Balance is important, regardless of the horse's intended use--whether the horse is a performance horse or a halter horse. I look for a horse with a smooth topline and proportionate lengths to the neck, back, and hip.
I want to see that his neck is long and ties in well to his shoulder on top and underneath.
I'll look at how level he is, and that he isn't too high behind, whether his hocks and knees are on the same plane, and if he has a nice angle to his pasterns.
To place this group of performance-bred colts, I've looked at their balance and how it affects their ability to move correctly, with elevation and impulsion. I'll comment on topline, neck and back length, hock set, and the angles that you want to see in the shoulder and pasterns.
So take a look at the three yearlings at right and place them in your order of preference. Then click "Next" below to find out how I placed them.
First: Colt A
I think this horse exhibits the most balance and the smoothest topline of the three. He's more upright in his withers and shoulder, which tells me he's going to be able to have more lift in his shoulder and front end. He's cute-headed, with a nice aesthetic overall. His eye is kind, and he looks like he'd be an easy horse to work with.
He has a nice neck that comes out of his shoulder and withers flat and ties in nicely with the shoulder. That tells me that he'll be able to use his neck better for balance and will keep his topline level as he moves. I like the angle to his shoulder--it shows that he'll be able to move with a smooth full stride and should have no problem elevating his shoulders.
He's short backed. If you look at the length of his neck, his back and his croup, you'll see they're proportionately similar,which contributes to his balance and the smoothness of his topline. His short back indicates he'll be able to use and round his back athletically.
I really like the set of his hocks. If you compare them with the other two horses, his are a little straighter, and that'll help him to reach underneath himself and work off his hindquarters more efficiently. His hocks and knees appear to be more on the same plane, which goes back to a level topline--his hips and withers are level, and so are his knees and hocks. Again, he'll be better able to use his hindquarters and push himself better from behind. I like the length and ample angle of his pasterns. Because I see a nice slope to the pasterns, I know he's not going to have a lot of concussion on his legs and will move smoothly.
He's a nice performance prospect, and should do well in Western pleasure or Western riding and other all around pattern events.
Second: Colt B
This horse is very attractive, with quality parts, but there are just a few areas where I'd place the first horse above him. He doesn't have quite the same balance. He's lower in front than behind--if you draw an imaginary line from the top of his hip to his withers, you can see he's a little hip high, which may make it harder for him to balance and elevate his shoulders, and use his hindquarters underneath him for balance. I like his head, and his throatlatch looks clean, which should make it easier for him to flex at the poll.
He has a smooth topline and looks good over his croup and back, which tells me most of his angles should be correct. I like how his hip ties in to his gaskin. He looks like he has a little more muscling there than the third-place horse, although he ties into the gaskin lower than the horse I placed first. But his hip looks stronger than the third-place horse. The strength and muscling in his hip and gaskin tell me he should move with good impulsion and use his hindquarters well. He should work well as a reiner or stock-type horse.
Third: Colt C
Overall, this horse looks a little more compact. If you compare him from nose to tail, with the first- and second-place horses, you can see that he's shorter through the neck and over the hip and the croup. He may move with a shorter, quicker, choppier stride than the other two horses. He has a smooth topline but just gives an overall "compact" downhill impression. He's a little thicker through the throatlatch, which may make it harder for him to flex at the poll, and he's quite a bit hip-high. He'll have a harder time elevating his front end and engaging his hindquarters for the impulsion I like to see in a performance horse.
If you look at the angle of his shoulder and pasterns, you'll see they're straighter and don't have the angle the first two horses had. You want to see a little more angle in the pasterns; he's probably going to move with more concussion to his legs on the front end, which makes for a ride that isn't as smooth as the first two horses, and may even put him at increased risk for leg soreness. If you draw an imaginary line from his hocks across his knees, you can see that his hocks are quite a bit higher--which means he'd have a harder time achieving balance and self-carriage.
Overall, he lacks the balance of the first two colts, still he appears fairly athletic and should be able to make a nice performance horse.
Steve Heckaman is a National Snaffle Bit Association past president, who was inducted
into the organization's hall of fame in 2001. He's at the top of his game in Western pleasure
and has won 13 All American Quarter Horse Congress Western pleasure championships, including the Western pleasure maturity with his stallion, Potential Investment, in 1996. He stands the stallion at his facility in Aubrey, Texas.
This Conformation Clinic originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.
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