Recently on the COTH bulletin board there was discussion on what "uphill conformation" really means. How can you tell if a horse has that desirable uphill build? It was a useful discussion. The newbie method of eyeballing the horse croup-to-wither was debunked, and the method suggested by the experts -- the "stifle to elbow" comparison -- was advocated. Even Hilda Gurney says that your horse is downhill if the stifle is higher than the elbow, and uphill if the stifle is lower. I'm no Hilda Gurney, but I defy anyone to find any dressage stallion that meets that criteria. For example, the gorgeous stallion Riccione (below) looks uphill, does he not? But look at the lower red line! I posted the picture below to the discussion thread, trying to get clarification:
One poster thought the elbow was higher than my line suggested, but my goodness how hard is it to find an elbow? Plus you could argue that the stifle is a tad higher than where I marked it. I asked the list to find a conformation shot of a horse that is uphill. No one on this thread seemed to be able to show an example of an uphill horse using the stifle/elbow method.
Another method is introduced...
One poster presented an alternative method to evaluating a horse's up or downhill tendency: locate the lumbosacral joint (LSJ) and then draw a line from there to the base of the horse's neck, where the neck vertabrae connect to the thoracic vertabrae. This line's slant will determine an uphill or downhill build. How interesting, I thought!
I turned to my much-thumbed Horse Conformation Handbook by Heather Thomas. Thomas supports this alternative method. The critical factor, she states, is the position of the vertebral column itself. Creating an imaginary line from the lumbosacral joint to the 5th/6th neck vertabrae is the best way to assess whether a horse is essentially uphill or downhill. Okay, fine. The question is, where the heck are these two locations?
Thomas says to stand in front of the horse with hands on either side of the neck. Slide your hands down the neck until where you find the vertebrae/muscling are thicker-the neck's widest part. I think she means the widest part as you face the horse and feel the neck between your hands. The goal is to locate the 5th/6th vertabrae and mark it.
Lumbosacral joint (LSJ)
The LSJ is just below and often slightly in front of the point of the croup. How close it is to the croup depends on the length of the loin. The actual joint is deep in the back, around 4" beneath the surface.
Here is a picture of these locations on an actual horse, as best as I can find them based on a review of many equine skeletons online.
Let's try it!
Armed with knowledge, I try this method on my stallions.
Las Vegas, Oldenburg-approved stallion. Just level. What a loser, huh?
One COTH poster went so far as to respond, "It just goes to show you how FEW horses are really uphill." Well, if that few are uphill, what does it say about the large numbers competing at the FEI level? How meaningful is the measure, if successful athletes and breeding stallions don't measure up?
So you see my frustration. Apologies to folks who thought this article would be illuminating. It's possible that you have to physically examine and feel the horse to arrive at the correct locations for the LSJ and base of the neck. The Thomas book gives a few examples, and I confess I'm not sure WHY the LSJ is markedly lower on the horse that is uphill when compared to the level and downhill horses. Look on page 198/199, those of you who have this book.
And the bottom line is, how do they move? Why do we feel we have to judge a standing horse? Not one of us will ever have to buy a horse based on a conformation shot, and even judges get to watch the horses move. Maybe all of this is just like reading tea leaves...
I'd love to hear input and ideas.