Monday, October 17, 2011

Mind If I Vent A Little?

Mondays are typically NOT my favorite day of the week; I usually feel grumpy and can never get enough coffee.  I might be a little bit picky, snippy, or *GASP* bossy on Mondays, at least more so than on other days.  ;) So, in reflection of my Monday mood, I want to vent a little about a pet peeve I have: horses that are "hip high."  This conformational fault is one that I can't abide, and I can't understand why anyone else would either!

To be clear, we are talking about a horse whose point of the hip is higher (sometimes MUCH higher) than the point of its withers, causing the horse to move downhill on its front end.  This trait is often associated with a long back, another fault that bothers me to a high degree.  You must always take into consideration a horse's age when evaluating his hip-to-withers height ratio, as horses grow unevenly, and you can't be completely sure of exactly where they are until the age of four or five.  But don't be blithely dismissive though - many three yr olds are so hip high that it is a real gamble that their front end will be able to catch up.  If they also have a long back, you probably are looking at a permanently hip high horse.  There are a lot of them around.

What is the problem with a hip high horse?  First, they are AWFUL to ride.  They tend to take pounding strides with their front legs, the concussion of which then runs up their leg to you in the saddle, jarring every bone in your body.  At the lope, their overly long hind leg coming up under their body causes an additional 'bump' to you in the saddle.  They are very difficult to collect, since rounding their back can be anything from mildly uncomfortable to downright impossible.  They are often very hard to fit a saddle to; the saddle slides forward, pinching the withers and jabbing the shoulders.  Worst of all, these horses are more prone to injury and pain, from the concussion to their joints, to strained tendons and ligaments to back problems.  A younger horse might be able to get by with this physical limitation, but by the time a hip high horse is aged, they are going to be hurting somewhere.  Being hip high shortens their useful lives.

Where are these horses coming from?  There is no doubt that this conformational fault is present in all breeds, but I sure see it A LOT in the Quarter Horse breed.  I attribute this to several factors.  One, QH cutting horses are bred to get low on a cow - to get down with its elbows in the dirt to look a cow right in the eye.  Having a long back and a high hip is an advantage here.  The problem with that is that those young cutting horses are only actually used on cattle for a few short years.  They may be taken out of training due to injury, or because the cost of training them on cattle outweighs the potential earnings in the show ring. [Keeping a cutter on fresh cattle is expensive, and so cutting training is a big investment in a horse.]  So a young, hip high cutter will inevitably have to transition to a new career, since opportunities to work on actual cattle ranches is also a shrinking percentage.  That career, if they are lucky enough to find a good home, will most likely be as a pleasure horse.

The high hip trait also comes from the infusion of Thoroughbred blood in the QH breed.  Being hip high is an advantage to young racehorses too, and since almost all QHs have some Thoroughbred in them, the trait was passed in this way as well.

Hip high horses might achieve a lot in their young lives in the competitive arena, before injury sets in, and so their name might carry a very high profile in the breeding shed.  This is when people begin to ignore the obvious fault, or even count it as a positive.  Have you ever heard someone brag about how big their horse's rear end is, how they 'have a huge motor back there,' or go so far as to attribute the horse's speed or prowess to the high hip ratio?  While it may be true in the short term, I always add silently in my mind, "Ugh, and I bet he is a pain in the butt to ride...." 

Who wants to ride a horse that is so rough you worry that you will seriously damage your spine?  Who wants to have to pay for bute and injections and cortisone to get your horse just barely rideable?  And will need to be euthanized at an early age because they are so crippled up you can't stand it anymore?  We cannot breed horses for careers that they will only have for less than 25% of their lives!  We have to balance the need to create an animal that can compete as a young horse with one that can have a vital, active, comfortable life beyond the competitive arena.  We need to breed fewer horses that have such a limited shelf life.

And for goodness sake - - we need to breed horses that are comfortable to ride.  Think of your horse's poor trainer's back, would ya?!?