Form follows function?

A commen, and usually correct theory in the horse world.  If you want a fast horse you want a lighter boned creature, if you want a pulling horse you want a big powerful beast,  dressage riders look for a horse built to carry weight behind, and if you want your horse to stay sound over those gruelling 3-day event courses you will avoid those who toe out or in drastically.  Commen sense and many experts tell us to consider the horse’s build in relation to the job we expect him/her to do.


Makes all sense to me.


But sometimes we meet those bizarre exceptions, they may have stayed sound for years despite looking like every conformation fault rolled up into one horse.  Or maybe they look like a chunky monkey who could barely trot, but turn a barrel with the best of them.


Take this mare for example:



Yes, she is in terrible condition (she is on a feedlot, sadly) but what struck me right after her poor condition is her front legs.  Pasterns as upright as posts.

Yet she is 26, has worked all her life and is still sound.  Despite her obvious conformation fault.  Now I just wish I could give this poor old lady a home….sigh….but that is off todays topic.

A lot of experts would have written her off when she was young as not likely to stay sound, but she did.  She was a ranch horse.  I guess we can make the argument that if she was a jumper she might have broken down, but that is something we’ll never know.

In my (way) younger years I rode a buckskin gelding, all of 15 hh and mostly tank, huge hammerhead, thick neck, big shoulder.  Short stubby pony legs, but horse bodied coupled with light hindquarters.  No halter ribbons for that guy LOL!  Looking at him you would never guess he could pound his way to a jump almost 100% on his forehand and pop over 4′ with ease!  And that was with no schooling, he was a dude horse.

Back then I did not know enough to try to shift some of his weight to his hindquarters, it was point the horse at the fence and jump.  But really, even with the best dressage rider on him I bet that would take some work and only be moderately successful.

Despite his form he functioned better than many well built horses over a fence.

I still take conformation into account, and never think that is a bad idea.  Breeding for a sport is also commonly practiced, and also not a bad thing at all.  But then I think of Ringo.

Ringo lived at a farm that also took track layups and horses in training.  He was another living example of every conformation fault in one horse, poor ugly guy.  He also had a personality to match-and made me think there is something to that small eye coupled with a roman nose theory.  I suppose nowdays he’d be called a “Pintaloosa” as he was pinto with bum spots and no mane to speak of.

Long story short-my friend and I were riding, she was on a racehorse (she worked there)while I rode the infamous nasty Ringo.  Talk got to having a race so we hit the training track and I jacked up my stirrups to match hers (ah the stupidity of being 17), and off we went.

That ugly horse’s speed was suprising, he ran like the devil was after him with no urging from me,  he  wanted to run, with all the heart of a Thorobred!  He put that racehorse to shame, it was all I could do to pull him up.  He didn’t even throw in an explosive buck-something he was known for.  Willy-nilly breeding, conformation faults, short stride and all that was likely the fastest horse I have ever sat on, OTTB’s included!

But if you stood him up beside the racehorse and asked for bets?  No one sane would pick him.

I enjoy these exception-to-the-rule horses.  Have you met/owned one?  What was he good at that no one would ever guess?



About crow131

I'm a happy camper 95% of the time, I love animals and kids....and some adults. I believe in Karma and am a spiritual and moral person. Bad people may gain in this world but they are still bad.... I have many interests, including horses, birds, growing my own food, art, writing, the Runes....yes, it is all over the map. I feel some of us are here to care for those who are not cared for by those who should care for them-if that makes any sense ;-)
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5 Responses to Form follows function?

  1. trailrider20 says:

    Every horse I’ve ever had! But this brings me to something that I have always wanted to discuss, and that’s “what the horse wants to do”. Some people enjoy hitting the gym for a workout, for me it is deadly dull and I would not get the full benefit of the workout because my heart is not in it. But show me a corral to clean, some gardening to do and I put my whole effort into it because I really enjoy it. Horses are no different. This paint mare may not have the best conformation, but I bet she really loved what she did and did it well. This is what a great trainer is supposed to do. Make the horse enjoy and do well what ever it is asked. I am not a great trainer, but I am able to find and train horses to really love the trail, and a horse that is being forced to do work they do not like will be less physically able to do it, and a horse that truly loves doing something will be physically able to do it better. That is why some conformationally challenged horses can do so well.

  2. HJK says:

    I agree trailrider, it’s about the heart of the horse. Some horses love to jump, some love trails, some just want to be lead line ponies. It’s such a wonderful feeling being on a horse that loves it’s job (especially jumpers, it feels just like flying).

  3. trailrider20 says:

    I really feel that this is such an important thing for all riders to consider, so much misery is caused by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Discussion of conformation is fun, but take my old guy for example. Definitely not the best conformation, and only a trail horse, but all the years I have had him 95% of the time I have had a eager trail partner. Right now we are having some undefined lameness problems, have only been able to ride when he’s doing better, I took him out yesterday for a short ride, (yes right now he’s mostly off kilter from not being ridden consistently) and his whole attitude this morning is so much better. He’s happy because he was able to do what he likes so much. A horse that for some reason does not like trail riding, for instance a horse that feels nervous going off on his own, would feel worse after such a ride. Having enough horsemanship sense to find out what the horse likes to do and make that happen would solve a lot of problems.

  4. Jennifer says:

    My lesson barn owner friend has a horse called Ella. It’s short for Cinderella because she arrived in terrible condition – BCS 2, maybe 2.5, ear mites, she was chain-cribbing to suppress her appetite, depressed…

    This horse was put together by committee! I wish I had a good photo of her, but she’s at least as bad as the photo at the top. She’s the sort of horse when if you ask somebody’s opinion they hesitate and go “Uh, nice color.” (And yes, she is a rather pretty chestnut pinto). It’s not even one specific fault, it’s just this overall omgMESS. I’ve actually said to people “I don’t think her sire and dam should have been allowed in the same zip code.” I’m not the only person who thinks she was bred in somebody’s backyard by somebody who wanted their kids to “see the miracle of birth” so they put their mediocre mare to the mediocre stallion next door. She was hell to fit a saddle to.


    This mare is one of the best trail horses I have ever ridden – she goes first, last, or in the middle, always willingly. She’s a *fantastic* string horse – people knock string/dude horses, but to me there’s something to be said for a horse you can put somebody who has never seen a horse in the flesh before on and absolutely trust to bring that person home.

    She teaches 8 year old beginners…and 50 year old beginners. And if you know how to ride she’ll actually work in a pretty decent pleasure frame despite having the worst topline I think I’ve ever seen (and no, it’s not fitness, she’s just MADE that way). If I had children, I’d trust her with them any day of the week.

    And she hasn’t been lame in, oh, ages, and then it was because of the afore-mentioned saddle fitting problems right when we first got her.

    She’s one of the best school and string horses I’ve ever known.

    But man is she fugly.

  5. HJK says:

    On the theme of horses that love their jobs …

    Good pony!

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