This short video has been circulating for a while, but if anyone is still regularly mounting their horse from the ground let it serve as a reminder why you shouldn’t be, unless absolutely necessary. In general I’ve seen English riders utilize a mounting block considerably more frequently than Western riders. And for those who like to make excuses, I’ve mounted horses from every fence, boulder, tree stump and the like known to man.
The trot is a two-beat, diagonal leg pair gait with a period of suspension. Its the most energy efficient gait for the horse to cover ground. The diagonal pair of feet should land at the same time and the horse’s legs should create two equal triangles between the front legs and the hind legs and a third triangle upside down under mid-body. Impurity in the trot can be caused by poor conformation, soreness, injury, muscle tension, bad training techniques, tack that doesn’t fit, rider imbalances etc…
This is a pretty good extended trot for this horse, showing the three trotting triangles. (I love that the person longeing the horse has her back turned.)
The stride length of the hind legs is identical to that of the front legs. The hind foot is going to land a fraction before the front foot. There is some tightness through the loin and shoulder; the loin should be full and round, the front leg straighter via the knee further back. The tightness causes the near miss between the two feet. If the horse engaged more (rather than swinging the legs a bit like a leg mover vs a back mover), the back would round, the haunch would lower (it’s a bit in the air here), weight would be transferred rearward, and the front end would lift (and loosen). All that would change the timing of the trot and give the horse more room for the deeper hind leg step that would result, without the close call.
This is a very nice extended trot for a draft (or draft cross). As discussed in the conformation series, typical first gear gearing (that one would expect this horse to have) creates a shorter stride behind, but this guy is working it. Unfortunately the photo is taken at an angle so we can’t get a clear picture of the haunch. The angle also distorts the measurements of the hind and front stride length. It appears as if the horse has taken a way bigger stride behind than in front. Some of this difference has to do with the tight extensors. The left forearm is in front of the vertical and there’s more bend in the knee than with the first horse. Less tightness would bring the knee back and straighten the leg creating a bigger front leg stride and triangle.
The draft horse has reached further forward with the right front than the first horse. Compare where the foot is in relationship to the horses’ noses. (Both horses have equally short necks, so this isn’t a case of the nose being further out on one horse. Both horses also are exhibiting equal shoulder slopes, so it also isn’t a case of a difference in potential stride swing from the shoulder. What differs are the shoulder angles, the draft is 105 degrees while the other grey is 98 degrees; undoubtedly the draft carries a more open resting shoulder angle. This connects back to previous discussions about the importance of the humerus bone and shoulder angle and its affect on stride.
Other distortion in the photo makes it look like the draft has stepped up under his wither, while the first horse only stepped to mid back. Note that some of this has to do with the draft horse being much shorter bodied.
There is a touch of impurity in the timing of the gait of the draft with the right hind toe still touching the ground while the front is long gone off the ground and the left hind foot about to land before the right front, but I’m just not going to fault this big horse for using his haunch this well. Some stretching and suppling work of the front end would help even out the gait.
And now let’s look at what Dressage rewards as an extended trot.
There is so much wrong here, that I’m not even sure where to start.
1) Clearly a much shorter step behind than in front.
2) The hock of the landed leg is pushing off from behind the horse’s point of buttocks rather than from under the horse’s hip.
3) Horse heavily on its forehand as indicated by the much deeper flexing of the fetlock on the right front than on the left hind.
4) Right hind leg is going to land barely in front of the point of hip, when it should be landing under the rider’s seat.
Complete gait impurity.
In this photo we have many of the same traits but with the added insult of a ‘toe flick’ via a hyper extended leg.
Under the circumstances, this horse is doing a decent job of a lower level working trot.
The horse is taking a smaller step behind than in front. Why? Notice the lovely tubular complexus muscle in his neck and that it extends right into his shoulder; he’s lifting his base of neck nicely here, lifting his wither. He’s also lifted his back some, but there is tightness and angularity to his loin, which is also a bit shallow, and some angularity to the haunch muscling. Looking at his hind leg conformation we see that he clearly has a femur shorter than his tibia. What’s happened is two fold; the short femur naturally limits the length of stride and the horse has stressed his loin at some point, which further blocks the leg from swinging forward. Release the loin and the horse could swing the hind leg more freely forward, creating more engagement, blah, blah, blah.
Here’s another working trot, with the horse taking a bigger step behind than in front.
We have the same flat, tight loin and lack of fullness to the rump. The bigger step behind on this horse is (partly) the result of being over angulated behind, not from being super engaged. We have a shorter femur to tibia, but the femur is long. This is a case where the horse often likely over strides (steps beyond the front footfalls), but isn’t actually engaged. It’s why when someone says their horse ‘tracks up’ it doesn’t always mean the horse is moving well, or when people instruct that a horse should ‘track up’ and doesn’t, it’s not necessarily an indication the horse isn’t engaged. It’s all relative and dependent on conformation AND use of the body in the moment.
Most disturbing in this photo is the atrocious neck usage and muscling. This is a horse that has been trained and ridden ignorantly. At the very least this horse has a low neck set, but I suspect she’s? ewe-necked. She’s been ridden in some sort of restraining apparatus; martingale, probably draw reins, likely both. While I believe the previous horse could use with a touch more release of the hand, it’s no contest which one we should be aiming for. As a result of this heavy handed training and riding, this horse has been blocked from freely striding in front, locked onto its forehand (right front still on the ground while left hind off the ground, and right hind going to land before right front leaves the ground), and killed the suspension of the gait.
In this photo we have a horse whose trot has been severely manipulated by training and riding to meet a show class ‘look’. And not in a good way.
While it’s clear the front end is taking a bigger stride than the hind end, both ends have been severely shortened by bad training and riding, so much so that the horse doesn’t close the middle triangle of the trot (and would so naturally if allowed). We finally have a horse that has a femur at least as long as its tibia, what we want in the riding horse to create the potential for a deeper step behind. Problematic conformation for this horse is a natural downhill build (which has been encouraged and increased) and a low set neck. Despite those, there’s no reason for this horse to be moving this poorly (planted on its forehand – which its trying real hard to get off of – and lacking suspension – which it naturally has in spades) except that his people are ignorant. Note that the lowering of the head here is not the result of lifting the base of neck (again, the horse is trying real hard to do it right). This is a ‘putting my head down to graze’ posture.
Not to exclude our Western readers…
A bigger stride in front than back due to the horse being on its forehand (downhill build), but most of what’s going on in this photo is conformation related. This horse is post-legged and has a closed shoulder angle giving it a short-stride back and front with little joint articulation, and no suspension. I’m not disappointed in how it’s being ridden – probably the least offensive WP horse I’ve seen in a long time – but rather in the traits that have been perpetuated by breeders.
In this photo by Jennifer Buxton, we have a WP horse with more purity to its jog and almost a period of suspension. Still a bit on its forehand, it’s not bad given the downhill build and post-leggedness. This horse is using itself pretty well under the circumstances. Note the muscle contraction line of the abdominals. There’s a very faint outline of the tubular complexus muscle from lifting the base of neck. It would develop and be more prominent if the horse was more willing to seek contact and wasn’t so tense in the jaw and poll. I’m left with the impression that the horse was started half right and then rushed/forced (put your head HERE) to be finished for the show ring.
Our sample set of horses contained QH’s, a Paint, TB and Arabian, all breeds of horses used by many people as riding mounts. Indeed, according to this link they represent four of the five most popular breeds in the world.
It may then come as a surprise when I say that none of our sample horses possess true ‘riding’ conformation; that is conformation that allows the horse to easily engage so that it can protect against the weight of a rider and the stresses of various riding disciplines on its body.
Part of the problem is that QH’s, TB’s and Arabians are all used as racehorses, many Paints contain QH blood, and QH’s, Paints and Arabians have show halter classes, all of which take the horse away from riding type conformation. We then have breeders who make bad choices and buyers who don’t know any better. Added to the mix is the generosity of the horse that allows people to think the horse is fine because it plugs along day after day without loud complaint.
If our six sample horses were the last on Earth, which one should we pick as our riding horse? In reverse order:
6. Paint mare:
Classify this one as Fugly. It’s a committee result, each member with a different idea and direction in mind – none of them good choices. The scapula is just too long, putting the point of shoulder and elbow too low particularly in comparison to the hind end, which gives the impression of it being stuck up in the air. The amount of engagement required to get the weight off this front end is not something this horse is capable of doing. The hip is too short, the loin too weak, and the gaskin too long for this horse to overcome. The bull neck and hammer-headedness just add insult. Put a kiddie saddle on this one and walk it around in circles, anything more is asking for trouble.
5. Arabian stallion:
This should be a gelding. Some are going to be fooled by this individual and think he’s a good riding prospect. He’s not. While he does possess some outstanding riding features; well-structured neck set high on a laidback shoulder, well-placed LS joint and what appears a great head for carrying a bit, there’s no chance this horse can engage and carry himself on his haunch. The table top croup, overly straight hind legs, too long gaskin and high hock see to that. And since he won’t be able to shift much weight rearward it means he’ll be living on that right front leg with its obvious crookedeness and clubbed foot.
Here is this stallion’s pedigree chocked full of big name horses.
In this ad you’ll find a video link. Notice twisting hocks at the walk, wide and short striding behind, the pogoing hocks that trail, toe stubbing, and constant clamped, hollow back.
4. Roan QH gelding:
Terrible farrier work aside, there’s just no way around the post-leggedness. It’s too serious a fault (that there’s no reason to discuss anything else) and it shows already in his hocks.
3. Grey QH gelding:
This horse isn’t any more suitable than the others. He gains his position by having some potential to engage, but the longer loin, downhill build and low set neck is going to seriously impede his ability to shift weight rearward. His current owner/trainer/rider hasn’t succeeded in getting him off his forehand.
2. QH stallion:
I like this horse. But not as a ‘riding’ mount. Getting him off his forehand remains a hard task. He’s strong enough behind to do it with exceptional training and riding. And brute strength. He’s very consistantly built for power and speed.
No surprise that this horse has done well as a roping horse. Here’s his website.
And a video of him in competition. (2nd go around)
1. TB gelding:
Wins by default? Pretty much. Not fast, not powerful, but level enough with a really good loin coupling that should allow a bit of engagement. While he lacks substance, his joints are clean. His feet look better than many of his breed. With some solid training he’d do okay as a low level horse for local or fair circuit. The straighter hind leg will help with jumping, but he’s only going to have average jumping form; humerus not vertical enough and knee too high. One thing that will have to be addressed right off is the digestive upset. When easily seen ribs are paired with a bloated or distended belly, there’s a problem.