Conformation And The Breeder
by Dr. Robert Baird
Part III Part I Part II Part IV
- four evenly spaced beats;
- no suspension (i.e. all four feet off the ground);
- relaxation of the torso, with straight alignment of the spine from poll to tail;
- freedom and suppleness in the loin;
- long strides, with the hind limbs swinging forward freely from the hips;
- the hooves strike the ground in a flat-footed manner;
- the neck is relaxed, the head stretched forward and down;
- the muzzle and head nod slightly with each step;
- the hind limbs form a distinct, inverted V;
- a regular V is formed between a fore and hind limb - the longer it remains visible, the better the walk;
- the hind limb joints must be visibly flexible - the leg should not swing stiffly from the hip joint.
- two beats per stride;
- the best trot is seen in a horse with a visibly supple loin;
- the lumbar span coils between each trot beat during suspension;
- the stride is lengthened by the croup and pelvis moving down and forward;
- the reaching hind leg should look as though the toe is trying to catch in the girth;
- suspension is generated by the hind limbs;
- there must be definite periods of suspension between trot beats;
- cadence is the combination of rhythm and suspension.
- three beats per canter stride;
- three hoof strikes, followed by a long period of suspension;
- there should be a large, inverted V between both hind legs at each stride;
- the contracting hind leg stays on the ground for a maximum time;
- the reaching hind leg swings forward freely, with noticeable bending of the joints;
- the root of the neck, withers and shoulders are visibly raised with each stride, and the head and neck stretch forward and down;
- a horse with a rigid torso, or one that does not coil the loins, has a two beat tempo and does not canter.
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Part IV Part I Part II Part III
In emphasizing the importance of the back, Dr. Bennett compares a horse to an automobile. The front legs are the wheels and suspension; the back is the transmission; and the hindquarters are the motor. The car may run for a time on flat tires with broken suspension. It may even go for a while with a grossly under-powered engine. But without a transmission it is useless.
She also talks about muscle tone, and how it varies with breed. Muscle tone is a muscles response to a stimulus. It is slowest with cold blooded horses; highest with full bloods; and medium to low with warmbloods, which are considered more suited to dressage. However, a higher degree of neuromuscular response may be desirable in upper level jumpers and eventers.
The breeder must develop the ability to observe, not only the individual parts, but also how harmoniously they fit together. He must not confine his observations to standing conformation alone, but must also see the horse in motion.
The sport horse breeders challenge is to breed the best available for a specific purpose, and to retain for breeding only those horses that meet a standard of acceptable conformation.
Culling is a word which is often misused, and is not necessarily an indication of a poor horse. It indicates only that the horse is not considered suitable to be bred for a specific purpose.
Culled horses may excel as sport horses, while not being suitable for breeding. For example, a small mare may produce small offspring which may be very good sport horses; or a horse with a long, weak back, but with good legs and a good temperament, may give a smooth ride and be suitable for the pleasure rider. However, it will be difficult to train for activities requiring collection.
The judges challenge is to study the standing horse carefully, and forecast, with accuracy, how he will move. If he has an opportunity to see the horse move, then his task is simplified significantly. None of us will be correct all of the time, but, with practice, all of us should be accurate most of the time.
A word of caution. Although breeders are enchanted by a specific breed, and often entranced by a pedigree, these preferences must not be allowed to cloud the vision when looking at a horse. It will, in fact, be more challenging not to know the breed, the bloodlines or the breeder, until after the horse has been inspected and a judgment made.
- We are attempting to breed horses at least as good as their parents. However, the statistical chance of doing so is only 50%.
- Pedigree is important, but less so than the horse we see. What you see is what you get.
- The breeders ability to produce a good, athletic horse is largely dependent on the ability to analyze conformation correctly; to prioritize strengths and weaknesses; and to decide which faults are significant and which may be acceptable.
- The single most important structural element is the back at the coupling, the lumbo-sacral joint.
- The final assessment must be made by looking at the horse as a whole.
- We are trying to breed horses that look good, have good skeletal and muscular development, good physiology, are fertile, which move well, can carry weight and stay sound.
- We want a horse that is sane, safe, supple, sound and saleable.
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The Gymnasium of the Horse - Gustav Steinbrecht (1888)
(Xenophon Press, 1995) Translated by Helen Gibble
Principles of Conformation Analysis - Dr. Deb Bennett (Equus , 1991)
Equitation - Jean Froissard (Wilshire Book Co., 1971)
A History of Horsemanship - C.C. Trench (Doubleday, 1970)
Complete Training of Horse and Rider - Alois Podhajsky (Doubleday, 1967)
Horsemanship - Waldemar Seunig (Doubleday, 1956)
Anatomy of the Horse - George Stubbs (Bracken Books, 1990)
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Robert Baird, M.D.
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First Edition 1997