Looking Leggy

Follow these horse-showing tips to set your halter horse’s front legs just right.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Kathy Smallwood of Pilot Point, Texas, says to stand up your halter horse based on his conformation as an individual.

Honestly appraising your horse’s assets and faults will help you do a better job of positioning him so that he looks his best to the judge. Here’s how to set the front legs:

“The horse is more likely to need adjustments with the front legs,” Kathy says. “The back feet aren’t usually much of a problem. But in front, a horse will usually toe in or out. One foot might be club-footed, or a horse might be over at the knees or calf kneed.”

AQHA’s Form to Function PDF describes many conformation defects and teaches you how to spot an ideally conformed horse. Whether used as a halter show horse or a trail mount, a horse must have the right conformation to do his job well.

Remember that you can’t fool a judge, and you can’t totally hide imperfections in conformation, but you can minimize the faults so that it doesn’t holler, “Hey! Look at this!”

“Sometimes, when you start to set your horse’s front feet, you’ll find that the dirt is deeper under one foot than the other,” she says. In most cases, the foot won’t just sink level. Either the toe or heel will go in deeper, causing that entire front leg to look off.

“That’s when I will pick up the front foot, use my own foot to smooth down the dirt, then replace the horse’s foot on the smoothed surface,” Kathy says.

With a horse that’s pretty correct, Kathy says, “you want those legs to come straight down, pretty much the same way you would with a good-hocked horse. Looking from the side, follow the imaginary straight line.”

However, if a horse is long-backed, Kathy will set the front feet 1-2 inches behind the line. “By having his legs camped under just a tad, it creates the illusion of a shorter back,” she says.

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Some halter horses are extremely wide-chested. Kathy says that if you try to set your horse’s front feet too close together, the horse will end up shaking on his legs and not stand as stable. He will be uncomfortable and will want to move.

A horse that is over at the knees also tends to be a little shaky. In this case, Kathy sets the horse’s front legs 1-2 inches forward of the line to relieve tension.

Offset knees also require special attention when setting up the front legs.

“Especially on softer dirt, I find that a horse with an offset knee will tend to look pigeon-toed,” Kathy says. “In this situation, I set the right foot first off the shank, placing it as straight down as possible, when viewing it from the front.”

The length of a horse’s back is just one of many pieces that make up his conformation. Based on conformation, horses may be more suited to certain disciplines. AQHA’s “Form to Function” PDF explains the significance of horse conformation so you know what to look for in your next horse.

But if she feels it needs to be moved slightly in or out to compensate for the illusion of either knee being offset, she can change the position with hand pressure on the horse’s withers. She drapes her fingers over the horse’s withers and pushes on the right side if she wants the horse to move that foot toward her. If she wants the foot moved away from her, she will push on the left side of the withers with her thumb.

Kathy always works from the left side of the horse.

To really give a halter performance that shines, however, your horse needs a little added pizzazz. Download AQHA’s FREE Halter Horse Expression report to get a competitive edge.