What To Look For in A Foxtrotting Horse

"What I look for in a two year old."

The selection of a horse should depend some on the ability of the rider and the expected goals and tasks for the horse. The more experienced rider may prefer a more responsive, high-spirited horse to use and enjoy. While a beginner will be at ease with a horse that is more gentle, and reliable. If a horse is to be used as a work horse or as a show horse then the horse will need more heart and a mental ability to deal with the pressures and demands of such work. In all cases a horse that has been started well, will serve the rider and not rebel or resist against working with the rider. Also you can change the level of heat in a horse by increasing or lowering the amounts of protein and grain in his diet.

The color and size of a horse are things that should be left to the personal taste to the rider/owner.

When looking for a show prospect I look at the way the horse moves and at the conformation of the horse.

When watching a horse move I like to see a horse walk on a smooth, level surface in a relaxed fashion without being led. I like to see a loose, but smooth and fluid movement. When watching the front end of the colt I watch the pivot point of the front legs. A horse that fails to use its shoulders freely when walking will not use them well later. I do not look as much at the length of stride as I do at the pivot. A horse may not relax, but still use his shoulder to make the stride having a pivot point that is high in his shoulder, while another may fully relax taking longer strides using only the forearm and leg. The one using his shoulder will always be my pick of the two. I watch the back end to see how the horse breaks over in a slow walk, and to see how much over stride he has. When moving slow a gaited horse will break over to inside of his rear toe. This will shorten his overstride at that speed. So when I am watching a horse walk slow, if he has a short overstride and is breaking heavy to the inside on the back end I know he has more gait to offer. If he has a short overstride but is breaking over squarely on his toe I am suspicious of his gait because he may not have more than he is currently using. If the horse has a long overstride and is still breaking heavy to the inside, I know this horse has a lot of gait, but may have trouble breaking over in a foxtrot. This tendency to break to the inside when walking slow is one reason most gaited horses are at least a little cow-hocked. Breaking to the inside twists the leg out at the toe and in at the hock.

In addition to watching a horse move, I study its confirmation. The major areas of confirmation that affect the gaits of the horse are the curve of the hock, the slope of the shoulder, and the muscles of the chest. There are other things that influence the gait of the horse, but these are the major ones.

The amount of curve in the hock of the gaited horse, or the degree to which the horse is cycle hocked, can be used as a predictor of the amount of gait that horse has available. The straighter the leg the more trot and the more crook the more gait. A horse can be too straight legged to make a foxtrotting show horse, but a horse can be to crooked legged to foxtrot properly. As a point of reference I look at the hocks of a horse when the rear leg of the horse is vertical from the rear of the fetlock to the rear of the hock. I then extend an imaginary vertical line up from the rear of the fetlock and touching the rear of the hock as this line passes the point of the rump I can evaluate the natural tendencies of the horse. If the line passes through the rump the horse will be so short gaited and trotty that it will not make a top show horse. If the line just touches the point of the rump the horse has enough gait to foxtrot well. If the line passes more than an inch behind the point of the rump of a horse, he will be harder to get a true foxtrot from, as his natural tendencies will be to the lateral gaits. i.e. pace, rack, or running walk. And as the line passes further from the point of the rump the horse will be more lateral in his natural tendencies.

Don't read this to say the longer gaited horses can't foxtrot, they are harder to train to foxtrot, but if they have the right rhythm they will usually have a bigger lick. Some horses have stronger rhythms than others, and they can use more gait. Horses with more gait than they can use in a foxtrot will not have as much solid rhythm, and will be prone to hard trot or not trot at all. Some of the horses we see in the show ring today that are called short gaited hard trotters really just have so much gait that they and their rider can't keep it under control.

The way a horses' front end is made can tell me how the horse will use the gait that he has. A horse with a long shoulder line, the line from the back of withers to the point of the shoulder, will have a stronger front end than one that has a shorter line. I also look at the chest muscles between the points of the shoulders. If a horse has a flat chest that horse will not be able to use very much gait in a foxtrot because he can't get his front legs extended quickly and his back end will overpower his front and make him racky. If a horse has well rounded chest muscles and a clear "V" between them he will be able to pull his front legs forward and reach for more ground. By reaching for more ground this horse will be able to balance a stronger back end and pull enough with his front end to still have a good breakover.

While this does not tell you which horse to choose, I hope it will help you make a more informed decision in selecting a horse to meet your goals.

copyright 1996 Rick Watson, Watson Stables