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horses and horsemanship
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
4-H HORSE PROGRAM
HORSES AND HORSEMANSHIP
This educational material has been prepared for 4-H use by the Cooperative Extension Services of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture and State Land-Grant Universities in cooperation with the National 4-H
Council and the American Quarter Horse Association.
Trade or brand names used in the publications are used only for the purpose of educational information.
The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no
endorsement of products or breeds of horses by the Federal Extension Service or State Cooperative
Extension Services is implied, nor does it imply approval of products or breeds of horses to the exclusion
of others which may also be suitable.
This material was originally published by the National 4-H Council, 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy
Chase, Maryland 20815.
Programs and educational materials supported by National 4-H Council; Extension Service, United
States Department of Agriculture; and all Cooperative Extension Services of the State Land-Grant
Universities are available to all persons regardless of race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin or
handicap. All are equal opportunity employers.
HORSE JUDGING I WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Judging horses, like all livestock judging, is an art that
must be developed through patient study and long
practice. A horse judge must:
* Know the parts of a horse and their location
* Know which parts are most important and the most
desirable form of each part
* Visualize the ideal horse, perfect in all respects.
* Make keen observations of horses and compare
them to his ideal
* Weigh the good and bad points of each horse
* Develop a system of examining horses so he won't
overlook important points
Conformation includes type, muscling, balance, and
structural smoothness. It also includes the form and
proportion of the various parts of the body.
Type depends upon the function a horse is to perform.
Our study of horse judging will focus on saddle horse
type, since saddle horses, or light horses, comprise
most of the 4-H projects and judging contests.
Desirable type in a saddle horse requires a horse of
medium size and weight, generally ranging in height
from 14% to 17 hands and weighing from 900 to 1300
pounds, depending on the breed. This horse has a long,
sloping shoulder, a long croup, a fairly short back, and
a short, strong coupling. The bottom-line is much
longer than the top-line, allowing a long stride.
Both fore and rear quarters show an adequate amount
of muscling for the breed. The chest is deep and the
ribs well-sprung. Legs are clean, flat-boned, and
medium to short in length.
Horses that do not fit this general description are called
off-type. They may be too small (pony-type) or too
large and heavy (draft-type).
The several breeds of saddle horses have distinguishing
type characteristics (breed type). Usually, all horses in
a judging class will be of the same breed. They should
be compared as to how well they exhibit breed type.
Muscling. Both the quantity and the quality of muscle
are important. Muscles should bulge and be distinctly
visible on the surface under the skin. The muscles in
PARTS OF A HORSE
Horse Judging I What To Look For.
the arm, forearm, V-muscle, stifle, and gaskin should
be smooth, long, and well attached. Long, tapering
forearm and gaskin muscles that tie well into the knee
and hock both inside and outside are preferred to short,
Balance. A balanced appearance comes from the
forequarter and hindquarter appearing to be of nearly
equal size and development. They "fit" together well.
A heavy-fronted horse that is narrow and shallow in the
rear quarter is not balanced, neither is a heavy
quartered horse that is narrow, flat, and shallow in
Smoothness. When all the parts of a horse blend
together well and the muscling is long and tapering,
then the horse has smoothness. The head and the neck
should be in proportion, and the neck should blend
smoothly into the shoulder. The shoulder and forerib
should fit smoothly together, and the coupling should
be short and strong so that the top line is strong and the
hips tie in smoothly. A horse with a thin neck and a
sharp break at wide, prominent shoulders is not
smooth. One with a weak coupling and jutting hips is
not smooth nor is a horse that is extremely "bunchy" in
Head. Each of the light horse breeds requires slightly
different characteristics about the head. These should
TAIL SET TOO LOW
be considered when breed classes are judged. In
general, the head should be well proportioned to the
rest of the body, refined and clean-cut, with a chiseled
appearance. A broad forehead, with great width
between the eyes is desired. The face should be straight
as compared to convex (Roman nose) or concave
(dished). The eyes set wide-apart, should be large and
clear. The ears should be medium to small in size, set
wide, and active. The muzzle should be small, the
mouth shallow and the nostrils large and sensitive. The
upper and lower teeth should meet when biting. A
contrast is the parrot mouth where the lower jaw is too
Neck The head should join the neck at about a 45
degree angle with a distinct space between the jawbone
and the neck. This is the throat latch. It should be
Depending on the breed, the neck should be medium in
length to fairly long, the head carried either high or at a
moderate level. The neck should be slightly arched,
lean and muscular, and blend smoothly with the
shoulder. A high-arched or heavy-crested neck is
Shoulders. The shoulder is long and set at an angle of
about 45 degrees from the withers down to the point of
the shoulder. Shoulders should be smooth yet well
muscled. The withers should be well-defined, extend
well-back beyond the top of the shoulder, and be as
high as the hips. Low, flat withers do not hold a saddle
Chest and Forelegs. The chest is deep and fairly thick,
with this depth and thickness extending back into the
forerib and barrel. A deep heart girth and well-sprung
foreribs give room for good respiratory and digestive
capacity. The forelegs are wide-set and blend smoothly
into the shoulder. The forearm muscle is large and
tapers into the knee when viewed from the back or
front. The knee joint should be clean and the pastern
medium in length. The pastern and the hoofs are set at
about a 45 degree angle to the ground.
Back, Loin, and Croup. The top-line should include a
ALL THESE HORSES HAVE
Horse Judging I What To Look For.
short, strong back and loin a long, nicely-turned and
heavily muscled croup, and a high well-set tail. The
loin (coupling) must be short and very strongly
muscled because it supports the weight of the saddle
and rider and lifts the forequarters when the horse is in
motion (see Figure 3 for undesirable characteristics).
Rear Quarters. The rear quarters should be thick,
deep, and well-muscled then viewed from the side or
rear. This muscling shows in thickness through the
thigh, stifle and gaskin. The hind legs are muscled both
inside and out with the gaskin tied in low in the hock
joint. The hocks are wide, deep, and clean.
Bone, Legs. The bones of the legs should be flat, clean,
and free from fleshiness and puffiness. The bone
should be of adequate strength and substance to
Ideal Position Toes Out
How I egged Narrow Chest
support the horse during strenuous performance.
The hock should be large, clean-cut, wide from front to
back, and deep. Gaskin muscles should tie-in very
strongly and low on the hock. The knee should be wide
when viewed from the front, deep, and clean-cut.
When viewed from the front or rear the knees and
hocks should be bisected by an imaginary vertical line
down the center of the legs. Tendons below the knees
and hocks appear sharply separated from the cannons,
giving the leg a flat appearance.
All four legs are set squarely under the body. From the
front view, the forelegs are parallel with the feet
pointing straight ahead. From the side view, a line
drawn perpendicular to the ground should bisect the
ted Base Narrow Knock Kneed Pigeon Toed
Vertical line from point of shoulder should fall in center of knee, cannon, pastern, and foot.
Ideal Po slton Camped Under
Vertical line from shoulder should
and center of foot.
fall through elbow
I li *! i
Ideal Position Stands Wide Stands Close Bow Legged Cow Hocked
Vertical line from point of buttock should fall in center of hock,
cannon, pastern and foot.
Ideal Position Stands Under Camped Out Leg Too Straight
Vertical line from the point of buttock should touch the
rear edge of cannon and meet the ground behind the
Horse Judging I What To Look For.
foreleg all the way from the shoulder to the rear of the
hoof. From the rear view, the hocks should point
straight back or turn in very slightly. The hind legs
should set well under the horse and the feet point
straight ahead. The hock should be set at the correct
angle. Too much angle at the hock with the feet set too
far under the body is called "sickle-hocked". Too little
angle is called "post-legged".
Feet and Pasterns. The hoof should be well shaped,
roomy and balanced in size with the horse. The heel
should be deep, wide, and open. The hoof should
appear tough and durable.
The pasterns should be medium in length and set at
approximately 45 degrees to the ground. The hoof
should have the same angle as he pastern. If the pastern
is too straight, it does not cushion the shock of the foot
striking the ground and can lead to serious damage as
well as a rough ride.
Quality is indicated by cleanness of the bone and head,
general body smoothness, and stylishness. The bone
should be clean and hard. The joints, free from
fleshiness. The tendons in the legs stand back from the
cannon bones and give the legs a flat appearance. The
head looks clean-cut and chiseled. The body is smooth
and the haircoat glossy. However, a slick fat horse
might appear smooth and glossy and still be of low
SEX AND BREED CHARACTER
By sex character, we mean masculinity in the stallion
and femininity in the mare. The stallion should have a
bolder, stronger, head, a more massive jaw, and thicker
heavier neck and shoulders than the gelding or mare.
The stallion has heavier bone and is larger and more
rugged than the mare. Geldings do not show excessive
masculinity. Mares should be feminine about the head
and neck and more refined than stallions.
Each breed has slightly different characteristics about
the head as well as in body conformation. These are the
points which make us recognize one breed of light
horses from the others. In breed classes or in selecting
a horse of a particular breed, these points should be
considered. USDA Farmers Bulletin 2127 and page 3
of this manual give some of the breed characteristics of
the various breeds.
Although the degree of action will vary somewhat with
the different breeds of light horses depending on their
use (saddle, racing, stock horse, show, etc.), the
usefulness of all horses depends on their ability to
move well. In all breeds the motion should be straight
and true, with a long, well-coordinated, elastic stride.
Excess lateral movement of the feet reduces efficiency
and detracts from coordination.
Action is affected by the set of the feet and legs. A
horse that stands crooked usually moves crooked. A
horse that toes in (pigeon-toed) on the front feet will
usually paddle or wing out. Some horses place the front
feet too close together, sometimes interfering as they
move. A horse that toes out (splay-footed) in front will
usually dish or wing in.
Fairly close hock action, with the hindlegs moving
straight forward is desirable. Lateral movement of the
hocks is undesirable.
The horse should move with snap and determination,
as if he knows where he is going and is sure to get
there. A halting, sluggish movement is undesirable.
Some common defects are:
Cross-firing. A "scuffing" on the inside of the
diagonal forefeet and hindfeet: generally confined to
Dwelling. A noticeable pause in the flight of the foot,
as though the stride were completed before the foot
reaches the ground: most noticeable in trick-trained
Forging. Striking forefoot with toe of hindfoot.
Interfering. Striking fetlock or cannon with the
opposite foot; most often done by base-narrow,
toewide, or splay-footed horses.
Lameness. A defect detected when the animal favors
the affected foot when standing. The load on the ailing
foot in action is eased and a characteristic bobbing of
the head occurs as the affected foot strikes the ground.
Speedy Cutting. The inside of diagonal fore and hind
pastern make contact: sometimes seen in fast trotting
Stringhalt. Excessive flexing of hind legs: most
easily detected when a horse is backed.
Trappy. A short, quick, choppy stride: a tendency of
horses with short, straight pasterns and straight
Winding or Rope-walking. A twisting of the striding
leg around in front of supporting leg, which results in
contact like that of a rope-walking artist:
often occurs in horses with very wide fronts.
Winging. An exaggerated paddling particularly
noticeable in high-going horses.
Horse Judging I What To Look For.
Paddling. Throwing the front feet outward as they are
picked up: most common in toe-narrow or pigeon-toed
Pointing. Perceptible extension of the stride with
little flexion: likely to occur in the long-strided
Thoroughbred and Standardbred breeds animals bred
and trained for great speed.
Pounding. Heavy contact with ground instead of
desired light, springy movement.
Rolling. Excessive lateral shoulder motion:
characteristic of horses with protruding shoulders.
Scalping. The hairline at top if hindfoot hits toe of
forefoot as it breaks over.
UNSOUNDNESS AND BLEMISHES
A major point in judging horses or examining one prior
to purchase is the recognition of unsoundness and
blemishes and calculating the importance of each. A
blemish is an abnormality which may detract from the
appearance of a horse, but does not affect his
serviceability. An unsoundness is an abnormality that
interferes with the usefulness of the horse.
Certain unsoundnesses have a tendency to be inherited,
and these are more serious than those which are
acquired by accident. Inherited unsoundnesses make a
horse undesirable for breeding, showing or
The common unsoundnesses and blemishes are
described in the Horse Science Unit.
MORE ABOUT JUDGING
Refer to page 13 for information concerning a system
for examining horses, horse terms, judging contests and
giving oral reasons.
1. This document is 4HHSG02, one of a series of the 4-H Youth Development Program, Florida Cooperative
Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Printed. Please visit the
FAIRS Website at http://hammock.ifas.ufl.edu.
2. Bobby J. Rankin, New Mexico State University, Debbie Glauer, member of 4-H Animal Science Design
Team, Department of Family, Youth and Community Science, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of
Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611.
.>.L UNIVERSITY OF
Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, Christine
Taylor Waddill, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose
of the May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress; and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only
to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, age, sex, handicap or national origin. The information in this
publication is available in alternate formats. Single copies of extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available
free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on copies for out-of-state purchase is available from Publications
Distribution Center, University of Florida, PO Box 110011, Gainesville, FL 32611-0011. Information about alternate formats is available from
Educational Media and Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810. This information was published
December 1989, Florida Cooperative Extension Service.