Conformation Part 4

This post about the horse conformation looks at the horse`s back and barrel.
back

There is a wide variety of “normal” backs with horses, but ultimately it should be strong, of adequate length and in proportion to the rest of the horse. A horse with a long back is more prone to muscular injuries and can find it harder to track up and connect their hindquarters to their forehand. A short back is more at risk of kissing spines, and the horse may be prone to over reaching or forging.
In addition to the length of the back of the horse you should also look at the shape of it and it`s muscular development. The ideal back has a slight dip behind the wither, along the thoracic vertebrae, rising to the croup; in older horses or those with “sway backs” this dip is pronounced. Think of it like when we arch our backs; the horse`s spine is weaker and it is less able to carry weight. A horse in poor condition may look like it has a sway back due to a lack of muscle. A roach back is when the spine curves up along the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae; these horses struggle to flex and often have stiff gaits.
Sometimes obese horses look like they have stronger, better backs, because the fat gives the illusion of muscle development. Within an obese horse, with a flat broad back, there is often “mutton withers”, which is a poorly defined, flat wither which makes saddle fitting difficult.
The rib cage of the horse should be well sprung; the horse shouldn`t be slab sided, as seen in many Thoroughbreds, as this makes it difficult for the rider to put their leg on and there is less room for the lungs to expand. If the rib cage is too round and well-sprung it can affect the upper arm and shoulder movement, but it does give a lot of room for the lungs to expand. Another conformational point of the ribs and barrel is “herring gutted”. This is when there is a sharp rise from the girth to the stifle, giving the horse a greyhound appearance. This appears in stressed horses, such as three day eventers at the end of the competition, in undernourished horses, and in those who don`t engage their hindquarters or use their abdominal muscles. This affects their stamina, stride length, jumping ability, as well as pre-disposing them to back problems.