ridecamp@endurance.net: re: Cow Hocks etc.

re: Cow Hocks etc.

Bruce Saul (kitten@resp-sci.arizona.edu)
Mon, 3 Mar 97 02:52:14 MST

Hi, my name is Tracy Scheinkman, I've been lurking for a while but had to
jump in on this one a little bit.
I have a small breeding program, Misty Mountain Arabian Sport Horses,
based on high percentage *Raffles 60% and Skowronek 50% horses, CMK breeding
for the most part with a few other early imports also included. With a
friend I also have half-ownership in some mares that are more middle of the
road, around 30 to 40% *Raffles with other Crabbet in the case of one mare
and with 25% Egyptian in the case of the other. We have some horses with
very fine hind ends so I thought I'd comment on conformation analysis and
My observation has been that the Skowronek hind end is a very very
good one, it was noted by several observers, notably Herbert H. Reece in his
book The Kellogg Arabians that a horse with such fine underpinnings
(speaking of all his legs not just the hind end) was very rare in Arabs at
that time. Lady Wentworth remarked of his hind legs being particularly
good, and noticed as such by breeders of other horses. For the most part he
produced this and passed it on quite well and his sons passed it on and so
forth. However even with high percentage Skowronek bred and *Raffles bred
horses the mares and other stallions in the pedigrees contribute their great
value also. The important thing is whether the breeder notices and selects
for correct conformation that predisposes the horse to soundness and
therefore also to excellence, or does that breeder select on different
grounds, for example show wins, or color, or height, or whatever. Even with
good stock if you don't conscientiously watch for the problems that
consistently crop up in the breed and breed to minimize them they will occur.
Part of the problem with this discussion is that the two problems
mentioned, sickle-hocks, and cow-hocks have been a problem in the past with
Arabians, careful selection minimized them (especially in CMK stock but also
in others), however show standards being what they are today hind ends that are
well-conformed are not favored. Can't help it that's the way it is. There
are other problems with conformation that are not being penalized in the show
ring but that is for other discussions which I don't really want to get into
(because they tend to degenerate). The important thing is that if you find a
group of horses with consistently good hind ends you will find a breeder
behind them who can see and understand conformation and finds that it is
more important to produce good conformation for soundness than it is to
produce a fashion.
What is conformation for soundness? In relation to the hind end I
think Deb Bennett has done some very good articles describing this and
recommend them (though I have disagreed with a few minor points concerning
other conformation questions that she has commented on). The problem is
that we have to have a common language concerning conformation and second
that we have a defined view of what constitutes good conformation. On the
first, there are two hind end configurations that are called sickle-hocks,
one has been described as "standing under" this is not correct, a horse may
also stand under even with good hock angles, the term "standing under" refers
to stance alone and simply that the horse prefers to stand with the hind feet
under the body. Currently standing a horse slightly under is the preferred
show stance for Quarter Horses, yet many of those horses exhibit a different
conformational flaw that of post-leggedness. Post-leggedness is the opposite
of sickle-hocks, whereas sickle-hocks is an overly bent hock angle the post-
legged horse has an overly straight hock angle. BOTH conditions put a horse
at risk for hock damage. The other hind end configuration that is described
as sickle hocks is when a horse is seen to be "camped out" in the hind end.
In this condition the horse does not have an overly angulated hock, however
it does have an over-long gaskin, and possibly a short hip and/or thigh as
well. When a horse is camped out, a plumb line drawn from the point of the
hip (butt) to the ground will pass in front of the hock and fetlock rather
than intersecting them as in a correct hind end conformation. In reality this
hind end conformation is much more common in Arabians than is sickle-hocks.
Camping out however brings with it the same increased stress on the hock
joints as does sickle-hocks, again depending upon degree, and therefore should
also be avoided in a horse selected for good conformation for soundness.
Camped out horses may ALSO be sickle-hocked, likewise a horse that
stands under may also be sickle-hocked, both as additional problems to the
first, however these conditions may also appear separately. In relation to
whether these conformations are helpful or not, the answer for me is NO,
with the exception that a horse that stands under but is not sickle-hocked or
camped out may have good conformation but the fact that the horse stands under
indicates that something needs to be addressed, either the horse is sore,
is unevenly muscled, or is very tired from a very long ride, or has been
taught to stand in a posture of collection such as the Quarter Horses mentioned
above. It is thought by some trainers of Arab Park horses that being either
sickle-hocked or camped out is useful for these disciplines because it gives
the horse greater reach under its body with the hind legs, this is not
true. It has been shown by scientific research using extreme slow-motion
cameras and stable conditions conducted for dressage horse breeders that
a horse with these problems actually has more trouble engaging the hind end
and often goes with the back hollow rather than round and travels shorter
behind reaching only to just under the stifle instead of well under the body
like more correctly conformed horses.
On the conformation termed "cow hocks", here again we have several
conditions, one is genuine cow hocks which there is a structural weakness in
which the cannon bones, gaskins, thigh, and to a certain extent the hip are
not alligned correctly. This can be seen from behind as a bending inward of
the points of the hocks without a complimentary close stance of the feet.
That is the genuine condition called cow hocks. But what is often termed
cow hocks and especially where Arabs are concerned is a condition called
"toeing out" or "turning out". In this condition the entire hind leg is
canted outward at an angle away from the barrel. So long as the ENTIRE hind
leg is still in good allignment, i.e. that the bones of the thigh, gaskin,
cannon, and pastern line up when seen from behind the horse looking at them
at exactly that same angle that the leg turns out, the horse has correct
conformation and the hind leg is actually straight. The reason that so many
Arabs have this conformation is that they are often wide through the pelvis
yet narrow through the hips, combining this with a short close-coupled
barrel which places the ribs close to the stifle the horse MUST have the
hind leg turn out in order to clear the stifle, if it doesn't then the horse
will interfere. Visualize the correct conformation by standing behind the
horse and sighting with imagined x-ray vision through the horse's pelvis
to their hip, from there drop an imaginary vertical plane from the
pelvis through the hip and down from there perpendicularly to the ground.
The horse's bones from hip to thigh to gaskin to cannon to pastern should
all line up and be intersected and bisected by that plane. That is the
correct hind leg conformation that we are seeking.
Two other terms listed cause confusion with regard to cow hocks,
one is "base wide" again this just refers to the stance, a horse can be
correctly conformed and yet stand base wide, tired horses often do this (as
well as mares in heat), and horses that have other underlying medical
conditions. Also at some stages foals stand base wide, it's hard to balance
on those longgg legs. The second term is sometimes also called "turning out"
although to be correct it should be termed "turning out of the hind feet".
This refers to a horse with otherwise normal correct hind end conformation
who when you sight along the horse's hip to pelvis line and drop that vertical
plane has all bones except the pasterns line up correctly. In this case
the problem is one of allignment but lower down in the fetlock joint rather
than the hock joint. This problem causes increased stress on the fetlock
but not much in the hock.
Of course all of these conditions can apply separately or together.
In some rare cases a horse may have a lot of conditions but in small enough
amounts and proportion that the horse can adapt and do well despite them.
Nonetheless it is our responsibility as breeders to select away from these
conformational problems. In reality though there is no such thing as a perfect
horse so what we do is to pick the degree to which we can live with a
problem in order to get other good qualities from an otherwise good horse.
The quality of a breeding program though can be seen in how small the faults
become and how imperceptible they are and how few of them there are. As a
breeder we select in what direction we will allow a fault to go and how far.
I consider myself very picky on some things. Hind ends in particular, but
when I have an otherwise very good horse I will forgive a very small amount
of cow hocks, though not sickle hocks, I will forgive excessive turning out
(as opposed to recommended or correct turning out) before I will forgive
turning in of the hind leg, and I will forgive a very very slight amount of
camping out or post-leggedness, and I do mean very slight, before I will
forgive a small amount of sickle hocks. I will forgive any horse for a stance
problem as long as that horse is healthy, usually correct exercise and
training will correct a stance that does not originate in pain. And I will
forgive some turning out of the hind feet again in an otherwise good horse.
But when I breed I select to minimize these faults by selecting a mate that
either does not have the problem or shows a very small amount of the problem's
opposite, note the qualification of a very small amount!
As a breeder I select as close as I can to perfection, that
perfection being defined as my ideal of the perfect saddle horse, this is
a standard I use with all breeds regardless of breed type (which is often
used as an excuse for allowing poor conformation). After that I select for
qualities of beauty that are less important (but first and primarily I must
say that temperament is the first thing that should be on any breeder's list
and should supercede everything). You can't select for good qualities without
knowing and being able to recognize the poor ones in your own horses, if you
can't do that you can't be a breeder. The final thing to remember is that a
breeder is like an artist, they are using a combination of knowledge and
instinct to produce something that hopefully will be the image they have in
their heads of the perfect horse. That image has got to be the best that
it can be, with as exact a knowledge of conformation as possible and most
important -- the EYE to see it with. You must learn to see it, read as much
as possible about conformation, look at drawings and photographs, get
instruction from someone who knows how to define it, but even if you can't
develop that eye in yourself you can still learn or perhaps develop a friend
who can see these things in a horse. Education is the key.

Tracy and everybody

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