A Horseman's Eye

The late Hall of Famer Charley Araujo sheds light on evaluating American Quarter Horse conformation for horse breeding.

It's beneficial to evaluate a horse's conformation before deciding to breed. Bar H photo

Editor’s Note: Charley Araujo, a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, wrote this piece in 1970, but his timeless wisdom still holds true today.

Since I was a child, I have observed horses. I grew up in a time when horses and cowboys were the admiration of the day in our country. We lived here in California up in cattle country in the mountains, and that was all there was to admire. We used draft horses to work, and I still admire draft horses, and I judge draft horses, too.

I always look at a horse’s legs, just through instinct without even thinking about it. If a person should ride up here right now on a burro, I would automatically look at that burro’s legs. It’s just a natural trait with me. So when I first approach a horse, I look at his front legs to see whether he toes in or out or is offset in the cannon bones or if he is square and standing straight. Then I just look right on up to see how he’s muscled and how he V’s up in the chest. This applies not only to Quarter Horses but to all breeds. People will ask, “Do you like a wide horse?” No, I don’t like a wide horse. “Do you like a narrow horse?” No, I don’t like a narrow horse. I want a horse that is balanced. For him to be a good horse, he’s got to be a good horse all over. He can’t be good and bad. However, there’s none of them perfect. Some are a lot better than others. Next, I look at his head - his eyes and nostrils and mouth.

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I want any horse to be wide between the eyes, regardless of the breed. I want his eyes set low on his head. I don’t like his eyes way up next to his ears. I like a horse with a lot of space between his ears and his eyes. He should have no roughness or bony sections over his eyes. We don’t find too many like that, but we still look for that. It just makes him a better-headed horse. I like a large, brown eye on any horse, I don’t care if he is an American Saddlebred or a Paso Fino. However, in Quarter Horses, we don’t have too many large-eyed horses. But we sure don’t like a little bitty pig-eye, which occasionally you do find. Then I step beside a horse and look at his head from the side. You hear them talking about parrot-mouthed horses - horses that bite over. I don’t ask everyone to see a horse’s teeth. If you know anything about a horse’s mouth, you can tell about his teeth by looking at him. Then if he looks suspicious, I’ll have the exhibitor show me the horse’s teeth. There are some horses that get a little bit nervous in the ring, and they will put their lip out. They are not parrot-mouthed horses, but they give that appearance at the time. I have some of my own horses right now that get a little nervous and do that, yet their teeth match. It’s just their lips. Being parrot-mouthed is a bad thing in horses, because it hinders their eating. And they will breed that way, too. It must be remembered that there is only one thing that we can guarantee in breeding, and that’s that they will pass along any bad traits. No one can guarantee the good. You can guarantee the bad, because they’re going to have them first. Consequently, you don’t want too much bad with your breeding stock. I see great-grandsons and great-granddaughters of stallions and mares that have the same traits that I didn’t like in the stallions or mares. It is definitely going to crop up. It goes right back to what was said by one of the foremost horse breeders that we ever had had in the western hemisphere: “No man lives long enough to be a good horse breeder.”

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The older I get, the more I think how right he was, because in a breeding program, you can only make so many mistakes, and then you’re dead. You don’t have time to recover and start again but two or three times, and you’re finished. That was N.H. Harris in Chicago - the man who imported the first Arabian horses in this country. He was a great horseman from a breeding standpoint and very successful. Still looking at the horse’s head, I look to see how his ears are set, looking from the side. We started the Quarter Horse breed with a short-eared horse, and this is what we wanted. But time and things change. There are very few short-eared horses now, but we still don’t want a Quarter Horse to have an ear like a Saddlebred. We sure don’t like a flop-eared horse, so I watch to see if his ears flop over. That indicates a lazy, listless kind of a horse. Most all well-bred horses have an alert ear. Most lazy do-nothings are flop-eared horses that don’t have animation. They never look pretty and are not desirable to people. If you see a horse standing there with his ears flopped, you just automatically pass him by. From the side, I don’t like a horse’s ears to go ahead too far or yet turn back. It’s just a matter of opinion as to what kind of ear a horse should have. But ears are not going to win or lose too many classes, unless they are real floppy. There’s just more appeal when horses are bright-eared.