Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bretton Woods: Spider legs

The young Dutch stallion Bretton Woods (Johnson X DeNiro) was discussed on the COTH sport horse breeding board recently. Gorgeous as he is, he was used as a negative example to illustrate a point about breeding trends. Breeders are asking themselves, do longer legs and lighter build make better dressage horse? Lots of breeders don't seem to think that a leggy horse is really ideal for dressage. Bretton Woods, one poster lamented, is leggy "to the extreme." The advantages of a shorter leg/longer back were touted: lower center of gravity, more flexible spine, etc. So why the heck are we furiously breeding these horses-on-stilts???? Is there no research? No data on gait mechanics to drive this trend?

Is a leggy, light type horse just something that's (gasp) trendy? Fads like that have ruined several dog breeds to say nothing of the American Morgan and the Quarter Horse. When you think about the years it takes to breed and train a dressage horse, is there room for "fads" in type and conformation? I don't know, the whole conversation was a little distressing. You like to think that breeders are analytical, thoughtful, methodical, and yes, skeptical. You want to believe that they rely on facts and data -- proof of what works -- when selecting the stock that are chosen to advance our sport. The idea that they jump on any bandwagon runs counter to my impression of breeders -- it just sounds so Milli Vanilli.

I found it interesting that when I interviewed Natalie DiBerardinis, breeding manager at Hilltop Farm about their Quaterback stallion ("Hilltop Farm introduces a new stallion: Meet Qredit!," LVDA Newsletter, p.4), she said that she thought that the trend would swing back to a more substantive horse. I do love the leggy look, personally, but I love the heavier types too! To each his own?


  1. What kind of bugs me about all the controversy is that dressage is supposed to be a test of training, not breeding. Like the hunters and other show competitions, we have lost sight of what it's all about.

    I love this guy and do prefer an "airier" mover like him over the heavier types.

  2. I love my leggy horse! I will always tend toward either leggy or short horses because I'm 5'1". Those of us not blessed with ideal natural shapes (sorry Stacey, criticize yourself all you want - I'd love to have your proportions for riding!) should be aware and find horses who fit us better. My instructor took this photo at my first test ride - he's 16.3 and I'm 5'1", yet he's not too big for me. (Also, that was his first ride in 5-6 months, and my first ride after a bad car accident, so we're both at our worst...)

    There are advantages of leggy/shorter backed horses, too. You can control their hind end more easily, and collection sure comes naturally to most of them. Plus, they tend toward massive oversteps. This is my horse sauntering around a small turnout - but you can tell by how close his hind hoof and front hoof are that he has a massive overstep.

    When it comes down to it, I simply tend to ride leggy horses better. I think any kind of trend where riders simply go with a trend rather than what suits them is silly - but for some leggy is definitely the best answer, and I hope an option which sticks around!

    Now I'm off to find the thread on COTH....

  3. Pretty Is As Pretty Does!! There are benefits to both body types... and the best breeders will always stick to what's most important... athleticism, temperament, and sound conformation!!

  4. Of course it's a fad. Ahlerich wouldn't be let anywhere near an international competition today due to smaller size and a trot that didn't fling his hooves around his ears.

    Thirty years ago light thoroughbreds in competition were the norm, now it's hulking giants. Do they really perform so much better? Do they last longer?

  5. What happened to the Morgan? I know nothing about them. The Quarter Horse situation I am only too familiar with, but I have no idea what the story is with Morgans.

  6. Don't be dissing on my Morgans!! Kidding. I do understand where you are coming from -- there are PLENTY of breeders out there going for the "extreme" type. There are plenty of other wonderful breeders out there who strive for conformation that works. My mare, a Townshend-bred Morgan is a fine example of that (though I may be a bit biased):

    I will admit, I LOVE the lofty movements of Bretton Woods. He looks very fluid and balanced, but I will admit I'm very much a novice when it comes to dressage!

  7. I like this stallion. I'm certainly no authority on the matter, but if he can do his job well and stays sound, then what's the problem with having long legs? Personally I love his movement.

  8. My horse is a short backed, real leggy type (and getting leggier as he grows). He is light on his feet and extremely strong in the lower back (short back at work). I like the horses that fit into a box (short coupled), not a rectangle. The longer backed horses are harder to put together, IMO.

    But that's just my opinion. Other riders may want more horse behind the saddle. There are plenty of horses out there for them, too.

    I think that trends in breeding are inevitable and okay, as long as the horses being produced pass along good soundness/mind. The rest is just aesthetics. Heavy old style warmbloods and light leggier ones can both put in lovely tests. It would be a shame if there was just one ideal dressage type, and all breeders bred for just that. Part of the beauty of dressage is seeing how different horses express themselves through the movements. Any horse doing good dressage becomes beautiful, but I like that this beauty is so varied. I don't think there's really a way to quantify gait mechanics, since so much is subjective and two very differently-moving horses could get equal scores.

  9. I love the old style morgans, but the morgan is being bred to look and move more like a saddlebred these days. I like saddlebreds! but wouldn't really want morgans to lose their character/characteristics.

  10. I think all breeds are changing, evolving, if you will. The only difference is that we have a bigger say in breeding traits.

    My husband has been a huge fan of big, burly Warmbloods. His favorite sire of all time is Weltmeyer (shocker there...). I prefer a finer bone for a quicker turn and a little more loft, but no twigs, thank you very much.

    Years ago, we had a friend that was on the Young Riders' team and her chestnut gelding had nice, textbook, quality gaits. Regular people didn't see the talent of this gelding, but the old school judges really liked him. He didn't have the crazy movement, but he was the product of nice breeding and excellent training. THAT is the horse I think of, when I think of the "perfect dressage horse."

  11. I think this horse has fine gaits for international competition. Jerich Parzival is quite leggy with similar gaits and he completely dominated the FEI world cup series this year.

    I think it comes down to personal preference and the ability to develop gaits correctly.

  12. So I found that COTH thread. I have to say, I completely disagreed with the first article linked in it. I *am* a rocket scientist, and the article kept trying to claim rocket scientists would be bothered by long-legged horses. Actually, any rocket scientist knows the larger the body the more stress it puts on legs, and that a rider's weight is little compared to a 500 lbs difference in a horse's own weight every minute of every day! (500 lbs may be the extreme, but a very possible one! I keep hearing people talk about their 1800 lbs warmbloods, and my guy is a 1300 lbs TB.)

  13. Hey Net, what is your background? I have to agree that the tone of the thread was unusual and the opinions weren't well supported. I'm not fond of extremes in type or conformation but Bretton Woods doesn't seem to have any one greatly exaggerated feature. You have to wonder if it might be frustration with having stock that are older style and difficulty marketing their own stock.

  14. I agree with Jean.

    Dressage should be a testament to the training not the breeding and with that in mind, I do not like the way this stallion is being ridden. The rider is bracing against the horse's head and neck to keep him in a very tight frame. The head and neck are rigid and horse has difficulty stretching when the reins are released for free walk. I want the rider to perform less "perfectly" and show us how the horse goes when he has some freedom. When I see the stallion try to free his neck several times during the video, I have to say that the horse agrees with me.

  15. Yeah, the rider really looks like she (or he?) is struggling. I know these folks like to produce an "auction trot" for this kind of an event, and I suppose that it's even sort of a safety measure (giving this horse freedom in a charged atmosphere might be inviting naughtiness) -- but the horse doesn't look real happy. It's not the prettiest of picture overall, except that you do see the horse is spectacular.

  16. My engineering background or horsey background? Engineering-wise, I've been in aerospace since graduating with a bachelor of engineering in '99, and horse-wise dressage is my third version of my horse "career." One of the standard mechanics situations students learn is that King Kong couldn't have existed because of the size of his body - even with short thick legs, they couldn't have supported the weight as the scale grew. Of course there's all the math behind it,too, but the same applies to any creature as the body gets larger - more and more stress on legs, regardless of the thickness of the legs themselves. It's why conditioning to develop tendons and soft tissues is important as we get large horses - because they're all getting stressed more, so need to be strengthened to support it.

    I showed quarter horses growing up, and my last one was an old-style halter horse, aka massive body but super athletic. I was definitely the tiny kid on the big horse with him, but it was the norm there. Still looked absurd! I did hunter/jumpers for a while, too. But my initial riding was starting on a longe line and learning about riding from my seat/legs/weight. I didn't know at the time, but I had a nice classical dressage foundation laid on me at the riding school I started at! All my doodles growing up were of dressage horses, too, so I have no idea why I took so long to get around to having one of my own.
    I do love the bigger horses, and really all horses, because they each have their own beauty. And I completely agree with Val that I prefer seeing someone trying to get the relaxation and harmony with their horse to the auction-type movement. It is what it is when it comes to that kind of setting, and I hope stallion shows don't keep the horse from still getting the foundation training needed to move up the levels.
    The ultimate leggy horse I think of is Paragon! And talk about a *gorgeous* talented horse! He definitely has had spider leg moments in competition, but that's not so unexpected of a leggy huge mover. I think you have to train a horse like him correctly for him to be able to build the strength and balance.
    I've really enjoyed eventing dressage lately. The judging mandates don't call for gaits in the same way dressage-only mandates do, and in many ways they are looking for more correctness rather than enormous gaits. Sure I enjoy watching those huge gaits, but I love watching a very unexciting to bystanders but correct test, too. I suppose that's my nerdiness coming out!

  17. This is really interesting to me, as I didn't know about this "light n' leggy" trend in the dressage world. When I think of a dressage horse, I think of an animal like - and I'm telling the truth, not just sucking up! - REILLY. A normal-sized, normally-proportioned WB with lovely, flowing gaits. I'll admit that Totilas is fun to watch, but he seems too "exaggerated" to me, as does this gazelle-like fellow in the current video. And I definitely agree with Jean and Val and you - he is jammed into an artifical frame (that dreaded word). Maybe with maturity and more training he'll gain some weight and look a bit more proportional?

  18. I have one of those Morgans--though he is really a Morab, he looks like the old fashioned Morgans in all the old books. They are still out there.

    I have also been told that he moves like a world-class dressage horse by a number of people. I plan to make him a world-class trail horse.

    But anyone looking for an affordable, though small, sport horse, should really look into the traditional Morgan horse (or traditional Morab.) They are talented with lovely temperaments, beautiful and have plenty of energy!

  19. I've been thinking a lot about leggy vs. not leggy this weekend, especially watching so many rides from Aachen.

    I feel like the more leggy horses tend to have more of a looseness to them than the ones with shorter bodies, and after watching so many people cranking their horses in recently, it's just pleasing to watch a horse who isn't. Ravel (who I think is pretty leggy!) just looks softer through his whole body than most of the horses I've seen at that level, and I think build has a lot to do with it. Again back to the COTH thread - people were trying to say heavier horses bend better. Not from my experience! And Ravel's lateral work has some real reach!


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