The Riding Horse
Ideally a really good riding horse should be of Thoroughbred type, (really more of a NH type) with plenty of good quality, flat bone, deep through the girth and with strong powerful second thighs and a well rounded backside, lots of muscle and strength, short across the loins and with the length of back concentrated on the quarters, so that you have a powerful engine. They need to be able to gallop. A very sloping shoulder is excellent, so there is plenty to sit behind and the horse is able to have a long stride, with a neck coming out of the top of the withers and a good length, narrowing elegantly behind the head so that the head and neck are not restricted by a fat thick structure.
The horse needs to be able to flex and bridle happily and comfortably, and be able to breathe easily while being ridden in collection. The body should be in proportion and foursquare, the legs, especially viewed from the front should not appear too close, or too wide. The horse should move straight, without dishing or plaiting and stand straight on all four legs on good well shaped feet.
A good looking head is very desirable, but there is quite a lot of variation; from a dished slightly Araby head, to a longer straighter, more thoroughbred head, what is not wanted is a tiny pony head or anything with a common cobby aspect, roman nose or bumps between the eyes! The limbs are most important and must never be "back at the knee". This means the front leg seems to be curved inwards, towards the rear of the horse, at the knee. It is far better for horses to be slightly over at the knee, which makes them look as if they are just slightly bending at the knee when standing.
This is a strong powerful structure and is usually accompanied by good limbs. This means bone so clean and hard that it can be seen clearly outlined under the skin, not swathed in puffy round swelling, and the joints flat and in the case of the knees, large and unmarked, if you stand at the front of the animal you should see the forelimbs are a pair and neither cannon bone is slewed or off set into the knees, but all are in a straight line. The cannon bones should be at least 8" round under the knee, which is where "bone" is measured and should be absolutely parallel back and front, not narrowing under the knee and widening towards the fetlock. This is what is called "tied in under the knee" and is a weak structure.
The cannon bones should be short and the forearm longer, so that the knees are low to the ground, also this should apply to the hocks behind. The hind leg is the motor. The hock needs to be clean and neither too straight, nor too bent. There are, unfortunately, a lot of sickle hocks, where the hind foot comes well under the body - a very bent hock at rest. This is not such a bad fault in a competition horse where you need the hocks well under the body, but when looking for perfection, a straighter hock is preferable, where a plumbline could be dropped from the point of buttock, through the hock, down the back of the hind cannon (used to be called shannon bone) and drop to the ground from the back of the fetlock. Conversely, an overstraight hind leg with little flexion in the hock is useless as the horse has very little activity and thrust in the hind leg and will not be able to work adequately in collection.
Good big second thighs are essential and if the tail is lifted there should not be a wide space of nothing under it (split up behind) - there should be plenty of muscle. Mares do tend to be longer in the back than geldings because they have to carry foals, They should not be penalised for a slightly longer back than geldings. There is a lot of talk about curbs. A curb is a ligament which has lost its elasticity due to a strain. This ligament runs about 4 inches below the point of hock and when a curb has been "sprung" you will see it as a protruding bulge, about a hand's width below the point of hock in the seat of curb, as we call it. Quite a few people (who should know better) confuse this with an overlarge head to the metatarsal bone which is hard and bony. This was always known as a "strong" hock and is quite different. Unfortunately there is a great deal of confusion about the two. You can usually judge that it is a curb by standing at right angles to the hind leg when it will show up clearly as a bulge on the back of the cannon bone and can give slightly under pressure and the so called "false curb" i.e. the enlarged bony head of the small metatarsal, is nearer to the outside of the cannon bone and is absolutely hard. However, it is not advisable to go poking and prodding, especially in the ring! The significance of a curb is that it denotes the underlying conformation is faulty and weak which is why it is such an object of abhorrence. Actually horses with curbs do win races and hunt regularly but there you are. Curbs are a definite no-no in the show ring.
Way of Going
When watching the go round judges look for a horse which is walking with a long and easy stride, covering the go round well, swinging its shoulder freely and tracking up well. They want to see a longer rein walk, not a horse pulled in with its head scrunched up to its chest. The horse should be swinging its head slightly in time to the walk and have its head in front of the perpendicular, ears pricked and a happy, calm look.
At the trot they look again for a long swinging stride, the tail carried easily and swinging from side to side - the sign of a relaxed, swinging, working back - and a comfortable easy head carriage, with the bit held quietly in a wet mouth, no open mouths or grinding teeth - a particular hate. The head should be straight and in line with the direction, not tilted or crooked. They look especially for a steady rhythm or cadence, showing that the horse is working from behind and is carrying itself - not having its nose pulled in by the reins and kicked along all the time.
At canter it's much the same. Judges look for a smooth slowish, steady canter which gives the impression the rider is totally at ease and the pair could swing along all day in superb comfort.
When gallop is shown ideally the horse only needs to show some definite lengthening of the stride and lowering along the long side of the ring, sliding into an easy gallop and out without fuss. Sadly this is not often seen; quite often they rush about with fast short strides. Galloping is not about racing or jumping off the corner as in a gymkhana, but showing lowering and lengthening - (this used to be called ventre-a-terre) in just half a dozen strides and a calm return to slower paces.
Riding horses are not usually required to do shows but they can be and when this is done Judges prefer to see a simple, short show well done, rather than complicated manoeuvres which fail miserably. However, a Riding Horse should be able to rein back easily and happily, change leg at canter in a straight line and slide on to extend and back without fighting.
The purpose of a Riding Horse is to take one riding for pleasure and therefore it is expected to carry a rider with very light and easy aids and to be soft and gentle on the hand. Judges do not want a horse that is jumping out of its skin, but alternatively they really don't want something that needs pushing round the ring - imaging having to ride twenty all needing shovelling along, exhausting!!
Many consider that the most important thing is the quality of its movement, a young green horse can give an infinitely better ride than an old well schooled, beautifully mannered but stiff and stilted moving horse, if its paces are on another plane, if it moves across the ring on a well oiled easy stride, long and flowing and soft off the ground. A horse must be supple and easy round its corners, bending whichever way it's going. Very often horses are marked down because they lie heavily on one rein and are stiff on one side. This is usually the fault of poor training and results in a most unsatisfactory ride.
No-one likes riding horses that spook and jump about so they must be relaxed and able to cope with the (sometimes ridiculous) distractions that surround the rings at today's horse shows. When judges come to sit on the horse they need to feel their legs taken up by its sides, and to have a good length of rein in front of them, not just neck, but shoulder as well, and to feel, literally that they are in the middle of a comfortable well fitting "seat".
One important thing which is increasingly being ignored, even by professional producers, is the tack and fitting, both to the horse and to the rider and judge. Many times the curb rein is considerably shorter than the bridoon rein, this is not a good way to start! Then the stirrups can be too large, or have weird safety rubbers on, and the leather on the leathers is thick, stiff and unused in other holes. It can be a slow and fiddly job to get the leathers right, and some times there are not enough holes to adjust correctly. This is absolutely maddening and does not help the horse's chances. If you are very tall or short have a spare set of leathers and stirrups ready to put on for the judge! Often the saddle is shiny, stiff and unsoaped ("saved for best"!!) and one slides all over the place in it, getting a most unsatisfactory ride. A strictly dressage saddle with massive amounts of padding under the cantle is also often very uncomfortable with inadequate room for ones backside and pushing one into a weird position - again giving an unpleasant ride and making you feel as if you about 6 inches above the horse and riding by remote control. The reins are often too stiff - most annoying and this sort of thing is actually on the increase. Often the girths are too loose and the nosebands much too tight. It cannot be stressed too strongly, the tack should be well used, soft and pliable and the leathers thin and quick to adjust. The saddle should be really comfortable and big enough for most riders.
This contribution has been written and submitted by Adrianne Smythe (Adrianne)
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