Reprinted with the permission of Dressage Today@2000.
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Ask the Experts: Conformation Faults in a Young Dressage Prospect
Con Brio Farm's Kyle Karnosh discusses how to put a young horse's
shortcomings in perspective with the whole picture.
I am thinking of buying a 2-year-old colt as a dressage prospect. He has good breeding,
nice temperament, gorgeous topline and outstanding movement. But, he has drawbacks that
make me unsure of purchasing him as a riding horse. He toes out slightly and is slightly
cow-hocked. His stifle is a little loose, and he has a big scar on one front leg.
The breeder thinks he is a stallion prospect. If I buy him and train him for several
years, are all my efforts going to be valueless because of these drawbacks in
Since your question indicates that you are looking at this horse as a riding prospect,
I'll assume that the fact that he is still a stallion is merely incidental and not
a factor in your decision. Buying a young dressage horse is one way to obtain a
higher quality individual than you might be able to afford once he already is
going under saddle. You can't evaluate the 2-year-old by trying him, but you
can look at movement, conformation and behavior. The trick here is to try
to put the horse's shortcomings in perspective with the whole picture, without
underemphasizing or overemphasizing them. Every horse has faults. The issue
is whether or not these faults might cause you a problem given how you intend
to use the horse. The requirements for a Second-Level prospect will not be as
stringent as those for a horse intended for Grand Prix competition. Whether
the list of drawbacks you mention will limit your prospect's abilities depends
on the degree of the fault.
||© Susan Sexton
The first thing to do before you buy is to make sure a qualified veterinarian
examines the horse. Discuss these issues with him or her before you make the
purchase. Here are the concerns I would have in the horse you describe. You
indicate that he toes out. There are two main concerns with a horse that toes out.
The first is the same for any deviation--does it cause excessive stress on one
side of the joint or tendons when weight bearing? Since you indicate that the
toe out is slight, this probably is not the case.
Another major concern with toeing out is whether the horse interferes or hits
the inside of the opposite leg when he moves. Observing the horse as he moves
toward you will give you an idea of whether this is a potential problem. If
it's not a problem now, it should only improve because your prospect will get
wider in the chest as he matures. This will place his legs farther apart and
less at risk for hitting one with the other.
Loose stifles are not uncommon
in young horses since they usually are not in work and, therefore, are not very fit.
In most of the cases, this issue resolves itself once the horse starts work and
gains condition. In some cases, there may need to be some hill or cavalletti
work to strengthen muscles in the hindquarters.
A big scar on the front
leg is generally only a problem if a joint or some tendons are involved. Your
veterinarian should be able to evaluate the location of the scar and tell you
what structures are involved. If no important structures are compromised, then
it's really only a matter of whether it bothers you to look at the scar or
possibly if it causes a rubbing problem with any boots you may use on the horse
in the future.
Probably the biggest issue on your list is that the horse
is cow-hocked. However, I have found that not all people mean the same thing
when they use the term cow-hocked. Many people use this term for a horse who,
when viewed from behind, has his hocks rotated outward, so the points of the
hocks are closer together than the fronts of the hocks. This does not technically
make the horse cow-hocked. As long as all of the structures of the leg are in
alignment - stifles, fetlocks, hocks and hooves all face the same direction and
you can draw a vertical line between them - this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Many people prefer this conformation because it allows the horse's stifles clear
his barrel and therefore step more forward under his body. In the case of true
cow-hocks, the leg is not in alignment because the cannon bones are not vertical,
but instead come into the hock at an angle. The hocks can be significantly closer
together than the fetlocks in this case and more stress is placed on the hock due
to the misalignment.
Whether cow hocks are an issue is a matter of their degree and the usage of
the horse. As your question indicates that your prospect is only slightly cow-hocked,
I wouldn't disqualify him if the rest of his leg structure is good. If you're not
sure if the deviations are significant enough to be a problem, I would recommend
that you have a knowledgeable horseman or veterinarian evaluate the horse and
discuss his or her opinion with you. However, realize that no one can guarantee
whether or not these things will ever cause a problem.
Buying a horse is a gamble. To improve our chances of success, we try to use
conformation as a predicator, but there's not always as good a correlation as we
In the end you need to decide if your concerns outweigh the many good points about
Kyle Karnosh, with her husband, owns Con Brio Farms in Gilroy, California.
For the past nineteen years, they have bred Oldenburgs, Hanoverians and Dutch
Warmbloods, producing premium mares and foals. Karnosh also has bred
horses competing to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) level.
For more information about Con Brio Farms breeding program, visit the Web site
Reprinted from the July 2000 issue of Dressage Today magazine.
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