tuck and reach with a flat croup?? There are about 3 seconds of him trotting at liberty after the 1:41 mark. He does seem to have scope and reach, but I don’t know how it compares to other Arabians. Extreme sloped shoulder, which is interesting; I don’t think I’ve every seen anything like that in real life. But maybe a comparatively short humerous with a slightly closed angle? (I’m trying out all the terms I’ve been studying on Mercedes’ website!). Like with the other Arab websites, most of the information I’d want to make an informed choice about a horse is missing and presumably not of interest to either Tobago’s owner or the target audience.

      • I will add that he was started under saddle but had an accident in his stable and injured/severely bruised his sternum. It wasn’t discovered until he was being tacked up and the girth was tightened. So he has a rather difficult remembered pain problem so his ridden career has been put on hold for now.

        It is an Arab thing to have the whole ‘spirit’ thing. Personally I think a horse can have ‘spirit’ without lacking manners but there we are. I do think that he looks pretty good for a horse who’s exercise consists of half an hour turnout in the arena twice a day along with the occasional hop on the wooden mare. I would love to see if his in hand promise translated to under saddle success. I think that the in hand/performance ridden divide is less obvious in the UK but its not perfect.

  10. ‘If’ they’re photoshopped then one’s got to be concerned at the mind of the breeder that said “just shave more off the nose. Now lengthen the neck and back… That’s it. Perfect”

  11. This is an excellent post and much appreciated. I have long thought that one of the ways to get a bargain on a performance horse is to buy the one with the unattractive head. But that takes being able to tell the difference between a functional (if not beautiful) head and a head that is going to cause issues, an eye for that is very helpful for the horse shopper.

  12. Another great source as to what makes a good head is Ben K Green’s “Horse Conformation as to Soundness and Performance”. His deadpan humor is also a treat: “This type of head may appeal to the human eye but the horse wearing it is of little useful value. In order to have obtained this beautiful little inadequate cranial adornment, the horseman must have sacrificed substance in the bone structure of the legs and have also lost much of the pendulum balance in the maneuverability of the horses body.” And the caption on the picture of the example reads “Cute little worthless head”. I snorted with laughter. This is the best book I’ve read on conformation. It’s packed with how and why without being long and dry — the same reasons I like Mercedes’ articles!

  13. I clicked through to the websites that were sources of some of the terrible Arabian heads. Breeders, sales, studs, glossy websites, many superlatives, presumably expensive horses (no prices listed). Interesting, in that the websites are very different from the ones I’m used to looking at, for performance horses. On a serious breeders’ expensively-designed website I’d expect to see conformation shots and some video, under saddle for a trained horse, or liberty and free-jumping for a youngster. And multiple photos, maybe from shows, obviously “candid” and not retouched. But the Arabian websites tend to give only one photo per horse, and that one always a facial “glamour shot” where it’s impossible to see the total conformation. If there is a secondary photo, it is a posed halter competition shot from a professional photographer, in three quarters view. And no video: I only found one video, for a sales western pleasure horse, and he was mincing around uncomfortably. So I have to say I really don’t know what these horses would look like in real life. Also, if this is what works in their particular market segment, that’s discouraging.

    • I had Arabs years ago and only recently picked up a breed issue at a show booth. I saw page after page of “lovely” heads and only a few full body shots. From one of the toughest, finest, most beautiful breeds to freakish glamour shots and in only 60 years or so. (Yes, I know there are still good ones out there, but apparently they no longer drive the breed). What a damn shame. Which arab breeders are the most responsible for this mess? The Al Khamsa bunch? The Egyptian worshippers?
      For some reason the Arab breed seems to attract a lot of artsy new-age dreamers. “Living Works Of Art, etc. etc.” Give me a tough, big Polish-bred endurance Arab any day.

        • I just found an old video of *Bask. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make link work). Beautiful horse, beautiful movement and a head that is definitely Arabian without being freakish. I think he is a little long in the back but otherwise great. The Egyptian worshippers are apparently responsible for the freak show currently in the breed, and judging by online comments, there are a lot of Arab people who are not happy about it.

  14. So what would you say about my girl Flecha’s head? (If the photo I sent back in March doesn’t give enough detail, Mercedes, I can send another). Personally, I think her eye is set a bit forward, and though you may not be able to tell from the photo, she’s definitely too narrow at the poll. Does the shape of the cranium restrict the range of motion of the neck?

    • Mercedes pointed out to me in a previous post that if your horse is too narrow between the jaws underneath, it will have trouble carrying its head vertical. I don’t know if there is a direct relationship between the width of the cranium and the jowls.

    • I can’t seem to locate a head shot of your horse. Might be on my other computer.

      The horse’s brain does not sit ‘behind the forehead’, but rather below the poll, but not all of us do well with a horse smarter than us. 🙂 Sometimes narrow-polled horses can be aggressive or otherwise possess *negative* traits.

      The Standardbred in this article wasn’t a stupid horse or mean or anything like that, but she was very aggressive on the track and was next to impossible to rate. She’d try and run over horses in front of her if they weren’t going as fast as she wanted to go, and she ran off with more than one driver when on the front end, which was quite the feat considering she was very tiny. She once kicked over the race bike shaft behind the starting gate.

      I wish I could find a picture of the ‘slowest’ horse I’ve ever owned. Kind, gently, but not the brightest light on the Christmas tree. It’s been several years since she died, so I can’t remember a lot of the specifics of her head.

      I think your asking about the ability to flex at the poll. And yes, the cranium *size* does affect that. A too small ‘ball’ means the neck vertebrae attach below the ears, instead of behind the ears (as is required for the horse) and therefore that directly affects flexion at the poll. Also a smaller cranium changes how the mastoid processes are placed, as well as how the lower jaw is placed.

      There needs to be a hand’s width (4″) between the jaw bones to allow enough room for the neck to fit between there when a horse is fully engaged and on the vertical.

    • One might guess she’s a bit narrow in the poll, considering she’s telescoping her neck, but the vertebrae directly behind her poll are flat. They should be arched, suggesting that they might not quite be attached right.

      It’s also possible that those vertebrae are jammed and locked down.

      I would say this is as dished as you want to see a face. It’s also as short a face as you want to see. The eye is large and well-placed. The muzzle is large, as well as the nostrils.

  15. Question: If A horses head attaches above the ears and a donkeys below, how does a mules? Or a Hinnys even? Is it somewhere in the middle or one or the other?

    • A mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse, therefore how the skull attaches would be dependent on the structure of the skull that the offspring genetically got; either that of the donkey or that of the horse.

      After looking at a number of mule pictures, most were asinine-like, but a few were more equine like.

      No, when you combine long with short, bigger cranium with smaller cranium et al… you don’t get ‘medium’, you get either long or short, or big or small.

  16. Mercedes, this has got me thinking about that rhythemic snort/blow sound you hear from some horses at the canter and gallop. Some horses are quite a bit louder than others in their breathing at speed – is this a function of nostril shape/size? There are quite a few very good jumpers that are loud breathers/snorters on course which makes me think this isn’t a performance-hindering flaw (I am not thinking of roaring, just the snorty breathers). Although maybe it is a flaw and these horses “get away with it” because they don’t have to hold speed for a sustained timee? I’ve always liked a snorty jumper as it’s easy to tell if you’re speeding up or slowing down.

    • Here’s something to think about – when was the last time you heard a racehorse doing that? Myself, having been around thousands of racehorses in training and during races, I can remember it happening only a handful of times and always under the same set of circumstances – when jockey or driver had a *death grip* on the horse, trying to rate it/slow it and the horse being uncooperative/fighting.

      As you’ve noticed it’s rhythmic breathing, usually at the canter and it happens a lot in jumping and dressage. Next time you hear it, have a really good look at the positioning of the head. In a lot of cases the horse’s throat is closed. When the throat closes you can’t breath. The rhythm of the loud snorting happens because when the horse pounds the ground, muscles contract and force the air out.

      In a racehorse if you close that throat too much, ie. you’ve got a horse trying to run off with you and you’re holding its throat closed (rather than letting it toss its head) you can do what’s called ‘choke the horse down’. The horse passes out from lack of air and falls down – have see it happen a time or two.

      Yes, sometimes it may be happening because the horse doesn’t have a properly designed head, either large enough nostrils or airways to pull in enough air for the task or expel the bad air. But a lot of times it’s because the horse is in a false frame, hollow, disengaged and has its throat rammed shut.

  17. Ok Mercedes, I need your help!! I need some help with the exercises for Dazy to strengthen her where she needs it. I will take a million pictures of her if you would look at her again and tell me what you think we need to do. (You can do a public critique if you think it would help someone else at. You are more than welcome to rip her apart lol) You are a wealth of knowledge on build and functionality.

  18. My brain is percolating up a couple of facts from years past…

    1) Horses with dished faces tend to have flightier behaviour. When people have selected for dishing, they have also created increasingly ‘sensitive’ skittish horses. The converse is also true – roman profiles tend towards solid calm demeanours. While this has generally been acknowledged for generations, someone actually researched this and found it to be linked (possibly information from Associate Prof Paul McGreevy in Australia, but I couldn’t find anything on the ‘net to confirm). I don’t recall if this was a physical issue directly related to the face shape (i.e. if a horse from a typically roman-faced breed was somehow born with a dished face would it also be flightier than normal, and vice versa), or a linked trait where genes related to behaviour and dishing were closely placed and therefore tended to be inherited together.

    2) the best correlated measure of a horses ‘wind’ is not the width between the jawbones, it’s the distance between the eyes. So if you’re interested in the amount of air the horse can probably suck in without actually scoping him (e.g. buying a yearling as a potential racehorse), look at the forehead as much as the jaw.

    Claire Vale
    New Zealand

  19. No, teacup muzzles are not “faults”, it’s one of the marks of an asil or pure, desert-bred Arabian which has very unfortunately been practically lost in the modern Arabian in the effort to obtain an exaggerated afnas (dished or concave facial bone), resulting in a huge, ugly, incongruous muzzle that destroys the symmetry and delicacy of the head. A teacup muzzle has NO effect on the breathing, not for all the centuries that it was selectively bred in. The other marks, also becoming quite rare, are the bulging forehead (jibbah) and mitbah, the distinctive elongated curve of the neck into the throttle, which does increase breathing capacity.

    • I suspect we’re talking apples and oranges and what you’re thinking is a teacup muzzle, is in fact not. Teacup muzzles are seen predominantly on Quarter Horses.

      • Not at all. Yes, I’ve seen beautiful teacup muzzles on Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds and Andalusians as well as on Arabians. My point is (again) that a teacup muzzle is not a fault in Arabians, it’s always been a highly desirable trait going back for centuries as a defining trait and indicative of pure blood. See Davenport, Raswan, Blunt,, and Saudi breeders. Look at old photos of desert-breds from the early to mid-1900’s. Very common. Not almost nonexistent. But totally absurd and rather sad to consider it a fault. (Of course you have to have enough sense to to use a properly fitting bit on any horse.)

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