It’s important to remember the difference between conformation and posture when evaluating your horse. Conformation is the skeletal make up of your horse. For instance if your horse is butt high (butt is higher than the withers) that is a conformation detail that you must take into consideration. If your horse is “ewe” necked that is a posture problem. When you are dealing with conformation situations there isn’t much you can do effect a change except understand what exercises you and your horse can do to help him cope with those. When you are dealing with a posture issue there is a lot you can do to effect a change in your horse and help them to become more athletic!
I believe it’s very important to know and understand your horse’s weaknesses so that you can put together a program that will build up those weaknesses. If you don’t understand your horse’s conformation versus posture to start with it’s very likely that you will do something to harm your horse while training, playing and riding. To help you understand your horse’s conformation and posture it’s very helpful to take a few good pictures. I take mine from the side, with billy standing on relatively flat ground. Stand just behind the drive line (withers). Doing this will ensure that you don’t make your horse’s head and neck appear larger (standing in front of the drive line) or his butt look bigger (standing too far behind the drive line). Take a photo from both sides, one from the front and one from the back. We will discuss these photos in the next post.
Below is a drawing of a horse that has many conformation and posture problems.
Conformation problems would be:
- Large head
- Back at the knee
- Little heart and lung room
- Tied in below the knee
- Sickle hocks
It would be important for the soundness of your horse that you understand these issues if your horse has any of them. For instance you would not want to be three day eventing a horse that has sickle hocks or is back at the knee. They would not stay sound. A horse with sickle hocks should not be a cutting or reining horse as they would not stand up under the pressure.
Posture problems in this horse are:
- Ewe neck
- Straight shoulder
- Weak second thigh
- Lack of clearance between wing of atlas and mandible
These issues are ones that can be corrected with the right training, gymnastic program. If you teach your horse to carry itself properly you will see great changes in your horse!
The above picture was taken just after I brought Billy home. Now remember that I was gifted Billy by his breeder because she had been told that he was ugly. She herself told me that he had a straight shoulder, a hammer head and ewe neck. She was as up front and honest about his “faults” as she could be. I admire that! I knew that these issues were actually posture issues. (Except for the large head, but he was a yearling and I could see that he was going to grow into that head! Besides, my mom always told me, “You can’t ride a horse’s head.” So the size of a horse’s head has never been an issue for me. I just don’t care!) With a good gymnastic training program I was confident that I could change these “faults.”
Now onto the “perfect” horse. These are also desirable traits for any horse to have. Things to strive for in your training program.
I believe that Billy has a bit of a long back. This will be important to note so that I can compensate for that in my training and riding. Saddle fit will play a big role in helping his back be as strong as it can be. As you can see from the above before picture and this after one, with the right gymnastic exercises I was able to change his neck from a ewe neck, or a bad banana, to a well muscled neck, or a good banana. As we played with using the top line correctly his shoulder has actually moved into a more laid back position. When we start riding and I am able to help him move more from his hind end, his shoulder will move even more, thereby moving his withers back as well! Also when I can collect him more from his hind end, his croup will strengthen and lower as well, which will help his back get stronger and appear to shorten.
Here is a drawing of an uphill build versus a down hill build.
Some horse breeds are more prone to being built downhill such as Quarter horses. Something to consider when thinking about what it is that you want your horse to do, is that the traditional Quarter horse that is built down hill would not be a great candidate for a dressage horse. Not that he couldn’t benefit from the classical dressage movements. If you understand that your horse is built this way, you won’t expect great collection from the hind end (thereby elevating the front end- doing so for a down hill built horse is very difficult and pushing him into that position could injure him) because it’s much harder for a butt high horse to gather it’s hind end underneath itself. Usually a horse that is butt high also has a longer back. Long backed horses also have a harder time tucking their hind ends. However, with the proper exercises this can be overcome! Don’t lose hope, just study and understand your horse’s body so you can help him overcome some of these issues.
Here is a photo of a 3 year old Quarter horse filly. She shows a more extreme version of butt high.
And a Quarter horse stallion, fully mature that shows a less extreme version of being butt high. Though he is butt high none the less!
Young horses will often go through growth spurts which causes them to appear butt high for a little while. Don’t be alarmed as they will even out as they grow…
Billy as a long yearling. Here he was going through quite a growth spurt. In the first couple months that I owned him he grew 6 inches! That is a lot for a young horse. So for a bit he was butt high.
A couple of books that I HIGHLY recommend to help understand the horse’s skeletal make up, musculoskeletal make up and how that all works together when the horse is moving are:
How Your Horse Moves by Gillian Higgins
Horse Anatomy for Performance by Gillian Higgins
These books will not only help you understand your horse on a deeper level, but they will help you understand saddle fit!