When evaluating halter horses, I look for overall balance first, and my priorities are to find the strongest topline that carries down through a powerful hip and correct hind leg.
That said, I also look for the “pretty” in the horse. If I’m looking at mares, then I want them to be very feminine, but with stallions and geldings as well, I look for a large eye and well-proportioned, attractive head, following into a long, lean neck that ties in high and at a good angle to their shoulder and withers, as opposed to low into their chest floor.
I like a strong topline, with a short, tight back, that carries through to a powerful croup and hip. The horse must display structural correctness through its legs when viewed from all angles.
As far as muscling, I look for horses that are very expressive, as evidenced by descriptive forearms, gaskins and stifles.
When viewing the animal from behind, the center of the stifle should be the widest part of the horse, not the top of the hip above the tail. From the side, the top- and bottomlines should look like they go together, and the hip should not be substantially higher than the withers.
First: Mare C
This first mare shows the best combination of balance, structural correctness and femininity in this group of mares. While perhaps a bit long through her loin, she is strong through her back, and her topline appears to be in proportion to her bottom line. She should be able to work well from behind, lifting her shoulders and moving athletically. She is very attractive, and clearly the most feminine headed of the group. She handles her front and rear legs correctly. Perhaps the base of her neck could tie in a bit more neatly, and her shoulder and front pasterns could have a bit more angle for a smoother, more comfortable ride, but she puts together her assets the most positively of the three.
Second: Mare A
The second place mare, who appears to be a black Tobiano, is again strong in her top and appears to handle her hind leg–especially her hock–the most correctly of the three. That tells me she should be able to work well from her hindquarters. I chose, however, to place her second because her head seems rather unfeminine and appears a bit thick and short through her neck (which ties in a bit low to a slightly straight shoulder). That’ll impact her movement and might make her heavy on the forehand. However, her neck may appear longer and leaner if her mane was banded. I believe it’s a bit of an optical illusion with her mane standing up. It makes her neck appear much thicker than it is. She’s very functionally sound, however. While difficult to evaluate from this photo, I would venture to say she is the most expressively muscled as well.
Third: Mare B
The mare I have in third place does show some balance, but appears to be relatively straight in her shoulder (again, impacting her ability to lift her shoulders, which could make her heavy in front). She’s somewhat sickle-hocked and appears weak through her hind pasterns. These structural components, along with her steep croup, may result in challenges of soundness and the ability to have strong impulsion from behind. I’d like to see more condition on this mare, and it would definitely help her appearance if she was more fit.
Kelly Boles Chapman of Bellevue, Mich., coaches and trains youth and amateurs in a variety of events. She’s an approved judge with the American Quarter Horse Association, National Snaffle Bit Association, American Paint Horse Association, Palomino Horse Breeders Association, Pinto Horse Association of America and Appaloosa Horse Club. Kelly and her husband, Rob, run a commercial and purebred cattle operation in addition to their equine pursuits.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.
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