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Horse too straight?

From: Kimberly

Hi Jessica!

As you know, Sammi (my mare) is now sold and happy and bringing home many ribbons as a hunter. I'm working with a TB cross/? gelding right now, and he has some conformational problems. He's five and has been pretty much ridden western when he was broke out. The people that I got him from had him for about 2 months, where they stuck a pelham bit in his mouth, put on some spurs, and threw him at 2'6 jumps (which he went over like the trooper he is). Now, I'm working with him on keeping his rythym and balance, and to show him that being ridden doesn't have to be uncomfortable and scary.

My question is this: Robyn is 16. 1 - 16. 2 hh, and is a little straight in his pasterns and a little straight behind. His shoulder angle is fairly good (it doesn't match his pastern angle), and I've had several people evaluate his movement and they all say that his straightness doesn't seem to bother him. What kind of things should I be aware of with these conformational "challenges" and what can I do to make sure he lasts as an eventer for me? I'd appreciate any comments!



Hi Kim! Straight pasterns are usually slightly short pasterns, which tend to be strong, so that shouldn't be a problem for the horse. The longer the pastern, the more "cushiony" the ride, so it may be a problem for the rider -- but if you find his gaits comfortable, then that's okay.

You already know that he needs to be taken back to basics -- and not even taken "back" since he never got the basics in the first place. You need to start over with him, which you are doing. Walk, trot, canter, halt, stand. Straight lines, wide turns, circles, figure-eights, and transitions -- thousands and thousands of transitions, between gaits and within gaits. Once he has learned to relax and use himself confidently at all three gaits and through his transitions, you can reduce the size of the figures and begin again, then introduce a little lateral work. Plan to give the process a good six months -- or more. If you start now, by spring he should be strong and supple, and you can introduce ground poles and small jumps, and teach him to jump single fences, lines, and small courses over the summer. If all goes well, you could then take him to a baby novice event at the end of next summer.

If his straightness doesn't keep him from doing the progressive training I described, it isn't going to keep him from carrying you through some lower-level events. You can maximize his potential by working on his physical development and his soundness -- again, progressive systematic training is the answer. You won't change his conformation, but you can make it possible for him to move to the best of his ability -- and he may end up being a better horse than one that might be better-built but isn't properly trained and conditioned, and never reaches his potential. He will definitely be a better horse than he would have been if he were still with his previous owners!

The next time you go to watch an event, look hard at all the horses that you like the best: the ones that are strong and flexible and in good condition. I'm willing to bet that not ONE of them will have "perfect" conformation for eventing -- you'll find flaws. But a strong, fit, confident horse that knows his job can perform beautifully even if his angles aren't perfect. Robyn may not be as long-strided or as scopy as some horses with better angles, but as long as you are aware of his limitations, you can work to improve him. And soundness and attitude count more than basic conformation -- a beautifully-built unsound horse is not a safe horse to event, and neither is a confused, upset, over-faced horse. Work on developing Robyn's body and mind, take things slowly, and you'll do just fine.


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