Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Answers for Conformation Quiz: Friesian Sport Horses

You're getting the answers to the conformation quiz even later than I hoped. Sorry. The horse abuse investigation I'm working on has suddenly turned into a much much bigger project, and I've been forced to put things on hold while waiting for HSUS backup.

Anyway, remember that conformation is subjective, so there's not going to be a 100% perfect answer. I've studied horse conformation since high school, making it to State in the FFA's Horse Judging competition my sophomore year, and I've never stopped learning. All that disclaimer stuff means that while I believe I'm good enough at judging conformation to post blogs like this, I don't tout myself as some sort of all-knowing genius guru. If you disagree with my answers, DO post why you thought differently in the comments below.

Wow, that was a lot of babble. Aaaand here we go, the answer to the conformation quiz!

1. Rank the horses in order from best to worst.
Answer:  A, B, C, D 

This was a little tough, because A or B could have come in second, and C or D could have come in last. Both sets of them have roughly equal faults. Both A and B are slightly downhill. A is slightly tied in at the knee and B is slightly over at the knee, etc. In the end, I put A first for two reasons. First, because B is slightly long in the back, a big no-no in my book for sport horses. Secondly, because of A's shoulder. Both A and B have a slightly more upright shoulder, which would help them get their knees up in eventing or show jumping. However, while horse A is the leggy, lanky type better for show jumping, horse B is not a jumper-type at all; I would prefer to see him with a more laid-back shoulder. That kind of shoulder would match the heavier, more muscled body suited to reining. So A won out because his parts fit together better... though if it came down to pure personal preference, I'd still choose B. I'm a sucker for cow ponies.

Both C and D have a long list of faults, but horse D's parts fit together the worst, and so earned last place. Horse C is is tucked-up, has a steeper croup than I'd like, has a weak loin coupling, is downhill and has a slightly long back. She's going to have a terrible time being collected. However, at least she looks like a pretty pretty princess horse, and all of her parts match her sleek physique, unlike Horse D. Horse D is actually a mare. Her Frankenstein-like appearance combines a ewe neck, short back, downhill build, short legs, camped-under rear, steep croup, short neck, ugly head and probably upright pasterns. This is a perfect example of "trendy breed" syndrome, wherein anything that's part Freisian gets bred to anything else, regardless of conformation. Horse D is 3/4 Freisian, 1/4 Morgan, and was adopted from Midwest Horse Welfare for $600. She rides and drives and only occasionally lurches around town scaring villagers.

 If you have a strong personal preference for stock-type horses, you may have answered B, A, D, C. If that's the case, you're not terribly wrong, just slightly biased like I am.

2. Which horse is over at the knee?
 Answer: B. Slightly.
 Being "over at the knee" or "buck kneed" means that the knee joint is more forward than the fetlock joint. This condition is usually caused by work-related strain or injury, and is often seen on Thoroughbreds. Look at the mare below to see what a serious case looks like!

3. Which horse is most "herring gutted," or "tucked up?"
Answer: C.
"Herring gutted" or "tucked up" means that the horse's chest and abdomen slant upwards sharply towards the rear end. All horses' abdomens slant upwards in the last third, but with herring-gutted horses, this narrowness begins in the first 2/3 of the barrel. This is a fault, because it limits the size of the heart and lungs in the horse. This fault is also sometimes called "wasp waisted." Horse C isn't nearly as tucked up as some horses, however. Thoroughbreds and Akhal-tekes often suffer from this fault. I guess it's a trade-off for aerodynamic-ness? Yuck.

4. Which horse has the least steep croup?
 Answer: B.
Oh yeah, I like big butts and I cannot lie! A medium or flat croup give the haunches more power and a longer, flatter stride, great for endurance riding, jumping and dressage. A steeper croup can be advantageous in a few cases, however: reining, where a horse's butt needs to be "under itself" more for sharp turns; big gaited movements as in Tennesse Walkers; and for very heavy draft work, where a steeper angle provides leverage against a load. Unfortunately, I see many Friesians and Friesian crosses these days with sharp croups. A horse with a steep croup is sometimes called "goose-rumped." Arabians often have flat croups. The croup is measured from the top point of the hip to the point of the buttocks. A horse can have a big round butt but still have a steep croup.

5. Which horse's legs are too short in proportion to its body?
Answer: D. 

A poor photograph hides this horse's pasterns in the grass, but regardless, it looks more like a Dachshund than a sport horse.

6. Which horse appears to be most "camped out behind?"
Answer: A.

Being "camped out" means that the horse's legs aren't "under" its rump, decreasing the animal's ability to collect and power forward from the rear.

This was another tough one, because neither A nor B (the bays) were standing square, and C was slightly hard to see because of all that shiny tail. (Sorry, I got the order of the above pictures wrong.) A, here shown in the second picture, and B, shown here in the last picture, aren't as camped out as their pictures show. Both are holding their left rear legs slightly back from normal position, A even moreso than B. When a horse does this, he usually holds the other rear leg slightly forward of normal position to compensate. B is not only doing this, he's also positioned at an angle. Despite all of the weirdness, I think it's fairly clear that A's hock joints are going to line up a bit behind his butt when he's square. B may also be slightly camped out, and truthfully it's hard to get a clear answer from this photo, so no points off if you answered B.

Note: this is why you need to take GOOD conformation photos when asking others to judge your horse, or putting your horse up for sale.

7. Which horse is best suited to reining?
Answer: B.

Compared to the others, B has that butt that just won't quit, and that's essential for a reining horse. In reining, a horse needs to sprint, cut around corners, spin, spring forward and put the breaks on. Most of those maneuvers come from the powerful butt engine, with the front end acting largely as an impact absorber and occasional pivot. Speaking of the front end, B also has good bone and medium-to-short front cannons, factors which will help keep her sound. She also has the advantage of being built closer to the ground, meaning she won't have to work as hard to turn and pivot her body. I wish she had a slightly more laid-back shoulder and wasn't downhill, but she's clearly the reiner here.
8. Which horse is best suited to show jumping? 
Answer: A.

A on the other hand has a more "leggy" build, very helpful in clearing fences. His more upright shoulder will help him get his knees up to clear a bar, the open angle where his scapula meets his humerus will give him lots of scope, and his more streamlined, leaner frame will be easier to propel across obstacles. I do wish he had slightly more butt and loin for propulsion. I'm also concerned about those legs. Earlier, we discussed how A looks a bit over at the knee. I believe this is caused by his being tied in at the knee and also have slightly less bone than I'd like to see. The combined strain is already taking its toll. If this horse isn't wearing boots, he should be.

P.S. there's a nice little blog entry (not mine) on dressage vs show jumper conformation here.
9. Which horse is "ewe necked?"
Answer: D

A "ewe" neck (pronounced "you neck") is one where the bottom of the neck is convex while the top of the neck is concave. This fault is also called an "upside-down neck." What many people don't know is that, while a ewe neck is partially a genetic fault, it can also be caused by incorrect riding or improved with correct exercise. Ewe necks can develop when a horse works in a hollow frame, bracing against the bit. As a result, you're more likely to see a gaited horse or a horse in an English discipline develop a ewe neck, because the rider is so much more "on the bit" than in a western discipline. However, you also often see ewe necks on western horses ridden in tie-downs, because they brace against that device instead.

A ewe, of course, is a female sheep...and they do have ewe necks.

10. Which horse appears to be "tied in at the knee?" 
Answer: A.

To be "tied in at the knee" means that the diameter of the tendon below the knee joint is too narrow. The cannon below the knee should be about the same thickness as the bone just above the knee. When a horse is tied in at the knee, there is increased strain on the knee and tendon, resulting in weaker athletic ability, bowed tendons, knee strains and lack of forward drive.

Horse A isn't too bad, but if his chosen career is jumping, where his full weight will land on his tendons every time he clears a jump, I foresee a little trouble in the future.


  1. Dang it, now I'm sorry I missed adopting Horse D. Rides, drives, and is remarkably ugly? Sounds perfect!

  2. Well I didn't do too bad. I found #4 question fooled me. With her plumper butt I found I was deceive by horse number 2. Should have paid a bit more attention to the bone structure. #6 was just difficult. I am just not good enough to figure it out when they are not square so I chose C because I thought his tail may have been hiding his legs a bit. All in all it was a good exercise and I learned some too which is the point I think.

  3. Astonishingly (to me, anyway) I got these right although I waffled a bit on #6. I'm a horse enthusiast who's never had the opportunity to own my own horse so I do A LOT of reading, but reading about it all can only get one so far. Having had very little hands on experience in evaluating a horse's conformation, I am feeling rather pleased with myself. I pegged horse B as the cow horse right off and having gone through the "pretty pretty princess horse" phase I recognized the Freisian as well. I was surprised to find that horse D was mostly Freisian as well, though. She sure doesn't look it! I picked horse A as being the most conformationally correct, but I've always been fascinated by the showjumping and eventing arenas. However, if I were choosing for myself I would probably go for horse B.