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THE BACK OF THE HORSE - CONFORMATION

The Good Back
Faults of The Back
The Most Desired Back
The most desired conformation of the horse's back is that of medium length with strength and flexion.  The withers are well formed and the loin short and strong.   The back is somewhat flat rather than sloped.  The back should be well muscled without the spine projecting anywhere along the topline.

Spinal Movement
When a horse is young there is side to side and up and down movement along the spine.  But as the horse matures the spine become more rigid and there is less flexion   Nearly all the flexion in the horse's spine comes from the loin or right behind where the saddle stops.   There is some slight additional movement between the 1st, 2nd and 3rd vertebra (the area right over above the pelvis) and the first 3 to 4" down from the loin. Most of these horse's vertebre are stablized as they are attached to the ribs so it limits the side to side movement.   The back part of the spine is also fixed due to the fusion of the cuticle membrane of the vertebre with age and use.  So the only place along the back that can actually rotate and bend is in the saddle area. This means that it is very susceptible to injury, especially if the rider is heavy seated and bounces up and down hard or sits with too much weight far back.   The rider should always sit with the weight carried more forward over the area that is strongest or just behind the wither.

Withers on the Side Profile
The withers start where the neck ends and should progress upward in a prominent upward curve.   They should be well covered with muscle and never too sharp.   The muscle should then widen over the shoulder and the back. The withers should be long, then drape smoothly into the neck and slope into the back.   There should be no bumps and no dents silhouetted along the wither's topline. The rear of the withers should provide a firm base for the saddle to rest comfortably on the horse's back.   When the withers and the croup are of the same height it gives the horse the best balance abd least strain on the fore and rear quarters. The withers should be of average to moderate height.  The moderate withers is the easiest to fit a saddle and has the least trouble with back strains and saddle fit issues.

Wither Functions
The withers act as a anchor for muscles and ligaments that extend from the head to the neck and the muscles that move the shoulder.   They also play a part to hold the muscles from the poll through the neck and help to raise the head.  They also help to attach the muscles of the shoulder blade to the body and the to the back bone.   The height of the withers depend on the height of the dorsal spine in those vertrbre found in the wither.   Also in the way the thorax is suspended in between the front legs and the shoulder blades.   To achieve the best athletic ability and have a decent shoulder action and a good head carriage the animal should have a long length from the front to the back of the wither.  When a horse has a well-defined wither he can "round" his back and collect himself with ease.   He can extend his shoulder fully and extend his stride and add more speed at the same time.   He has superior leverage of his head and neck and this helps to keep his back strong.

Viewing the Slab Sided Horse
A horse with a short set of rear ribs has very little depth in the area of the flank.  The "flank" area is just ahead of the sheath or udder and includes the lower line of the abdomen at the rear. A horse that has these shallow flanks is referred to as "herring-gutted".  They look a little bit like a greyhound dog. Since these type of horses have less room for air they often lack stamina.  To add to the equation the flank generally has less abdominal muscle development and the loin is weaker so they cannot carry alot of weight.

The Length of the Horse's Back
From the peak of the withers to the point of the croup the back should measure one third of the body length.  The measurement is easily taken from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock.  The length of the back should be exactly the same measure as the length from the shoulder and exactly the same as the length of the hip (measure the hip from behind the lumbosacral joint near the croup).  The ideal horse's topline should measure one third shoulder, one third back and one third hip. These measurements can be taken when the horse is still a foal and be the same at adult age.

The Side Profile of the Topline
The topline of the horse should be shorter than the underline from the elbows to the stifle.   The shoulder should be well sloped.   The neck should appear long and the slope of the shoulders and the length of the withers will determine the length of the back.   When assessing the back on side profile there should be no crookness or misalignment from side to side. The should be no deviation and the back should run a smooth and straight line in the spine.

Loins
The loin is between the last rib and the point of the croup and hip joint.   This area should be short and wide.   If you were to look down at the horse's loins from the top horse the loins should form a perfect triangle with the width of three fingers between the last rib and the point of the hip.   A loin is considered too long if you can place a hand's width across it.  When looking down at your triangle the lumbosacral joint should be as far forward to the imaginary line that goes across from the point of one hip to the other point of hip. This makes the loin short and the sacrum long which in turn creates leverage and flexion in movements.   If the back and loin are too long, the triangle becomes too wide, the lumbrosacral joint too far displaced and the power of thrust reduces.   The horse cannot get his hind legs under him properly, his balance is thrown off making collection difficult.   The back becomes weak and health issues arise.

Croup
The croup is the highest point of the rump and right behind the loins.   It is where the top of pelvis meets the sacrum, the spot where the hing legs joins the spine.   The croup should not be too high and shaped round with good muscling of smooth form. The croup should be the same height as the withers.   The point of the hip should be in line with or slightly ahead of the point of the croup.

Quarters
The quarters is the area that runs down from the croup to the tail dock and toward the hips on either side.   A level quarter is often associated with Arabians and any breed that as a high tail carriage.   The quarters should be of medium slope.   Quarters can be measured from the point of the hip to the point of the buttocks.  The length of quarters should be 30% to 35% of the length of the body of the horse.  If the rump is too short the horse will be lacking in muscling and balance.   It is the length of the quarter and not the slope that is the most important to have a good performance or halter horse.   If you stand behind the horse and look at the two hip bones they should be level and equally matched.

The Tail Set
The tail set should be judged according to the breed influenced. Since the end of the tail bone is the only vertebre not enclosed in muscle it gives you a good clue as to the rest of the width of the spine.   If the tail is thin boned then the rest the of the spinal column will also be thin.   If the tail bone is thick so then the vertebre of the rest of the spine will be thick in diameter.  The attachment of the tail should be for most breeds carried high.  The carriage will depend upon the slope of the quarters.   Breeds such as stock will be carried low and hang between or against the buttocks as the tail is set much lower on the quarters.

                               

Excellent example back and topline conformation
A to F length of neck
B to D length of back
D to E depth of hip
B to C depth of shoulder
all are nearly the same length.
Topline is shorter than Underline
Sculpted and painted by Carol Williams


Watch Out for Back Problems:
Poor back conformation is associated with breakdowns, lack
of agility, soreness and lameness.   Poor health
issues of the legs and feet often begins with inferior back
conformation.

High Narrow Withers:
When a horse as too high a set of withers there is not
enough room for the lungs and therefore they lack stamina.
The back is easier to bruised by saddle wear and rubbing
the withers.  The saddle will also be slipping back
and shift the rider's weight incorrectly.   If the withers
are higher than the croup the horse will have a lot of strain
directed to stifle the joints and when the withers are lower
than the croup strain will be placed on the front legs and
the lumbar area of the back.

Too-Low Withers:
When the withers are low the muscles are lacking and the
head and neck is unable to raise to round the horse's back
during performance.   Low withers and straight shoulders
normally accompany each other.   The horse with this type of
build suffers more concusion of the front legs.   There is less
motion of the front legs and shoulders.   The saddle fit
is poor and the saddle may slip easily.

Goose Rump:
A goose rump horse is one with a very high croup and
extreme sloping shoulder with a low tail set.   This is usually
accompanied by improper leg angles and poor hind leg
conformation.   The croup will be much higher than the
buttocks and the line of the coupling (where the hips meets
the croup) will slope off radically from there.   The point
of the buttocks should be almost as low as the flank.   This
rear build will not allow the hind legs to swing and the leverage
is lost.  It also keeps the stifle from moving the leg with correct
angulation. In some cases the goose rump horse will also have
a steep angled pelvis with insufficent inside hing gaskin or
"inner thighs".   This is referred to as "cat hammed"

High Tail Head:
The opposite of a goose rump horse is one that has a high tail
head.   The tail head may be the same or higher than the
point of the croup.   This can cause the horse to have
a tipped up pelvis which will cause a lot of strain on the
lumbosacral joint.   He will have a lot of trouble with
traveling behind and move stiff.   A broodmare should never
have this type of conformation since when she gives birth the
foal must pass up from the uterus and throught the pelvis in
an arc.   The foal can become stuck with the leg feet hitting
the top of the birth canal instead of bending over the pelvis.
This can cause damage to the mare that can results in her death.

Very Short Quarter:
A horse with short quarters will have the croup located behind
the point of the hip and not directly above it.   This makes
a weak loin and coupling.   The horse will have less muscles
over the area for proper collection.   The hind leg most
likely will also be sickle hocked and casue the hind legs be
too far under the body.

Apple Rump or Apple Butt:
When looking at the horse from behind this is when the rump
looks much like an apple with the low tail set that looks
like the stem of the apple.   This type of conformation
is not good for performance horses but is often seen in draft
breeds which enable them to pull with a steady slow speed.

Too-Long Back:
This occurs when the horse's back is more than one third his
total body length.  The long back lacks the correct rigid
abilities for a horse to perform correctly.   The horse will
have sore back and sore leg issues.   The horse can not round
the back in motion and has a intendency to carry the back
dipped in a "shallow U."   The rider then adds more strain to the
back when it is dipped down in this manner.

Too-Short Back:
This type of back will cause the horse to stride short and
choppy.   All the impact from the hind feet will go directly to
the rider in the saddle.   The short backed horse will often
forge or over reach and strike their front feet with the hind
ones.   They lack the ability to flex the back and have a shortened stride.

Convexed Back:
Any degree of upward archin the spine is referred to as a
convexed back or a "roached back."   The ride is clumsy and
the stride is short.   The loin muscles will be less developed
and the spine will be stiff.   There will be little side to side
or up and down motion in each stride.   If the spine is fixed in
a noticeable arch position the muscles in that area will be
unable to elevate or contract so that getting the front leg up
and off the ground can be even painful.

Sway Back:
The opposite of a roach back is a sway back or "hollow back"
where there is a pronounced dip between the withers and the
loins.  The back is usually too long and much to flexible.
A high head carriage usually goes along with this type of
back.   A sway backed horse will be unable to have a proper
saddle fit.  The rider will be placed to far back behind the
necessary center of gravity to ride comfortably.   The balance
of the horse will be affected.   Pain from strained and sagging
ligaments will occur.




Excellant example of an Arabian flat croup
Point A to B
Giselle #546-R
Resin Sculpture by Stacy Tumlinson
Bay Tobiano
Painted by Carol Williams



Location of the Lumbosacral Joint


Location of the Lumbosacral Joint
Looking down over the Back:
Ideal length between the sides
of the loin muscles and the
lumbosacral joint a short span.


                                                                             


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