Choosing The Top Prospect

An impressive 8,000-horse study evaluates potential in young horses.
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An impressive 8,000-horse study evaluates potential in young horses.

We would all love a magic wand to wave over a group of promising performance horses that lights up over the top prospects. A study written up in the June 15 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association – Associations of health status and conformation with longevity and lifetime competition performance in young Swedish Warmblood riding horses: 8,238 cases (1983-2005) - comes close, however.

A Swedish study looked at over 8,000 horses to help us better evaluate young prospects.

A Swedish study looked at over 8,000 horses to help us better evaluate young prospects.

The study was done in Sweden with 8,238 Swedish Warmblood horses involved. Four- to five-year-old horses were tested with an eye toward seeing which horses would have the longest and best careers in competition performance events. The horses were tracked over their performance careers. Health status and conformation factors were examined. Horses received in overall orthopedic health score, hoof health score, locomotion health score, palpation orthopedic score and a riding quality test. Conformation was also evaluated.

Hoof evaluation rated each horse on 11 traits of the hoof, including shape and hoof wall. Locomotion was checked at a walk and trot, and then followed up with a trot after flexion. For conformation, judges looked at overall body type, head, neck and body specifically, conformation of the legs and looking at the walk and trot in hand. Since most horses were looking at careers in dressage and show jumping, those were the areas looked at in the riding test.

The tests, which statistically were the most helpful in predicting a horse’s future, were the locomotion evaluation, the body type and trotting scores and the overall health score (resulting from palpation, locomotion, etc). The talent scores from the riding test were also important. Poor hoof quality and any joint effusion tended to correlate with a shorter career and/or poor performance.

The best qualities were a large but moderate in height horse, slightly sloping shoulders, nice neck, good withers and a sloping croup. Free movement both in the fore and rear were important. Talent in the jumping arena showing up in a four- to five-year-old horse was very positive for both longevity in performance and overall lifetime performance quality.

Negative correlations included short and heavy horses, steep shoulder conformation and stiff movement. Toeing in in the front had negative results while slight toeing out showed a positive effect on longevity. Any reaction on flexion tests matched up with poor longevity and performance, as did any atrophy of the croup or hamstring muscles. Joint effusions and poor hoof quality also showed strong heritability. This suggests that thought needs to go into these conditions when evaluating breeding stock.

Bottom Line: Careful, systematic evaluation of young performance horse prospects makes sense. Do a thorough workup and you have a better chance of coming up with a horse who will have a long and successful performance career.