As someone who rides performance horses, I'll always prefer a horse I think is usable, versus one that's "just a pretty horse." And I feel compelled to stick to the class specifications and criteria set forth by Arabian judging standards.
We have to consider a horse in this order: Arabian type, conformation, suitability as a breeding animal, quality, movement, substance, manners and presence.
So, as an Arabian judge, the first thing I evaluate is type, which is basically made up of the characteristics that distinguish an Arabian horse from other breeds. There are five main points of type: head, neck, back, croup and tail. Because the horses in these photos are standing still, it's difficult to judge criteria like movement, presence and tail carriage. But I'll evaluate suitability as a breeding animal because this is a class of mares. "Like breeds like," so to me, good conformation and type contribute to a horse's suitability for breeding.
Click "Next" to find out how I placed these three aged Arabian mares.
First: Mare C
This mare's conformation far exceeds the second- and third-place horses, although she doesn't show as much Arabian type as the mare I placed second. She has a plainer head than the second-place horse, and she doesn't have a great neck, but it ties in to her shoulder better than the second-place mare. This mare and the second-place horse both have short cannons (which contributes to stamina and soundness). But this mare's shoulder angle (which improves elasticity and movement) and the ratio of her shorter
topline (from withers to croup) to her longer underline (point of elbow to stifle) are the best of the three, which gives her the best balance in this class.
I would, however, like her to have a little more angle to her pasterns for better shock absorption and soundness. While I can't judge movement from a photo, I can make some assumptions by studying her body angles and leg structure. Based on those, I'd expect this mare to be the best mover of the class. She has good hip angulation and overall balance, which suggest it'll be easiest for her to hold up to the rigors of performance.
Second: Mare B
This mare is the typiest of the three. If you stood back and looked at all three mares, this is the mare you'd most readily identify as an Arabian. She has a slightly concave (dished) face, and the shortest distance between eye and muzzle of the other two mares in the class. She has good angulation from the point of her hip to the point of her buttocks, however, her neck doesn't set well back into her withers, and she has an average back. Her topline-to-underline ratio isn't as good as the first-place mare, but I wouldn't say it's bad. She also has the most horizontal croup of the three horses, which is a type characteristic for Arabians.
This mare has the best angle to her hip, but it appears (at least in this picture) that she camps out behind--if you dropped a plumbline from the point of her buttocks, the mare's hocks and fetlocks would stand behind that line. Because she's camped out
behind (which will make it more difficult for her to engage her hindquarters) and she has a steep shoulder, she probably won't be the athlete that the first-place horse may be.
Third: Mare A
Based on the photo, this mare doesn't appear to have much Arabian type. I placed her third because of her lack of typiness and her less desirable conformation. She has a borderline ewe neck (the neck bends upward rather than arching down, which can make collection difficult), and she has a long back in relation to her underline (a ratio of 1:2 is preferred for the length of the topline to the underline). That ratio is an important indicator of balance and athleticism. Her face is long, but on the positive side, it looks like she has the shortest ears in the class.
She has a short and borderline "rafter-type" hip (a flat hip, shaped like a "T" from behind), both of which can make it more difficult for her to collect and work from behind. Her long cannon bones could make her more susceptible to injury. She doesn't have good muscling, her joints are small, and her body conformation is not well-balanced, all of which tell me she'll have to work a lot harder than a well-conformed horse, and may have difficulty holding up to the demands of performance work.
Michael Damianos operates Michael Damianos Performance Horses at Starbuck's Ojai Valley Ranch in Ojai, Calif., where he lives with his wife, Dawn, and daughters. A trainer for 25 years, he trains and shows Arabian performance horses at the regional and national level in Western pleasure, reining, trail, driving, and English classes, and coaches youth and amateur riders. He's a carded judge for the Arabian Horse Association, AQHA, ApHC, APHA, NRHA, NRCHA and NSBA.
This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.
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