We have all heard someone state their preference for a horse with flat
boned legs. In reality, the horse has only flat bones in his head, ribs
and some small bones. The most efficient bone is a cylinder. The leg
appears as if it has flat bones if the cannon bone is large with
suspensory ligament, a deep flexor tendon and a superficial flexor tendon
that is big enough to go with the bone. Thus, most old timers knew when
the legs possessed the right appearance even though their description may
not have been technically correct.
In most instances, the conformation that contributes to the correct
mobility of the Walking Horse will also contribute to the necessary
absorption of shock to keep the horse sound. This is one of the reasons we
have used a 26 year old stallion as our model. Throughout his life, this
horse has remained completely sound.
It is universal in all breeds that the head and neck should show a high
degree of excellence of conformation. The head and neck serve as the
balance arm to the horse when he is in motion. The head should be neat and
trim so as not to add any unnecessary weight to the balance arm. The face
should be flat, wide between the eyes, with large expressive eyes out on
the corner of the forehead. When the horse has his head down
grazing, nature intended that he see almost a 360º area. If he is
pig-eyed with eyes deep in the sockets, or the eyes are located on the
side of the head, he cannot see properly. If the face bulges between the
eyes or if he has a roman nose, it will interfere with his sight. We want
the horse to see properly, as one who does not is almost always bad
mannered. Anyone that has been around a horse that is going blind knows
this to be true.
The head should taper well to the muzzle. The lips should be small and
tight. The nostrils should be large so that he will be able to get the
proper supply of oxygen. The ears should not be too large and should set
on top of the head. The horse expresses himself with his ears and eyes. By
observing them under different conditions we can learn a lot about a
horses intelligence and disposition.
By using the length of the head as a unit of measure, the following
proportions of a horse may be quickly observed.
Length of head equals length of shoulder from withers to point of
Length of head equals length of barrel from behind shoulder blade to front
of hip joint.
Length of head equals depth of barrel from center of back to belly.
Length of head equals distance from stifle to point of hock.
Length of head equals distance from point of hock to ground.
Two and one half times length of head equals the height of horse at the
Two and one half times length of head equals the length of horse from the
point of the shoulder to the rear of the buttocks.
Thus if the horse has a large coarse head he will probably be lacking in
other points of conformation. The neck should be moderately long, full,
slightly arched with a neat crest, and it should gracefully become larger
as it approaches the shoulders. With the fact that the head and neck is
used by the horse for balance, the nodding of the head of the Walking
Horse seems a natural function. The downswing of the head aids in
locomotion as it pulls on the neck and back muscles.
Walking Horse must have a straight, short back. The loin muscles should be
well developed as the horse has to tense the whole spinal column before he
can pick up his total front end and propel it forward. All the sensory
nerves which send signals to the brain to cause muscles to contract and
result in motion are in the back.
The center of motion is at the point considered the center of the back,
usually at the fifteenth or sixteenth vertebra. The center of gravity is
somewhat farther forward as we know the horse is somewhat heavier in the
front. This point is usually at the eighth or ninth vertebra. Extra
caution should be taken not to place the saddle too far forward. The
already overweight front end should not have to take more than it's share
of the rider's weight.
Overall size of the Walking Horse selected can be left to personal
preference. Size has little relationship to the degree of perfection of
conformation. Just be sure the points of conformation meet a standard of
excellence and that they are bound together in the proper manner.
With the guidelines for correct Walking Horse conformation put forth in
this article, the novice should be able to select a natural Walking Horse.
Now for those of you who do not now own a natural gaited Tennessee Walking
Horse, please follow this advice. Go shopping and buy one. The monetary
cost will be an investment that will pay the highest dividends in a
lifetime of healthful joy.