As a judge, I am often asked, “What is the main thing you look for when you are judging?” Most people assume it must be the head, or type, but it is neither. People are very surprised by that. Shouldn’t the most important thing be type? Isn’t the head the most important thing you are looking at when you judge?
First, let’s address the subject of type. What is type? Type to me are those characteristics that make a breed identifiable as that particular breed and are different from other breeds. This is the same whether it is horses, sheep, dogs or chickens!!! Therefore, for the Arabian breed, there are five major characteristics that define “type” for the breed. They are: Head–Dished face, small muzzle, triangular head, large, dark expressive eye. Neck–arched. Back–short. Croup–nearly level. Tail–carried high.
An Arabian horse should have all of these characteristics to be identifiable as an Arabian, but the most easily seen are the head and the tail carriage. Truly, over the last 30 years, the short back has been for the most part, bred out of the Arabian horse. There was a time when the Arabian was thought to have one less vertebrae than other breeds of horses, which contributed to the short back. While studies on skeletons of Arabians from the 19th c. do show a fair number of horses with one less vertebrae, it was not universal. The relatively level croup is still present in the breed, but the angle of the croup varies depending on the use of the horse. Many Arabians that compete in working events (jumping, cattle classes, reining, dressage) have somewhat more sloping croups that give them more of an advantage in their respective disciplines. Interestingly, endurance horses have relatively level croups, which would be correct, as the Arabian evolved as a long distance horse. In a bio-mechanical sense, a more level croup (not going uphill) is a more efficient structure for a horse to travel great distances.
The head of the Arabian horse is undergoing a transformation currently that is not beneficial, but that is a topic for another day. However, the triangular head with the small muzzle and dished face with the large eye is probably the most recognizable characteristic of the Arabian horse.
A very wise person once told me that in evaluating type, if you put the horse you were looking at in a field with 30 other horses, could you say without a doubt that the horse was an Arabian? If the answer was yes, then the horse had ENOUGH type. You can add more points for more type, but the horse must meet the minimum test for type.
Why then, is type or head not the most important thing to look for in an Arabian horse? Because an Arabian can have a beautiful head or a high tail carriage, but if it has a short, upside down neck, a long, weak back, a short croup and poor structure of feet and legs, it is not a good HORSE. It may look like an Arabian, but a poorly built, non-functional animal is useless. No matter how pretty the head, or how high the tail. That is why, for me, the most important thing to look for is BALANCE.
Balance determines how well a horse will function. The more balanced a horse is, the more functional the horse will be. What is meant by balance?? Balance is where all of the parts of the horse are of ratios that are either equal or biomechanically correct. For example, a horse’s cannon bone length should be 1/3 the length of the leg from the knee to the shoulder. Why? Because the horse’s legs are merely levers that move a vehicle (horse) over the ground. If the cannon bone is too long, the lever (leg) has a much shorter stride and the leg itself is weaker. So the correct ratios and angles of the shoulder, hip, pastern, etc. determine how efficiently the horse can move. That is the study of biomechanics, which is as important in horses as it is in machines.
Further, the horse should be balanced and harmonious in appearance. All of the body parts should blend together and be equal when viewed from the profile. Therefore, when looking at a horse in profile, a line from the point of the shoulder (where the scapula joins the humerus) to just behind the wither should be the same distance as a line from the wither to the point of the hip which should be the same distance from the point of the hip to the back of the thigh. The more identical these distances, the more balanced the structure of the horse. Where the parts are NOT equal tell you were the problems are. Part 1 (point of shoulder to just behind withers) too short–look for an upright shoulder for one example. Part 2 (just behind wither to point of hip) too long? Look for long back and long loin, for example. Part 3 (point of the hip to just behind thigh) too short? Look for short hip or short or sloping croup, for example.
There are dozens of examples I can give you, but as you can see, balance tells you everything you need to know about the structure (horse) instantly. That is why it is the most important thing to look for!!!!
**Written by : Cindy Reich