General Horse Information
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"After God, we owe it to the horse."
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General Horse Information

Buying a Horse
Measuring a Horse
Conformation
Gaits
More Topics

Buying a Horse

It is advisable to take certain precautions when contemplating horse ownership. Before you set out to buy a horse, you should first make an honest assessment of your riding ability, examine the facilities you have for keeping a horse and think about the purpose for which the animal is to be used.

Buying a horse is not much different from the purchase of any other commodity. So far as the law is concerned, the principle in most countries is "let the buy beware! However, the law is designed to give buyers some protection. Sellers must tell the truth when a specific question is asked, it is unethical to sell a horse that is not suitable for the purpose for which it was offered for sale. It may be that a horse, which performs perfectly well with one person, will not do so with another. Very good horsemen and women can manage most horses and so have a wider choice when seeking a purchase. Novice riders are more limited because of their inexperience.

For most people, cost is an important consideration when buying a horse. There are several factors that affect price: 1. Conformation and appearance; 2. Performance ability and/or record; 3. Weight-carrying capacity, if that is a matter of concern; 4. Age and manners. The soundness of the horse is not an issue, since no one in his right mind knowingly buys an unsound horse. As far as age is concerned, in general terms, an unbroken 2 or 3 year old will be cheaper than a 4 or 5 year old who has been schooled. From that age, all else being equal, the horse increases in value up to the age of 10. Thereafter, the price levels off until around 12-15 years, when the value of the animal begins to drop, the speed of the decline increasing as the years pass. Manners may be stretched to include temperament and whether the animal meets the demands made on a horse of today. For instance, is it safe in traffic under ordinary conditions and is it easy to box, shoe and clip?

If you aspire to purchase a well-bred horse of handsome appearance and impeccable conformation, who has won eventing, dressage, and show jumping and is furthermore just 7 years old, perfectly mannered and able to carry 200lb easily during a day's hunting, expect a correspondingly hefty price tag.

Many horses are bought at public sales, and at those conducted by reputable auctioneers; buyers are protected by the "conditions of sale," which should be studied carefully. Whether such sales are the best places for the novice to buy is unlikely. It may not be possible to examine the horse and ride it as thoroughly as might be desirable.

As another option, you can buy from a dealer. He will certainly allow you to ride the horse and to watch while it is ridden, with ample time to observe the animal being handled and to ask questions. A well-established dealer is a businessman and will want to satisfy the customer, so it is unlikely that he would attempt to sell a horse that he knows is unsuitable.

Finally, you can buy privately. It should not be taken for granted that buying privately is the most satisfactory way of acquiring a horse, however, many horses are bought and sold in this manner.

Having made an appointment to see a horse for sale, it is important that you should arrange to go with a friend. If your friend is knowledgeable about horses, so much the better, but his prime function is to be a witness to the sale, in the event that any dispute concerning the sale arises.

At the start, tell the seller the purpose for which the horse is required. It is not unreasonable to ask him to provide a form of guarantee, either verbally or in writing, that the horse, to the best of his knowledge, is sound, quiet to ride in all respects, free from stable vices and suitable for your stated requirements. Although the seller does not have to give such an assurance, if he declines you might put your own interpretation on the refusal and look for another horse.

Ask specific questions about the horse's performance, travelling, shoeing and so on. The blanket question, "Does the horse have any vices or problems I should know about?" is certainly the final one to ask.

If you are still interested, the horse should be trotted-out so that the action can be observed and you can gain an overall impression. When the horse is tacked-up, take note of the bitting ararngements. Before you mount, the horse should be ridden by the seller to see how it performs with someone it knows.

If you are keen to buy after riding the horse yourself, do so "subject to a veterinary certificate" and have your own veterinarian carry out the inspection. It should be noted that the veterinarian's certificate is not a guarantee of soundness - it is simply an opinion expressed by a suitably qualified person.

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Measuring a Horse

Measuring Height

Be sure your horse is standing with his weight on all four feet and with his legs set squarely under his body, which means, not set out in front of or behind his body. He should be standing on a flat, level surface, such as concrete or a rubber mat. Hold the measuring tape vertically and taut in your left hand. Hold a stick horizontally on the highest point of your horse's withers with your right hand. Take the reading where the bottom of the stick meets the measuring tape. A hand equals 4 inches.

Measuring Weight

With the weight tape, encircle the horse's heart girth. Pull the tape up snugly and read the tape. If you don't have a specially calibrated weight tape, you can measure your horse's heart girth with an ordinary measuring tape and use the following table to get an estimate of your horse's weight.
Girth in Inches = Weight in Pounds: 32 = 100; 40 = 200; 45 = 275; 50 = 375;55 = 500; 60 = 650; 62 = 720; 64 = 790; 66 = 860; 68 = 930; 70 = 1000; 72 = 1070; 74 = 1140; 76 = 1210; 78 = 1290; 80 = 1370.

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Conformation

Conformation in the equine can be defined as the interest in the formation of the skeletal frame and its accompanying muscle structures, in terms of the symmetrical proportion of the individual parts to each other and the whole. In the well-made horse, no one feature disturbs the overall symmetry.

Conformation varies according to the purpose for which the horse is required. At one extreme are the short, thick proportions and heavy musculature of the draft horse, which indicate strength and power. At the other extreme is the sleek Thoroughbred, based on a light frame and the length of proportions and muscles - conformation conducive to speed. Between, are horses that incline more or less to one than to the other.

The key to assessing conformation is in the proportions. A most significant proportion to observe is the depth of the girth. The length from the top of the withers to below the elbow should equal or exceed the measurement from that point to the ground if there is to be sufficient room for the lungs to expand without restriction. The depth of girth should give the horse the appearance of being short in the leg. For speed, the neck needs to be reasonably long. Its length should equal one and a half times the measurement from the poll, down the front of the face, to the lower lip; a shorter, thicker neck is associated with strength and power, but not speed. The back, from the rear of the withers to the croup, should be short in comparison with the measurement from the point of shoulder to the last of the "false" ribs. These "false" ribs lie over, and protect, the kidneys and other vital organs.

A correctly proportioned horse will be naturally well balanced, moving freely. Its performance level should exceed that of less well-made animals. Because it is more mechanically efficient, it will be less prone to unsoundness and strain, and will have a longer working life. Physical limitations, imposed by poor conformation, may have an adverse effect upon the temperment when the horse is compelled to carry out movements that cause him discomfort as a result of faults that are not of his making.

The head reveals the horse's nature. Large, generous eyes are desirable and nostrils should be big and wide, to permit the maximum inhalation of air. In the well-bred horse, the head is both lean and chiseled, with no signs of fleshiness, and the ears are fine and mobile. The size of the head in relation to the body is important. If the head is too heavy for the neck, it will overweigh the forehand and upset the balance; too small a head also disturbs the balance. Necks should be curved and graceful; ewe necks are a serious fault. A fleshy throat prohibits flexion of the bit.

The ideal riding shoulder is well sloped: long in the scapula, short in the humerus, and positioned well forward. The ideal slope, which produces a long, low stride, is about 43 degrees from the highest point of the withers to the point of the shoulder. Withers need to be well laid back and prominent if the shoulder is to be sufficiently oblique. Upright shoulders produces a shortened action.

The chest is neither too broad nor too narrow. If the chest is too broad, the horse rolls in movement; if too narrow, the legs are so close that they brush against each other.

The back rises slightly to the croup and is well muscled on either side of the spine. If too long, it weakens the structure. If too short or broad, it restricts the action. Between the saddle and the croup lie the loins on which the power of the quarters depend. They must be short, thick and powerful. If the horse is in balance, the croup in the mature horse is in alignment with the withers. A pronouncedly sloping croup with a low-set tail indicates weak quarters.

The quarters of a horse must give the impression of great strength. If the hock is placed correctly, it is in line with the chestnut on the foreleg. Viewed from the side, a line dropped from the point of the buttock to the ground should touch the hock and continue down the vertical line formed by the rear of the cannon bone.

The straightness of the forelegs is judged from the front. In addition, the elbow must be free from the body and not lie hard up against the ribs. Forearms should be long and muscular, knees large and flat, cannons short for strength and the measurement around the bone should be constant down its length. There must be no puffiness in fetlock joints, and the pasterns, which are known as the "shock absorbers", should be of medium length.

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The Gaits

The horse has four natural gaits and a number of specialized ones, which are based largely on the pacing gait. This gait occurs naturally in some American breeds, notably the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Saddlebred, The Fox Trotter and Standardbred, as well as in the Icelandic Horse.

The natural gaits are simply walk, trot, canter and gallop. The sequence of footfalls at walk, when it is begun with the left hind leg, is: 1. left hind; 2. left fore; 3. right hind; 4. right fore - four distinct and regular beats.

The trot is a two-beat gait in which the horse puts one pair of diagonal legs to the ground simultaneously and, after a moment of suspension, springs on the other diagonal. Two beats can be heard, the first when the left hind and right fore touch the ground, and the second when the opposite diagonal pair of legs touches down, following a brief interval.

The canter is a three-beat gait. If it begins on the left hind, the sequence is: 1. left hind; 2. left diagonal, the left fore and right hind touching the ground at the same time; 3. right fore, which is then termed the "leading leg". On a circle to the right, the horse "leads" with the inside foreleg. On a circle to the left, when the sequence is reversed, the horse leads with its left foreleg. A horse cantering a right-handed circle on the left lead, or vice-versa, is said to be on the "wrong lead" or moving with a "false lead".

The gallop is usually a gait of four beats, but the sequence varies according to the speed. As a four-beat gait, when the right fore leads, the sequence is: 1. left hind; 2. right hind; 3. left fore; 4. right fore, followed by full suspension when all four hooves are off the ground.

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References: The Ultimate Horse Book, Elwyn Hartley Edwards; Horse Health Care, Cherry Hill

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