Whether you’re looking at a horse with the idea of purchasing it or judging a horse in a conformation, model, or breeding class, it’s easy to stay so close to the animal that you lose the bigger picture of how the horse is constructed. The legs are very important because they hold enormous weight, so if the legs don’t stand squarely beneath the horse, you’re going to have soundness problems eventually, with the part of the leg that absorbs the greater impact being the site of the unsoundness.
The same holds true for the balance across the horse’s topline. For example, if the horse is high at the point of the hip and low at the withers, then too much of the weight of the horse will be on the front legs. Consequently, the animal will travel on its forehand and always feel too heavy in front when you ride it. This poor distribution of weight eventually will cause soundness problems in the horse’s front legs.
Keeping the big picture in mind, its important to think about the length and shape of the horse’s neck, for the head and neck serve as a counterbalance to the weight of the rest of the horse when it jumps. (You can see a good example of a horse’s bascule—that is, how it uses it head and neck to counterbalance the weight of the rest of its body—in my Horse Videos section by clicking on http://annamullin.com/horse-videos and watching the video entitled, “Bascule.”) If the neck is short, the horse is limited in using it for a counterbalance; and if the horse’s neck is placed high on its shoulder, then it’s difficult for the animal to drop the head and neck in the air, which again compromises their use as a counterbalance.
Of course, there are many considerations in judging conformation. If you want an in-depth look, you can find it in Chapter 9 of The Complete Guide to Hunter Seat Training, Showing, and Judging; but no matter how much you learn about the specifics, don’t forget that a general picture of balance is extremely important when you’re considering a horse. The horse is like a bridge that must have a level surface on top and strong pillars that are plumb beneath its body to equally absorb the weight. The old adage, “a horse is only as good as its legs,” certainly is true.
To see the big picture, you need to stand back from the horse about 30 feet, and you can stand back even farther when comparing several horses in a lineup. You may have been walking close to the horses, looking at every aspect of them in detail, but you won’t see the big picture of their balance–particularly as it pertains to the topline–until you step back and view the whole horse. Talk to you later!–AJ