BayDemon has asked for some input on how to progress and move forward with her mare, Dazy, and graciously allowed that to happen on Hooves, providing us with the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn. Please keep that in mind should you wish to add to the conversation.
Here is what BayDemon says about Dazy and the goals she’s set for her:
Dazy is a 9 year old quarter horse mare. She was an orphan foal. She also does not have the best work ethic, but she tries. Dazy has had a shoulder injury about 4 years ago. Vet couldn’t find anything wrong with her. She was also attacked by a cougar when she was three that resulted in some sutures in her fetlock. She is Investor bred on bottom, and has a few ROM earning horses on top. (Cutting, Reining).
My goal is to run barrels on her sometime this year. Issues that we are currently working through are bucking when going to the second barrel, and getting bendy to the right. She is very stiff on her right side and we are working on doing stretches and getting more flexible. It’s something that she has always struggled with. She can currently touch her knees with her head, and her belly stretches are getting better. She cannot currently reach her hips unless she really has an itch to scratch. Because of the current weather we are having, she has been a pasture ornament. She is usually ridden about 3 days a week.
Dazy is super smart, and she tries most of the time, until she gets frustrated. I started her under saddle as a 2 year old, when I put thirty days on her and put her back out in the pasture until she turned 3. At three, she had another 90 days on her and she was turned out until she was 4. At 4 I started teaching her the skills that would make her marketable in the event that I ever had to sell her. She was ridden by kids up until a few months ago when she started bucking. She’s been on a lot of trail rides, and has only been doing arena work for about the last 8 months.
The horse in question is an unconditioned, lightly used 9 year old that until recently was amicable about allowing children (typically unbalanced white noise makers unable to work through unwanted behaviors in a horse) to ride it.
Whenever a horse suddenly changes its behavior, the most common causes – in no particular order:
- Injury/pain/disease/lameness/sore muscles/inflammation/ulcers – all things related to unsoundness
- Diet change
- Management change such as; not getting turned out as much, change of pasture mates, change of stabling routine or location etc…
- Mental breakdown – ie., the horse that spends every waking work moment in a ring, going round and round and round, suddenly throws itself on the ground and refuses to enter the ring.
In other words, something happened a few months ago when she started bucking and it’s yet to be discovered and addressed. My first guess, without knowing all other details of how Dazy is managed and fed, and without seeing video of her moving and exhibiting the behavior, is that there’s a physical reason for the bucking. Let’s have a closer look at her conformation and conditioning to see if it gives any clues.
Nowadays, being of cutting and reining breeding can be almost like being a crossbred. Quarter Horse breeding has become so specialized that a top cutting horse doesn’t have to look anything like a top reining horse, and often doesn’t. I have no idea if this applies to Dazy or not, but it’s certainly something that people should consider with QHs.
I like to start by identifying a horse’s outstanding strengths. It puts the owner in a good mood to know that their horse has at least one or two redeeming conformation traits. 🙂 For Dazy we absolutely must acknowledge that huge hip (>34%) covered in powerful muscle, including the pants muscling. We must also praise her fantastic LS joint placement and her short loin. These traits are often seen in Quarter Horses, so it’s no surprise that Dazy should possess them.
She also has good substance, especially for her breed, and she shows proper forelimb alignment. It’s quite common to see calf-knees in QHs and pasterns that are too upright. Dazy suffers from neither of those traits.
Certainly there is plenty of power and speed potential in that haunch for a barrel racer, and there’s no worry about the steeper slope of the pelvis. Adding in the good substance and the right bone alignment through the forelimbs, the ability to stay sound when put on the forehand by speed looks well in-hand.
Dazy also has a well-constructed upper forelimb, possessing excellent length in the humerus bone (>65%) and an adequate shoulder angle. Note: in the photo she measures about 88 degrees for the shoulder angle, but she is standing with her front legs a bit too far underneath, artificially closing the angle.
She has a medium length of pastern with a short cannon bone. So far, all of that is suitable for barrel racing, and her short forearm is of no consequence for the discipline.
So far Dazy has a lot going for her for the discipline of barrel racing. Now it’s time to look at her weaknesses to see what, if any, issues they may present for her.
Starting at the front and working our way backwards, the first thing of note is the shortness of Dazy’s neck. Because the horse uses its head and neck to balance itself and rider, a short-necked horse loses some of that ability. This would become increasingly important when adding the speed and tight turning of barrel racing. The upper cervical curve is short enough that we need to call her hammer-headed. The set of the neck is just above the mid-point of the scapula, making it low to medium-low in set. This is not an ideal neck for a barrel horse.
Her back is short (approx. 43%), but her ribcage carries back really well (106%), which adds flexibility. Ideally, we’d like her to be a touch longer in her back with her ribcage carrying back this well, but as she is she should still have enough middle body flexibility to be able to negotiate the tight radius of the barrels, and the shortness of her back adds longitudinal strength.
Next we see that Dazy is clearly downhill built. This doesn’t interfere with speed, but barrel racing isn’t just about speed. The horse also needs to have the ability to collect and sit on their haunch as they come into the barrel, slide around it, and then thrust off its coiled haunch. A barrel horse benefits greatly from a closer to level build allowing easier shifting of weight from forehand for speed to haunch for collection. As much downhill build as Dazy possesses the task of sitting on her haunch just got exponentially more difficult.
Lastly we look at the hind legs. I had left this as the last to discuss in the conformation series because it’s one of the more complex aspects of the horse, and unfortunately Dazy represents a lot of that complexity. Without having to cover the entire topic here, I’ll highlight the main points as they relate to Dazy.
It’s important to know that the horse’s hind legs act as springs, unlike the forelimbs that act like pillars. The joints close absorbing and holding energy, the haunch lowers, then the spring uncoils, the joints open, and the horse dispenses energy to either propel itself forward, upward or both. For this action to occur, the hind legs have a ‘Z’ shape, some horses possessing more ‘Z’ than others. Dazy possesses quite a bit of ‘Z’ shape. When we also consider that she’s quite croup high the natural conclusion is that Dazy is over-angulated. That means her hind legs are too long for her body. Over-angulation is a fault, placing extra stresses on joints. Horses possessing this construction are more suited to dressage or gaiting.
Part of the extra ‘Z’ shape created is because Dazy is standing with her hocks partially closed. Some people are likely to call her sickle hocked, but she does not possess the other requirements of sickle hocks, namely misshapen and too small joints, as well, a sickle hocked horse cannot fully open their hock joint because the stifle is already wide open. Dazy, therefore, is not sickle hocked.
Horses with neck, shoulder, back, loin, hip or hock pain will also stand in this manner. Over-angulated horses will sometimes stand this way simply because they have no other place to put all that leg length, but also because they often have neck, shoulder, back, loin, hip or hock pain.
And sometimes it’s just an awkward stance.
For Dazy I think it’s a combination of her hind leg construction and having some discomfort.
But that’s not all…
Dazy’s hock is quite a bit forward for the little bit of joint closure that it has, in a location that is reminiscent of post-leggedness, the opposite of over-angulation. It is possible for horses to be over-angulated in part of their leg and post-legged in another.
A quick and dirty way to check for post-leggedness is to drop a plumb line from the point of buttock to the ground. If the back of the horse’s cannon bone (when perpendicular to the ground) falls in front of that line, then the horse is post-legged. If it (when perpendicular to the ground) falls behind the line then the horse is over-angulated.
In the following first photo I’ve marked the bones (note I have drawn to the thigh joint, not the point of buttock) and cannon bone as they currently are and dropped a plumb line. In the second photo I’ve attempted to show how the bones would be positioned if Dazy stood correctly behind with the back of her cannon bone falling directly on the plumb line. I acknowledge that this may not be entirely accurate, but I have made sure to keep each bone the same length. The purpose of this exercise is to help the reader see how the hind leg can change. Note that in this second scenario, Dazy’s croup would have to rise a bit to accommodate the opening of her joints.
Without going through the whole process of measuring for THL (total hind limb) length, and doing those calculations and the subsequent upper limb length and lower limb length comparisons (which will be talked about in the next conformation series article), I’m going to simply say that Dazy is over-angulated behind and that that is not the ideal construction for barrel racing.
A straighter hind leg is seen on racehorses because it creates a shorter, thrustier and quicker stride to power the horse forward. Viewing the start of races or the beginning strides of a roping horse coming out of the pen illustrates that hind leg stroke well. In a barrel horse we’d like to see that type of construction, perhaps with a slight change of bone ratio between the femur and tibia, and a lower set of hocks and stifles to accommodate the need for collection.
To summarize Dazy’s conformation for the goal of barrel racing:
There’s plenty of speed for that aspect of the task, but there’s real questions about whether or not she’s capable of effective and efficient turning around the barrels. Her ability to collect is hampered by her excessively high croup and downhill build, and while more angulation is required in dressage horses to reach high degrees of collection, the over-angulation in this case is not a collection asset. Her short neck somewhat limits her ability to balance herself and rider through quick changes of direction needed for the discipline. Being hammer-headed and with a neck set on the low end of the scale also makes collection more difficult.
I see Dazy being able to get to the barrel in a timely fashion, but struggling to shift weight rearward, sit on her haunches, and negotiate tightly around the barrel without losing valuable momentum and time. She’s more likely to use her front legs to slow and control her speed coming into a barrel, causing her head to lift, her base of neck to drop, her back to hollow and her hocks to trail. She’ll have to use her shoulder to throw herself around the barrel and as she comes out the other side, will have to use more foreleg to pull herself forward, rather than primarily propelling forward from coiled hind legs. This type of negotiation of the barrel often sees the horse going wide or knocking the barrel over, and without the hind legs coiled to push off towards the next barrel, much time is lost.
The last thing I want to address is general posture and condition. We can clearly see that Dazy is lacking in conditioning (at least when this picture taken). And certainly riding three days per week isn’t going to see her fit enough for barrel racing.
Performance horses require six day a week work with plenty of variety in workouts and turnout. While BayDemon may not be aiming for a full show schedule, it’s imperative that Dazy be fit as if she were. A speed event, such as barrel racing, requires more conditioning to prevent injury than a horse that’s simply going to do a few laps around an arena in a flat class now and again.
On the topic of posture, we can see that Dazy’s high croup and downhill build has put additional stress on her back, causing it to hollow and her abdominals to sag. That tightening of the back and weakness in the belly can cause pain and result in such things as bucking. They’ll also make engagement more difficult. As a result we see some over-development of muscling over her sacrum followed by some under-developed glutes.
In the following picture I’ve marked where this horse’s posture should be. Move what’s below the belly line up and fill in the back with it. And this isn’t an exaggeration. Dazy has low withers and they should be barely visible in her topline when she’s fit and properly conditioned.
BayDemon is on the right track with her stretching routine that she’s started. I’d recommend that a full gambit be done twice daily, seven days a week, for at least a 6-8 week period, at which time a reassessment of her posture and condition would be done to see if a reduction in frequency is warranted.
Dazy’s conformation isn’t going to change. She’s always going to be croup high, so any layoff from regular ‘correct’ work is going to see her condition return to its current state. It’s only a matter of time. Like some people, some horses have to do more throughout life to maintain than others.
I’d also suggest that training be concentrated in the area of engagement. Certainly classical dressage practices, following the training scale would be of utmost importance. Suppling exercises alone would resolve any stiffness issues to one side. I’d be inclined to turn this horse into an ‘English’ mount, meaning I’d work her in ‘English’ gaits – trot and canter, rather than jog and lope. I’d employ the use of groundpoles and cavelletti, and I’d likely also do grid jumping with a particular focus on verticals. Of course the ever awesome hill work would be in there as well. Notice I’ve made no mention of actually running barrels or doing speed work of any kind. I’d not bother doing any of that, until I’d significantly improved Dazy’s posture and ability to engage – as much as she’s physically capable of doing.
Perhaps others could offer very specifics in the way of exercises?
Finally, on the topic of bucking, it’s most prudent to eliminate any and all possible physical issues. It’s quite possible that the saddle is pinching with her current posture. Also make note that a saddle that fits her now, will not fit her in six months if the work done is correct and consistent. I’m most inclined to believe that she’s suffering some discomfort and pain in her back, and that’s the reason for the bucking.
I wish BayDemon and Dazy much luck and success going forward.