Q: Is my horse built ‘uphill’ or ‘downhill’?
A: Body balance is partly determined by the relative height of the croup and withers of the horse, but also by the positioning of the spine in terms of how high or how low the base of the neck is, and where the neck vertebrae join the thoracic vertebrae. These factors determine how heavy the horse is in front, and how he will move.
It is therefore not sufficient to simply compare the height of the withers and the height of the croup. Sometimes a horse with withers and croup of the same height will still be clearly built ‘uphill’ or ‘downhill’. The best way to determine the balance of the body is therefore to actually look at the spine and assess whether or not it is level.
To do this you need to compare the level of the widest part of the horse’s neck with the level of the lumbrosacral joint just below and often slightly in front of the point of the croup. This must be done when the horse is standing square on level ground. To determine the widest point of the neck, stand in front of the horse and slide your hands down either side of his neck until you feel where the vertebrae and muscling are thickest.
If the line below these two points slopes downwards towards the front, the horse is ‘downhill’ and thus heavier in front. These horses tend to be good at racing and fast, straight work, but will struggle with collection. If the line slopes upwards, however, the horse is considered to be ‘uphill’, so is lighter on the forehand and carries his weight on the hindquarters. While this is helpful for jumping and dressage, it is worth bearing in mind that an ‘uphill’ conformation is not without its issues in that the joints of the hind legs may undergo considerably more stress and strain because of this anatomical balance.