LOOKING AT THE HORSE: Stance, top line, head & tail
How do we find the cause of fitness problems in the horse? By looking carefully and accurately at the horse. It’s often easier to look at digital photos of the horse because the camera creates neutrality. Our eyes usually can’t see the horse objectively. When we use digital images, the photo neutrality shows us clearly what’s not balanced. Hollows, lumps, off stance and other imbalances show easily in digital photos of horses. There are many ways to disguise unsoundness in horses. A video is one way to hide a horse’s problems. When the horse is moving, he is using all his compensation abilities to look fit and competent. His life depends on this appearance of fitness.
Horses are hard-wired to hide problems so they can survive predators. The horse’s entire body is organized to hide any problems. He will compensate a minor injury in millions of ways. Many compensations create new problems….just as it happens in humans. We humans live our lives with many physical issues, but we learn to adapt. Horses also adapt. Since true fitness is rare in humans, most people have learned to get along with what they have. Horses are asked to do whatever we choose for them and so they compensate even more than humans. Humans are predators. Humans decide how the horse lives. That might not feel good to a horse owner, but it’s the truth for the horse. I had to Riders shopping for a horse are often looking for a fantasy ride. Riders will obsess over a head shot or video without asking if the horse is truly fit. Experienced riders make this mistake also. Judgement is clouded by the emotional component of the image we look at. When you are horse shopping, do your research. The seller should provide still photos of the four sides of the horse: front, rear, left side and right side. These photos should show the entire body and hooves. You can zoom in and look carefully. Issues like a mild club foot can be seen with a zoom in.
For example, when considering a stallion for breeding, I zoomed in on his feet for a close look. His almost imperceptible club foot showed with the zoom-in. A gelding son was nearby and showed an extreme club foot that prevented normal riding. The owner didn’t admit that the stallion sired this gelding. I decided not to book the breeding due to the club foot.
Photos will also show back problems, conformation issues of all kinds and cranial imbalances which lead to anxiety and fear under saddle. Tight tails indicate back problems or adductor limits.
Riders who want a long term riding partner will avoid emotional purchases driven by fancy videos and glamorous head portraits. Stick to asking for the four photo views and then look very carefully, while also asking specific questions about the horse’s history of training and use. The test ride in an arena or round pen often hides the issue of the horse not being competent for trail riding. Riders should make a list of what they plan to do and how they will care for the horse. Write it down. The list keeps us honest in our shopping. Then, be sure to look at the photos of each side. Study these, even if you are looking at a sale video. The hidden problems will show in the photos.
Of course, many of us- myself included- buy horses for emotional reasons. We partner with a horse to advance our skills, learn about that particular horse and find our own frontiers. So, a impractical purchase has a larger goal that is invisible to others. When we buy something beyond our skill level, we must grow or lose functionality. My current mare is an example of this kind of purchase. She was beyond my skill level but I learned to advance…although it wasn’t through quiet trail riding. I had to grow into riding a PRE Andalusian type horse from a intermediate trail rider. I did now know what this horse presented and she required a complete change in my riding. We are friends and it has been rewarding, if not easy.
Mistakes with horses are expensive and disappointing. Horses are easy to buy and sometimes hard to sell. Looking at digitals of the horse will save you from unknown or hidden problems. These simple tools show us how to see the horse accurately. It’s also fun to use these tools to observe horses you already own and help progress their limits and fitness. It’s all a journey in the wonderful world of horses!
I received your book and have begun reading it – while getting ready to leave for elk camp next week for 3 weeks! The book is TERRIFIC! I love the pictures, the illustrations, the way you describe things in layman’s terms, and how I can relate to what I saw you do first-hand. I am so excited for you, me and Aspen. I will be out of contact for 3 weeks, up in the mountains in a cold (make that freezing) tent and no fire. I am taking your book and will practice on Aspen at camp. I really like that the book is spiral notebook style so I can take it and use it in the field as it were. Amazing job lady! You will help so many people and horses.
Full report when I return and rest assured an extremely positive review.”
Hugs – Nancy and the “A” Team