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What the Judge is Looking For

Inspection scores rely on the judge's evaluation of your horse's type, conformation and movement. Read on to learn how the judge makes his decisions.

The Type and Conformation

"Type" refers to the general physical appropriateness of the horse for the intended purpose - i.e. a Dressage horse.

In Sport Horse breeding, riding horse "type" addresses whether the horse is physically suitable to become a riding sport horse for Dressage. Draft horse type, stock horse type, Dutch Carriage type, etc. are not the "type" which fulfills the Breeding Goal or the breed standard for Dressage riding horses.

A suitable "type" may not be particularly pretty, but should be harmonious. In dealing with "Type", it is important to distinguish between fashion and function, and to be clear that it is not an issue of pure prettiness - but rather a consideration of suitability for the intended purpose. The judge guards against the danger of letting fashion overwhelm function, as has happened so disastrously in dog breeding.

The Gaits

The judge looks for purity, correctness, and quality in all the gaits. Purity is the correctness of the rhythm of the gait - the footfalls. Correctness is the straightness of the action of the limbs. Quality encompasses many considerations, but especially scope of freedom, elasticity, and power. All of these issues are matters of the bio-mechanics of the gaits.

Confusingly, the same words may mean different things for a Riding Type as opposed to a Driving Type. "Power from behind" is an appealing phrase, but the difference between "pushing power" in a riding horse and a driving type can be as different as night and day.

By the nature of the bio-mechanics, the walk can have almost no impulsion or engagement. Its energy is derived from "swing", which is primarily a function of the neck and back.

For riding horses, the walk should have a clear, but not necessarily excessive overstep, which though cherished by the uninitiated and inexperienced, often leads to difficulties with the purity of the gait in collection, and with ability in piaffe. It can sometimes also indicate a tendency toward 'sprawling' in canter. It is often accompanied by a tendency to be shoulder-bound.

The fore and hind legs should seem to operate similarly - in "balance" (not huge steps behind and short steps in front). The two legs on the same side should appear to form a "V" as the hind leg touches the ground.

The most common faults in walk are impurity (lateralness - not a "V"), shortness behind (lack of overstep), shortness in front (shoulder-bound), and lack of swing.

For riding horses, the trot should be long, elastic, and powerful. The feet should touch and leave the ground approximately equidistantly from a plumb line dropped from the hip or shoulder.

Length is determined by the range of motion in the horse's shoulders and hips. Elasticity is determined by the shock absorbing quality or "storing of energy" of the grounded hind leg, the springy tension in the back musculature, and by the quickness with which the fore and hind legs leave the ground.

Power is determined by the timing and vigor of the straightening of the joints of the grounded hind leg.

The most common faults in trot are sprawling and sagging (which the uninitiated interpret as "suspension"), lack of scope and lack of suspension.

Canter (not judged on the triangle)
The canter is the only one of the three "normal" gaits in which the two hind legs travel forward at the same time, and the only gait in which the horse ever has all his weight on one foreleg while all the other legs are in the air. Good indicators of good quality are the longitudinal spread between the two forelegs and the two hind legs, and the quickness with which the outside foreleg is lifted from the ground (before reaching and acute angle).

Length, elasticity, and power are determined in the same way as in the trot. The most common faults in the canter are whipping up behind, lack of spread and reach, lack of suspension, and excessive ground time/backward angle of the forelegs. A 4-beat canter, or lateral canter, is a severe fault which may come from nature or training.