CONFORMATIONAL FLAWS FROM POOR POSTURE
In today's world
of Internet access to information there is a glut of incorrect or erroneous information
running rampant. Arm chair experts seem to be growing out of the woodwork yet
many of these people have very little actual experience or education when it comes
to equines. Horses are being mislabeled and discredited for things they are really
not deserving of.
When looking at a horse it is vital to give credence
to condition, true conformation, and realize where conformation ends and posture
begins! To be in tune with your horse one should educate oneself in such matters
because when a horse changes posture it may be telling you something
as it is in pain!
One of the most common mistakes being made is to
look at a horse and declare it is sickle hocked or cow hocked. In all actuality
these conformational flaws are not very common in today's horses, particularly
in those bred from known, registered stock. There are some exceptions to be true
because some unenlightened breeders do not tend to such matters in selection of
breeding pairs. Some breeds are also more prone to certain conformational weaknesses
than perhaps other breeds but overall today's modern horse is a pretty solid character
all be it that some are more polished and finished than others.
analyze conformation it is important to stand the horse up squarely on all four
feet before assessing it.
Keep in mind that young horses are prone
to being out of balance and not fully developed in their frame or muscles. They
may stand in very odd positions during this time.
just as in humans, do not tend to always stand with perfect posture! They slouch
and stand all at odds just as 99% of we humans do! Horses that are over trained,
ridden improperly, used with ill fitting or misplaced tack will frequently stand
in a guarded manner that can lead to a less than balanced stance. The most common
of these positions is to stand with a hollow frame, legs up under itself, or bracing
in the body any place from the neck to the hind quarters.
Here are some examples of such differences between
posture and actual conformation. The first example
is sickle hocks. The point to this conformational
flaw is that a truly sickle hocked horse CANNOT straighten
it's hind leg to a point the cannon bone runs straight
up and down. The hock joint is defective and will
not allow the leg to straighten. There is a huge difference
between that and a horse that stands up under itself
in a sickle hocked POSTURE!
HOCKS OR SICKLE HOCKED POSTURE?
This particular horse
was accused on the Internet as being sickle hocked. Clearly he is not yet he is
standing sickle hocked in one photo. Were this horse mine ( he was at one time)
I would look at that posture and recognize he was either in discomfort or he was
not conditioned properly. To accuse him of being sickle hocked may prevent him
from being properly diagnosed and treated for his discomfort.
The horse in this example is Foxvangen's Captain
Midnight who has been accused on some Internet chat
lists as being sickle hocked. As anyone can clearly
see he is not, however his stance in one shot shows
sickle hocked posture. That sort of posture
often signifies discomfort or pain and should be taken
Captain Midnight at the age of 2 months
clearly is able to straighten his hock which proves he was not born with a defective
Captain Midnight at age
two clearly standing up square on his hind legs with
the cannon bones straight and perpendicular to the
ground... clearly not sickle hocked though grossly
Midnight standing in sickle hocked posture with his front legs up under him. This
posture is often an indication of guarding against pain or discomfort and should
be taken seriously. Most generally horses with this posture are sore in the back
This posture can be caused
by a saddle that does not fit the shoulders properly,
a saddle placed as this one appears to be, too far
up on the shoulder blades, or from over training particularly
in the area of circling which causes the bars of the
saddle to dig into the shoulders, or from repeated
quick stops and starts. It can also be caused from
not warming up and cooling down a horse when put to
horses are sore in the shoulders they frequently shift their weight to the hind
quarters. Since they are not supposed to carry more than 40% of their weight on
the hind quarters this can lead to muscle spasms in the back, haunch and soreness
to the hocks. The result is often this posture. We see this a lot in Quarter Horses
that are worked for reining and/or cutting with repetitious work that does not
allow the body to stretch and relieve cramped muscles.
Midnight under saddle clearly showing the hind leg can straighten to a perpendicular
angle. Riding horses fully collected all the time can cause cramping and muscle
spasms because it is an unnatural posture for a horse. Horses need to be built
up slowly to that collection. MANY dressage horses become sore and develop suspensory
ligament damage, fused spines and muscle spasms from constantly being worked in
a rounded frame without relief or time to stretch out to a more normal posture.
The result can be suspensory ligament break down, fused spines, stiff necks and
A good rule
of thumb is everything in moderation. If you work a horse rounded, give equal
time for him to flex his muscles and relax out of the unnatural posture in order
to keep his body from becoming sore. That does not mean to ride hollow, there
are degrees of collection. The important thing is to allow the horse to stretch
and flex ...to go back to a natural frame frequently.
HOCKS OR COW HOCKED POSTURE?
Often times one will hear someone claim a horse
is cow hocked. You know the stance where the hocks
nearly meet in back with the feet spread farther apart
than the hocks? Or the toes pointing out and the hocks
this day and age there are a number of horses with slight deviations to the hind
legs but really severe cowhocks are no longer a common occurrence. Cow hocked
posture, however, is very common. How does one tell the difference?
if a horse is stood up square with it's weight evenly distributed between the
four feet, with the cannon bones running straight up and down on all four legs,
then the true conformation of the horse can be seen.
developed horses will brace in the hind legs for balance when they are either
in the developmental stage or simply out of condition. But if when stood up square
those legs are straight, then the horse is not cow hocked, he is merely standing
with poor posture.
Ideally when a horse stands up square, when looked
at from behind one can draw a line from the point of buttock to the ground and
that line should bisect the leg. Any deviation from that may indicate a slight
conformational deviation but it may also indicate a youngster who has not developed
enough muscle mass between the hind legs as yet to hold it's legs straight.
one were to lift the tail of the horse and see the inner muscling of the haunch,
it may make things more clear. If that muscling is slight or lacks fullness to
it, then there is not much muscle to help the tendons and bones maintain a proper
Actual cow hocks are caused by a deviation in the bones
and joints of the hind end assembly. Generally speaking the deviation begins at
the hip. If a horse is mature, well nourished and well developed and yet still
shows a deviation in this area then he may well be called cow hocked to some degree.
In most cases this is not what happens. In most cases where a horse appears cow
hocked he is either grossly out of condition, under developed or bracing against
some discomfort caused by over exertion or lack of proper conditioning.
NARROW CHESTED and NARROW BASED HORSES.
In today's world where the average person judges
what a horse should look like by comparing them with
a Quarter Horse we hear a lot about narrow chested
horses and narrow based horses. Once again, most things
are relevant. It depends upon what a person is expecting
to see to large degree and may not entirely describe
the subject horse at all.
There is a vast difference in utility between
wide bulging chests and deep sinewy chests. Extremely broad, flat bottomed chests
with deep rounded muscling are not meant for long distance work. That is a sprinting
Leaner chests with long muscling running into
the forearm and less muscle depth are built for enduring
speed and movement. To a person used to looking at
a stocky Quarter Horse the chest of an Arabian or
in some cases a Thoroughbred may look narrow! In all
actuality the shape and size of the chest ought to
represent the type of action it was bred most to perform.
Though not skinny she
was nutritionally deficient and under developed causing
her to be far narrower than she was meant to be and
also to stand with less than optimum posture.
Once again, horses that are out of condition,
ill fed, or soft may stand narrow when they are in
fact not. As an example, I purchased a mare as a five
year old that was so narrow in front my doubled fist
rubbed on both front legs when I placed my fist between
her legs. This mare was not starved or over worked
but she was under developed due to lack of nutrition.
There is a vast difference between being under fed
and under nourished. Even many fat horses are under
Within 5 months of my purchase of that mare her
chest developed and broadened until it took THREE
fists to span the space between the front legs. Nourishment
and condition made the difference in her development.She
is not built for long movement, she is built for quick
transitions and spurts of speed.
Five months later she
was bulked up and far broader due to proper nutrition.
Her stance is still not real good but that is partially
due to the handler.
Had one seen
her in her initial state they would very likely have termed her narrow chested
when nothing could be farther from the truth.
It pays to fully understand
what it is one is looking at.
The day she was purchased
she was real rough looking with a poor top line.
Even though she was not ribby or starved for
calories, she was starving for nutrition!
Narrow based horses are those
who are narrower where their feet touch the ground than they are where the legs
extend from the chest . Once again many times this is caused from under development
or lack of conditioning of the horse.
In some cases poor farrier work can also cause
a horse to stand narrow at the base. If the feet are
not level it can force the posture of the horse to
gravitate inward toward one another.
A few months later she
came into bloom which improved her posture and her
top line. She required work to shape the neck due
to the former owner constantly pulling on her mouth.
Eventually she became a supple, shapely mare.
Young horses often appear narrow at the base due
to lack of muscle mass development.
At 13 years of age, and
8 months pregnant in scorching summer heat, you can
clearly see her development has improved her top line,
she is still in fit condition and her posture is good.
Horses that are truly narrow at the base frequently
lack sufficient muscling in the forearm to maintain and stabilize the posture
of the leg.
There is a difference between a true ewe neck
and a low set neck. Low set necks often mar the smooth
top line between the withers and neck with the withers
appearing higher than the neck.
A ewe shaped neck is one that when held out forms
a downward arch with the head and withers being higher than the middle of the
There are few true ewe necked horses in pedigreed horses today.
There are a number of low set necked horses particularly in breeds such as the
Quarter Horse, Paint, and Appaloosa.
Horses that are under weight, under nourished
or who have suffered a neck injury requiring adjustment
may appear ewe necked. Horses who are ridden improperly
so they brace in the neck can over develop the under
muscles of the neck to an exaggerated degree which
tends to make the neck appear pulled down in the middle.
A horse's head weighs an average of 50 to 85 pounds.
If the neck is not kept in condition and well muscled
it is necessary for that horse to brace in the neck
in order to hold it's head up. Just as an example,
try picking up a gallon of milk and hold it out at
arm's length for 20 minutes without lowering the arm.
After just a few short minutes it becomes necessary
to lock the elbow and slightly bend the elbow in order
to hold the 8 pound gallon of milk aloft. That same
scenario applies to a horse's neck.
Horses ridden in false collection where the rider pulls the
horses mouth back to collect rather than driving the hind quarters forward, will
often cause the neck to flatten and/or ewe.
Here is a mare we purchased
that came to us half starved and out of condition. People who came to see her
in those first few weeks wrinkled up their nose and declared her to be ewe necked.
Those same people were talking a totally different tune however when a few short
months later she looked as she does today with a lovely arched neck!
the course of nearly five decades of reclaiming horses the necks have been the
most common part of the horse that is typically out of alignment and condition
and most times that is due to human error. Necks and hind quarters are particularly
subject to injury due to poor riding skills.
and declared ewe necked this mare was simply bracing to hold up her head.
she was in condition her neck reshaped to a lovely arch. She was 8 months pregnant
in this photo so she appears fat but again,her neck is actually quite lovely.
is vital that people do not jump to conclusions based upon one or two photos.
One also should bear in mind that photographic angles can distort the appearance
of things due to photo's being only one dimensional.
In assessing conformation,
if the animal is not standing up squarely with photos
taken from direct view rather than angled views, it
is rather impossible to get a clear picture of what
truly is before one.
Also in this day and age
there are many people who either from ignorance or
intent put out erroneous information on the internet.
There are those who will jump to discredit others
and many who will follow any leader. This sort of
"pack" behavior is rather unenlightened.
The existence of such mentality illustrates the human
race as a whole is not so far removed from our prehistoric
is important that people do their own investigations when questions arise rather
than simply joining the "gang" as it were. Inform yourself by study
and observation rather than simply taking someone's word.
are so many resources available today it is easy to research nearly any subject
from your own computer. Be careful not to pass judgment on anything until you
have done your homework!