Basics of Weight Balance:  Horse

This article is an extension of the July issue where I began talking about Understanding the Basics.  In August, the article went into understanding the basics of Weight Balance. I went into the COG (center of gravity) of the human being.  This month, I will go into the COG of the horse and next month, put the two together. 

When you select a prospect for barrel racing, there are many things to consider.  We all want a long-lasting, sound bodied and sound minded horse that will be consistent and compete for a long period of time remaining sound in every way.  When I ask people how they selected their barrel horses, I get some surprising answers.

Some believe in buying breeding that has been successful.  I believe in this too, but have seen full brothers and sisters that were nothing alike.  It is my opinion that we will see in the near future to come that just because we have cloned an individual, it will not necessarily be anything like the individual whose cells were used in the cloning.  By the time a horse is successful, it has gone through many experiences that would be hard to repeat exactly.

Some have purchased their horses on the basis of what they could afford.  Some have purchased one that was a reject at another event, etc. etc. etc. and the list goes on and on.  I met one lady this last month that has her horse because it was given to her by someone who was moving. 

One major thing that we need to look at in a horse is how it is balanced in its conformation.  How the weight is distributed on a horse will greatly affect his ability to perform and to stay sound while performing.  There are probably no perfect horses, but some come much closer than others.  We can identify about where his COG is by looking at his conformation, but we also need to know that his COG will change as he gets into motion and a lot of how he moves will depend upon how his legs are built and how they travel in motion. This can also be affected by horse shoeing, tack, the rider, and many other things, but for now, we are going to only discuss the basics of weight balance. 

Looking at the horse from the side, you can think about things that add weight to each section of his body.  Visualize the horse in three sections -  From head back to withers – withers to end of back – and end of back to tail.  This will give you some idea of the weight balance of each horse.  Lets take the first section.  Look at the head of the horse.  Does it look huge for his body?   Does he have a huge jowl or huge throat latch?  Look at the neck.  Is it short and thick?  Does it tie in deep down into the horse’s front end?  If any of these things are present, this horse will have extra weight on its front end.  Experts in this subject have proven to us that even a balanced horse has from 60 – 65% of their weight on the front legs.  If you select a horse that has added weight on top of that, this brings the weight on the front legs up even higher. 

Look at the mid section of the horse from the side.  Does he have a deep heart girth?   If so, that will add more weight to the cinch area and also to the front end of the horse.  Does he have an extra long back area?  Most horses that are extremely long in the back are not as easy to ride in the turns and can give you the sensation that your body is thrown to the outside of the turn. 

Now, look at the hip area from side and from back.  Is his hip huge, medium or small?  If you stand back and look at the horse from the side again, does his hip area match his front shoulder area?  If his hip is huge, then you would want the horse to have a shoulder area to match.  If his hip is small, it should also match the front shoulder area.  If the hip and shoulder area are huge, then the legs and hooves under them should also be good conformation for weight bearing.   Firewater Fiesta is a good example of this.  She has been here in Purcell at Royal Vista  Ranch.  Our barrel racing school had an opportunity to study her conformation in the pasture.  Her shoulder and hip are huge, but very well matched.  She has the good foot and leg under her to support her weight and would probably still be running barrels if the ground at the rodeos was all ideal.  (We can have great weight balance and still not stay sound when running in ground not conducive to running fast and turning!) 

Here is something else that we need to consider when training young horses. I have never been able to find any studies done on this subject.  (If you find studies on this subject – please notify me.) What I am going to say here is strictly from my observances of both my horses and others that have come for lessons and years of watching reining horse trainers ready their horses for the 3 yr. old futurity.  While a horse is growing, his weight balance is changing constantly.  He will grow up higher in the back end and then the front end, or visa versa – I am not sure how they grow – but this I know – I have seen horses that are a good 2” higher in the front or back end.  I have had people come for help because their young horse went from swooping the barrels to hopping around them.  The first thoughts that most people have is that the horse is sore.  Many times, it turns out to be a growth spurt.

These growth spurts will also greatly affect the gather.  I am riding two 4 year olds right now that are going through this.  One is by Rare Bar and one is by Runnerelse.  They were both gathering easily and turning great and then began to struggle in their gather and turns.  If you look at them from the side, they are both very high in the hips right now.  Since I am a trainer who is more interested in the long lasting, happy and consistent horse, I am backing way off on both of them.  I have had Runnerelse horses that have grown until their 7th year.  Think about this, if you have a horse going through a rough stage in gather and turning and you start training them harder and ramming then into the ground, then what are you going to have left at the end of their futurities?   

Horses that have gone through a lot of futurities and came out big winners in the rodeo pen are getting fewer and fewer.  I think that one of the reasons are that these horses are being trained by the calendar and not by the basics of weight balance and letting the horse tell us when it is comfortable for him to move on in the training.   It reminds me of an article written about the Olympic gymnastics.  The Romanians were accused of starving their competitors so that they did not grow and change their COG, thus affecting their performance.  The COG will change in a horse the same way it does in a gymnast. May we select the ones built to do the job and then have the sense to train them correctly as their weight balance changes.  We will wind up with more that are making it to the rodeo pens.

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Last modified: January 05, 2014