You Be the Judge: Front Legs

You Be the Judge: Front Legs

Compare these two horses through the eyes of an AQHA Professional Horseman.

performance halter line-up (Credit: Journal)

text size

The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

The Journal showed these photos to AQHA Professional Horseman Chris Arentsen of Illinois, a multiple world champion halter trainer. We asked him what he would say about these photos if he were speaking to students in a "Halter 101" class. Listen in.

two halter horse front leg photos side by side

Two setups, two horses, what's the difference between them?

Chris: The back feet in both horses appear to be straight and lined up well.

It might just be the angle of the photo, but in the photo on the right, the back feet might not be perfectly lined up next to each other. But we'll assume they are.

In the photo on the right, the horse's legs appear to be straight all the way down. It is a dark horse, and there's a shadow on the front, but the leg appears to come squarely out of the shoulder and come straight down to the ground.

In the photo on the left, the horse's feet are too close together. With them too close together, it causes the legs to appear to have a little bit of bow.

To get the ideal stance, setup or square-up, whatever you want to call it, the goal is to have a perfect square from the front feet to the back feet. On the front legs, you want to be able to draw a straight line from the point of the shoulder down to the middle of the knee, through the middle of the hoof, down to the ground. That's the ideal way to have the front feet.

Then you want the same distance apart between your front feet and your back feet so you have a complete, symmetrical square. The horse on the right looks like a good example of that.

Is there a reason why someone would intentionally set up a horse like the photo on the left?

Chris: No, it's probably a mistake.

If a horse is crooked up front and the leg turns to the right or to the left, sometimes you can keep them a little close to help that. 

But that horse on the left will probably start to shake a touch over time, because it's not comfortable standing like that.

The horse looks like it has good angles to its pasterns, but in a very long halter class, he's going to get uncomfortable.

You don't see horses standing out in the pasture with all four feet together. If you let the legs come out of the shoulder, straight down, that should be the most comfortable position for the horse to stand in during a conformation class.

The horse on the left is very wide-chested; it has a lot of front shoulder. That horse's legs might need to stand a little farther apart than the horse on the right. A heavier-chested horse will naturally have more distance between its front legs than a narrower horse, but you still want that front leg to come directly out of the shoulder, straight down.

How would you fix that setup on the left in a class?

I would do one of two things. I'd either bend down and pick up the horse's front left foot and move it over 3-4 inches to the horse's left. Or I'd touch the hoof with my toe to move it apart, depending on how good the horse is at squaring up.

normal equine front legs

Normal equine front limb, from the front (Credit: illustration by Dr. Robin Peterson)

More Horse Conformation Resources

You Be the Judge: Horse Hocks: Judge these six examples of horse conformation and learn how deviations impact horse‚Äôs hind leg function.

American Quarter Horse Conformation Chart: Learn the structure of a horse, plus conformation standards for an American Quarter Horse, all packed into this FREE downloadable chart.

Structure in Detail: Equine conformation experts show readers how to evaluate a horse's structure in e-book, free to download for AQHA members. Walk through specific parts of the horse, with illustrations showing structural correctness and common abnormalities.