The American Quarter Horse show industry.
Halter horses in particular, are horses that are shown in hand, not under saddle.
They are judged entirely on the ‘perfect’ conformation of the American Quarter Horse which gives rise to their breeding stock suitability.
Halter classes are usually grouped according to breed, age and sex.
They portray an image of what the breed ‘should’ look like and are judged accordingly. The ideal Halter horse should possess a “bright pretty eye”, according to Bambi Thomas, judge and veteran competitor.
A fine neck and narrow throatlatch often brought about by the use of a neck sweat.
Lots of shoulder definition, long and sloping and a broad chest are preferred, a short back with a deep girth.
Their hindquarters must be strong, stocky and square, thick with muscle.
A strong loin and coupling is desired along with a well-defined stifle.
Halter classes require the horse and handler to enter the ring, move through a series of gaits, maneuvers and patterns, while being judged on performance, responsiveness and physical physique.
Today, the American Quarter Horse is the most popular breed in the United States and claimed to be the world’s fastest athlete. Throughout time and history, horse people have an idea of what is beautiful, which can often override functional.
Today’s American Quarter Horse, for example, has changed drastically from the functional animal that it was to what we see today.
In the 1800’s, Quarter Horses were a ranchers’ meal ticket, they were utilized for ranching and cattle work.
Those animals were built for quick speeds, with lasting stamina, fast, agile turns and stops.
Their short backs, stocky hindquarters and strong stifles made these maneuvers possible.
The qualities seen on the Quarter Horses today have risen from years of breeding quality sound, strong and stoic animals.
However, yesterday’s functional animal seems to have given way to the aesthetically pleasing and in many cases dysfunctional horse seen in show rings around the world today. Upon initial evaluation of any horse, there are certain physical attributes that are noted.
Ninety percent of the horses’ conformation is the product of their bone structure.
This is why there are such variations in appearance from breed to breed.
We must have a full understanding of how a horse should be constructed ‘correctly’ for each discipline.
Every horse has the same number of bones, yet the proportions alter to varying degrees, which in turn affects performance.
When assessing a horses’ conformation, we are primarily looking at the length and angles of boney structures, and secondarily, the muscle formation and tonicity, conditioning and development. There are many factors that alter throughout a horses’ lifetime.
Muscles build and develop tonus, physical fitness levels alter according to an exercise regime, training levels increase, and the general overall health of the animal changes.
The one thing throughout a horses’ life that remains consistent is its conformation, barring the minor alterations that can occur due to human intervention, such as, ‘corrective shoeing’.
In many cases, conformation is inherited from the sire and dam.
Breeding a mare with poor leg conformation could increase the likelihood of having offspring possessing less than desirable leg conformation also.
Phenotype, the physical, visual and testable body is dictated by the genotype of the animal.
It must also be noted that no amount of ‘good blood’ can alter the efficiency of a horse if it is conformationally flawed for a specific discipline. “Conformation is a relationship of form to function”, stated Byron Good, Michigan State University.
The desired conformation changes according to breed and discipline.
What a dressage rider looks for in a functional Prix St.
George horse differs entirely from what a hunter/jumper rider looks for in their potential mount.
Often it is a misconception that a horses’ conformation will ensure that he will perform well or move beautifully.
Quite often the exact opposite occurs.
Seattle Slew, in 1977 won the Triple Crown with his records still undefeated, was born with crooked, offset legs and not considered on par with other racehorses. Hype and money are two very serious factors that have altered how we view horses.
Hype, it changes from year to year.
A precedent set by the top professionals and carried down to the average rider.
Hype affects how we breed our horses, wanting our foals to look a certain way.
Money drives hype. Quarter Horses needed a small, neat foot, a huge muscular body and petite cannon bones in order to compete at high levels against the elite of the industry.
Top riders were winning with horses that possessed these physical features, which initiated a certain ‘look’ when it came to breeding for show ring potential.
Breeding horses’ with these qualities produced a massive amount of non-sustainable animals, unsound and unfit for riding.
In 1994, Hoof and Lameness wrote an article based on farrier work at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress held annually in Colombus, Ohio.
It was noted that the Quarter Horses are no longer the ‘vanilla’ of the shoeing business.
It was once thought that this breed in particular were straight-forward, simple feet to assess, but when we started changing the dynamics of the Quarter Horse hoof, it was necessary to amp up the maintenance that soon became apparent.
A small hoof predisposes the animal to navicular syndrome.
The imbalanced body mass to hoof ratio causes more pressure applied to the deep digital flexor tendon attachment on the navicular bone, potentially creating navicular syndrome.
Along with small feet, tiny cannons became a trend.
For soundness, a horse requires seven inches of bone per one thousand pounds of body weight.
With the trend wanting more body mass and finer boned animals, it’s not difficult to determine the outcome of this combination. Conformation is in the eye of the beholder, and realistically, there are and never will be a perfectly conformed horse.
If by chance a horse with ‘perfect’ conformation is found, the next question would be, how functional and sustainable is that individual animal.
A Barbie doll, possessing classically attractive features that are pleasing to the eye, is physically not designed to function.
No actual human would be able to function as a real life Barbie doll, what made us think that adapting horses to become a perfectly conformed animal was ever a good idea.
Once we engrain the idea that function overrides aesthetically pleasing conformation, and breed our horses accordingly, it will be then that we have the physically sustainable animals we once had. Citation: www.horse-and-horse-information.com www.hoofcare.com/archives/quarter horse shoeing.html www.recoveryeq.com/navicular pro.htm www.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halter (horse show) www.aqha.com
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