Thursday, January 15, 2015

What I Look for In a Horse

I won't take as long with the Tally stories, I'm finally in a mood to finish up, but I had a good question posed by a regular reader so I wandered off the trail a bit.

I was asked what I look for when I'm buying a horse.

My breed of choice is a Quarter Horse. My chosen discipline is Reined Cow Horse.

I definitely have a type of horse I'm drawn to. It's part instinct, part training. I've noticed my attraction crosses breed lines, but the type runs true. I would be happy to ride any of these horses.

Madonna - Quarter Horse

Kiger Mustang

Cow Horse bred Quarter Horse


This isn't a list of my favorite breeds, it's a showcase of what I like to see. If any one of these horses were unloaded and handed over to me to ride my inner child would be doing cartwheels.

I used to look at the horse first, then pick apart the conformation, then look at the papers. 

"Ooooh, pretty.
"Where's my 4H book?
"Does he have papers?" 

Then, I got a little older. It went like this:

"Ooooh pretty.
"How's he bred?
"Where's my 4H book?"

Then, as a pro, it became this:
"How's he bred?
"Ooooh pretty.
"Where's my 4H book?"

Except, once I was a pro, I was too cool to admit I still used my tattered 4H book from 1972 to check conformation.

The order is situation dependent. 

If I'm looking for a show horse, I'll start looking at prospects papers first. I am more interested in the mare than the stud, although both are important. The foal will be raised by the mare and will inherit her habits and temperament, both good and bad. If I have a choice, I like to know the mare. Genetically, I'm going to get the mix I'm going to get, so I want earnings on both sides. The price I'm willing to pay goes hand-in-hand with what the past generations have done in the discipline I compete in. 

A halter champion won't help me if I want a cutting horse. It gets even more complicated. A reining bred horse is bred to wait for guidance from the rider. A cutting bred horse is an independent cuss and thinks for himself, and a reined cowhorse  has a little of both. Each type is bred to perform it's job, and although the physical differences may be slight, they are there and they're important.

Once I have a list of prospects in mind, I get to go look and turn loose my, "Ooooh, pretty." 

I guess I should be jumping to conformation, but I decided a long time ago that horses cost too much to not have what I want. I want pretty. My idea of pretty, not yours, not my boss', not my mom's. 

What do I think is pretty?

When I was in college, a friend told me, "For somebody who doesn't like Arabs you sure own the most Arab-y Quarter Horse I've ever seen."

WAIT!!! Before anybody gets their feelings hurt, I like Arabs just fine. I was a snotty 19-year-old giving grief to her Arab riding roommate. 

I like small, pretty heads with little ears, big eyes, small muzzles and big flaring nostrils. I like my horses to travel with a higher head set than your average quarter horse and a nice arch, not just for looks, but the feel between the reins.

I like a solid, strong coupled horse with a smooth top line-no weird dips or bumps from poll to tail. I like a well-muscled horse and a round croup, but not to the extreme.

I like long, nicely sloped shoulders, hindquarters to match, and a low set tail.

Visually, I'm drawn to long legged horses. As far as conformation goes, I look for clean, straight legs, solid bone, decent sized feet, and pasterns that aren't too long or super-short. I want the cannon bones to be short. When a horse moves I look for a deep stride underneath from the hind.

Long shoulders with a nice angle give me a horse with a nice reach, and big butts power the motor. If 
 the shoulders are too upright (short) I'm going to get a rough ride, a short stride, clipped from the deep reaching hind and too much heel.

I like a clean throatlatch and a fairly high tie-in on the neck. The longer and better angled the shoulder, the better the neck will be. A pretty, functional neck is twice as long on it's top line as the bottom. The mustang up above has a pretty crappy neck, but there's enough to work with.

I want some withers and well-sprung ribs.

I'm really picky when it comes to the loin and the coupling of my horses. I want solid muscle and a smooth transition to the croup. The loin and coupling are what transfers the motion of the hindquarters through the back and forward to the forehand. Think about that for a minute.

I like a long hip and a long, well developed semitendinous muscle. 

Weak legs make for a weak horse. Anything the 4H book tells me is bad concerning legs, I believe.

All of this is negotiable, to a point. Madonna is slightly over the knee, Odin is a little long...
they both get the job done.

I like my horses, oh, I don't know, kind of punky. Madonna is the easiest horse I've ever had the pleasure to ride, but she's notorious for running barn help out of her pen. See? Punky.

It's not that I have a desire to tame the wild mustang or conquer their spirit...I just like some 'tude. It keeps things interesting. There's a spark in the eye I like to see, a little, "Oh yeah, Says who?"

My horses are well behaved on the ground. They would never drag, crowd, stomp or kick. But they like to mess around. We play, what else can I say? I don't know how to explain it, other than I'm interested in what they have to say, so I look for a horse with an opinion.

So there it is. 


  1. "For somebody who doesn't like Arabs you sure own the most Arab-y Quarter Horse I've ever seen."

    As an Arab person, this made me laugh, because I was just thinking that the QH you put up as an example of what you like looked very Arab-y to me.

  2. Yeah I like the looks of all of those.

    And somehow I always end up with a stocky horse with a ton of attitude. And I guess I like it that way!

    (Still say my 1/2 arab 1/2 QH was one of the best looking horses I've ever seen. I was very biased of course because I loved him, punk ass attitude and all. But I still love that high headed, short backed look.)

  3. You seem to like Welsh cobs too..

  4. Why yes I do...when their build fits my type.

  5. my kinda horse

  6. Joyce Reynolds-WardJanuary 15, 2015 at 9:50 PM

    Yep. Same phenotype and attitude preference from me, except I expect a bit of compliance when I'm the one saying "do this."

    Then again, I keep saying that my Mocha's a throwback to great-grandma Poco Lena in some respects (how far back depends on what side of the pedigree you're looking on). Some of the things she does resonate with the stories about that old mare. And her mama was just as strong-minded.

  7. I've become a big Azteca / Andalusian freak, for all the conformation reasons you noted. Plus, their personality (on the whole) is fabulous. Very "what can I do for you" with a reasonable helping of "hold my grain and watch this."

    It took me a while, but I also learned that I don't like to ride a horse that can't think for itself. I'm a bit of a lazy rider and I don't what to have to tell my horse what to do every single second. I want them to figure out where and how to place their own feet while I deal with higher order problems.

    And, if we're dreaming big: if I get conformation and a mind, then a buckskin with a big white blaze is the holy grail. My current mare is an Azteca, smutty buckskin with a big white blaze. I made my husband make the buy decision on her, because I knew I couldn't be objective. When I saw those doe eyes and big white blaze, I was gonzo. If she'd had both front legs sticking out the same hole, I'd still thought she was perfect.

  8. Funnily enough your "type" is quite similar to the type I liked for jumping. As I was trying to turn the horses over to make money for my college fund I liked ones that had pretty heads and markings as well, as they were faster to sell (however the best minded horse I ever had was an ugly roman nosed, big headed guy - good thing he wasn't one I was trying to sell on). A good mind was important to me - a horse that cannot think for itself is a liability, especially over solid fences.
    Dee (anon because I have screwed up the account I used as my blooger/google log in!)

  9. I just recently bought a new horse, who's a relatively finished reiner (good for a neophyte reining student who's ridden for a long time otherwise, but not a dead-broke do-anything horse). I think his breeding may be more reined cow horse than reiner. I may be prejudiced, but I think he's gorgeous:

    This is not me riding him, that's his former owner. :)

    He's a bit different from your description of the ideal... and you won't hurt my feelings if you don't like him... but what do you think?

  10. The morgan and the cowhorse you posted are basically perfect as far as I'm concerned. I like short backs and arching necks too. Although I like them a little stocky with lots of bone. Which is the opposite of my little mare, she's got dainty little toothpick legs. Madonna is really really pretty, and I love how dark gold her coat looks in that photo!

  11. Scamp - I couldn't get the page to come up. You have to remember, this is my ideal, not one I expect anyone else to have. It's a combination of my three criteria...Oooooh, pretty," being completely personal.

  12. I read that thinking "hmm, sounds like every welsh cob I've ever known" but SB Zenith beat me to it!

  13. I could certainly learn more about conformation, but you pick beautiful horses. I am really a sucker for big doe eyes.

  14. Does this one work any better?

  15. Interesting how many of the horses you chose are verrrry long in the tibia!

  16. Much prefer an intelligent horse with a little bit of sass and a kind heart, to a big bag of Duh!

    Not a bad looking one in the bunch although I do have a soft spot for those Arab-y types.

  17. Ladt Ferrier - long tibia/short metacarpal, tomato, toh-mah-to...
    I like short cannon bones on my horses. for what I do, the shorter, denser cannon bone takes a pounding, gives me a tighter, sharper turn and a deeper stop. From what I understand, dressage riders look for the same thing because it creates better movement.
    If I'm looking for short cannons, it makes sense I'll end up with long tibias, unless of course I want to start breeding Munchkin Horses.

  18. Scamp - he looks like a very nice horse. Bet you'll have fun on him.

  19. Well, I wouldn't kick any of these out of my barn! I tend to like heavier boned, balanced horses. Slightly uphill build, long legs, nice neck. I have TWH now, but I have owned everything from a Lipizzaner to a Mini.