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Pretty is as Pretty Does...

There is not a direct correlation between a nice looking horse and what may be lurking beneath the shiny coat, flashy movement and breeding.

Many training approaches I see are based on the premise that horses can achieve physical perfection in movement. And I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as perfection!

I honestly feel that many horse owners are fed this idea that if they use xyz method that they can reach their goals and get their horse to perform in a certain way that is promised or guaranteed by a professional trainer. The conversation they are not having with their trainer, instructor etc is that MAJORITY of modern day horses will have some form of physical issue or compensation that has to be worked with in riding and training.

So lets talk about what some of those things may be, and what to look for in purchasing an equine partner to suit your personal goals, because lets face it, its just not fair to expect a horse to level up to your standard of performance if they are not physically capable.

There are a multitude of physical issues that horses can be effected by that are not quite so easy to spot. I’ve seen absolutely stunning horses in good health and with a shiny coat that is not rideable, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve seen horses with less than ideal conformation be mechanically functional and sound and go around a prelim course. So PLEASE do not judge a horse’s health and ability solely on their outward appearance. The more horse owners know, the better equipped they can be to handle and address issues in their horses instead of writing them off as behavioral and just needing a more “effective” training protocol to get rid of undesired behavior. A great trainer and instructor will guide you away from thinking of negative behavior as naughty and steer you towards addressing the whole horse to see what their needs are.

I’ve come across horses deemed “assholes” that had joint issues that had never been addressed. Horses that were said to just be idiots that had EPM. And horses that were called out as stubborn, that were actually so stoic that they’ve become unresponsive due to chronic pain.

My beautiful mare Mandi was constantly complemented on how amazing she looked. It took a lot of time and management on my end as she had PSSM and was blind in her left eye. I respected her limitations and where her capabilities fell short.

So here is a list of what to look for in a future partner, or even in your horse that you already own, and take these things into consideration when expecting or asking certain things of your horse. What’s listed below ranges from treatable, manageable, pain management, and even life threatening:




Navicular degradation

Kissing spine


OCD Lesions of the stifle

Arthritis in the hocks, knees, neck

Bone Fusion



Seasonal Laminitis

Poor Hoof function and growth


Bone Spurs in the cannon bones

Inflammation of the DDFT or Suspensory ligaments

Parasite infestation

Foregut and Hindgut ulcers

Nerve impingement in the neck, spine, sacrum

Poor vision/blindness

I’ve unfortunately had the experience in coming across client horses, sale horses and training horses with these issues and for some, had to have the hard conversation with their owners of what their horses limitations are. Those conversations range from being on the more mild side of keeping their horse in a program to optimize their balance, freedom of movement and food management… to scheduling a date to have the horse humanely euthanized.

I truly believe that there is this odd common misconception that because our domesticated horses are big, beautiful and strong, that that automatically makes them more than capable. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Through hundreds, hell thousands of years of selective breeding and domestication, we have made some serious and scary changes to the horse’s functionality. In dressage horses, we have selectively bred for suppleness and expressive movement. Hypermobility runs rampant in many breeds due to this and it saddens me to see people not take the extra time these horses need to develop more strength and the musculature needed to support their joints and make up for the fact that their ligaments are not functioning the way that they need to, to properly support such a massive animal.

Totilas is a tragically perfect example of a horse bred for expressive movement and mobility that was done a great disservice in his training and management. It more than shows just how detrimental hypermobility can be.

This is just one example, and there are countless others of how we have negatively effected certain breeds through selective breeding. Of course this is not the case for every breed and every horse, but these issues in functionality are more common than people think and I feel that it’s our responsibility to at least do right by these horses and ensure a better quality of life than what track they are on now.

I’m not writing all of this to scare you, rather to educate you! The more you know the better you can serve your equine partner, because no horse is physical perfection and depending on what is going on, they will have different needs in their care and training to be the BEST VERSION OF THEMSELVES.

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