George Stubbs, Pumpkin with a Stable Lad


...if I have always worked honestly, my horse will carry me to the end of the world.

E.F. Seidler


News - ANCCE Clinic with Ignacio Bravo Garcia, Melbourne 2008

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Figura V
The Head
The Neck
The Shoulder
Front Legs
Hind Legs
Miscellaneous comments from the general discussion
Powerpoint Presentation

The Melbourne clinic was held on the 14th and 15th of December at Peppercorn Equestrian Centre, just north of the Tullamarine Airport.

The clinic was given by Ignacio Bravo Garcia, a judge, Grand Prix dressage rider and breeder, who has presented many horses to champion of their class in Spain. It was sponsered by ANCCE and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture. Cristina Wilkins did a fantastic job of translating.

The clinic covered morphology, presentation and functionality, and we were able to have an extended discussion period with Ignacio. Two mares and two stallions were present; one of the stallions was under saddle.

We were able to take some notes, which we will copy here in a fairly 'unedited' form.

The clinic began with a short introduction. Ignacio informed us that he was going to speak to us about the specific breed characteristics of the PRE, as well as the correct conformation required for any saddle horse.

Ignacio's love of the breed was immediately evident; he informed us that the PRE is like a "lamb in lion's clothing" - one of the best descriptions of the breed's general character that we have heard - and went on to discuss that you can't appreciate the horse's inner values from its morphology. The versatility of the PRE has been maintained because of the balance between its head (its brain, character & temperament) and its functionality.

He stated that the PRE allows non-professional riders to succeed at any level and become professional themselves.

Breed characteristics are important, as they allow horses to stay true to type, so each horse should meet the following criteria: breed characteristics, general conformation, leg conformation.

Morphology competitions should not be what defines your breeding selection criteria. In these competitions, the horses are 'split' into ten sections, and each section given a mark. By doing this, we do not define the quality of the whole horse. Winning the prize at a conformation competition only indicates that the horse was the least incorrect horse on the day.

Ignacio said that you need to fall in love with a horse slowly, learning about his good and bad points. He suggested that if you want a perfect horse, you should go to Switzerland and ask a watch maker to make one for you.

The true quality of a horse can only be defined at the end of a horse's life, when the owner looks back and thinks about whether the horse was a 'good horse' or a 'bad horse'.

The PRE is a horse that has more 'balance' than power, which is why they are of moderate proportions (moderate size). They were historically smaller due to the difficulty of stockwork, although the size is now generally increasing. The first real jump in the size of the PRE came when breeders realised the effect of feeding - in Spain, spring is a 'good' season and the others are poorer, breeders are now feeding correctly through the year.

The PRE should be not too long, and not too short.

There is a genetic component to how a horse will finish up, but it is also influenced by his environment (how he grows up, feeding & excercise).

The Spanish horse's conformation should make it very easy to work with, which therefore makes its temperament seem easier. But if you demand a lot from a horse, and it can't give it to you easily as it has some conformational weaknesses, then they can start to act against you.

Ignacio mentioned that a horse should be able to do a good functionality test approximately 5 months after it is broken in.

ANCCE is preparing a draft of a new judging schedule, which will not be as point based. The overall impression of the horse will be counted. Some breeders and owners don' t like getting a low score on a particular area of the horse. They tend to focus on the one low score, and don't look to see that the horse may have scored higly in all other areas.

Ignacio informed us that he is one of the judges that use the full range of marks available - he is just as happy to give a 2 as a 9, rather than giving marks between 7 and 8 - which has tended to make him a little unpopular as a judge.

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The Head
The head is one of the most important sections, as this is one of the areas in which some of the most important breed characteristics are manifested.

The head should have a sub-convex profile, not straight although it can be almost straight. It should not be as convex as the PSL, and it should not be flat longitudinally or laterally. It should be long and not fleshy.

The eye should be triangular and angled, and not bulging or too prominent. The expression of the eye should be curious with no fear.

The ears should be of medium size. Smaller ears are less desirable, as that tends to be an arab trait. The ears shouldn't bend or curl in.

The line of the jaw should be straight. The cheek should not protrude into this line. The cheek should not be too pronounced, and the line of the cheek should fade and go behind the ear.

The nostrils from the front look like inverted Ss when the horse is relaxed. The should be able to open generously when the horse exerts itself, to get more air. The should not be too round (again, this is an arab trait).

The head should have plenty of forelock.

A frontal nasal depression is acceptable - it is not desirable, but it is ok if the general sub-convexity of the profile is kept.

The functional characteristics or points to note on the head of a saddle horse are:
- The length of the mouth - it should allow a bit to lie between the molar and the canines without having to pull the lip up, or hanging in the lips.
- The chin on some horses can be too sensitive for a curb chain.
- The palate is also important - heavier types (breeds) tend to have fleshy bars which are less sensitive.
- Head and neck union is very important, as it is where the rider receives the energy of the horse.

The neck is very important in the saddle horse. The union of the chest and neck, how it comes out of the shoulder, how it is used in movement.

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The Neck
The neck is very important in the saddle horse. The union of the chest and neck, how it comes out of the shoulder, how it is used in movement.

The top line starts behind the wither and goes to the poll. The muscles are joined from the tail to the neck, so they all need to work together.

Every movement generates tension in the muscles (good tension) - if this tension is 'elastic' we can feel the energy through the poll and reins in our hands when ridden.

The neck should gradually reduce in size - wider at the base, and slowly taper in (when seen from the side and fron the top). The top line and underline should coincide.

The neck should come out of the shoulder at a 90° angle (that is, the line of the shoulder should be approximately 45° to the horizontal, and the line of the neck should also be approximately 45° to the horizontal, resulting in an approximate 90° angle at the union).

If the neck comes out of the shoulder a bit low, the horse can look a bit ewe-necked and the muscles can hollow.

The muscles on the top and underlines contradict each other in collection, which may be a problem if the head and neck union is too thick.

Some PREs have a neck which is too soft and too supple; such a neck won't allow for good tension in the muscles

The neck normally has plenty of silky mane. Hogging mares manes can make the mane coarser, but if they are left a long time, they will go silky again.

Some horses have a depression where the neck and head join - the Spanish call this 'flute mouth'. This is an aesthetic defect. In a thick neck it can impede flexion.

As the breed is based in a hard-living environment, fat accumulates easily on the neck to save for 'poor times'. The line of the neck should be smooth from wither to poll. A depression in front of the wither is called the 'hit of the axe' in Spanish; it is a defect, but no wither would be a greater conformational fault. If a horse is in poor condition, you may see a dip in the neck in front of the wither - in this case it is not a conformational fault. Young horses will tend to have a dip in front of the wither, this is not generally a conformational fault.

A neck leaving the shoulder too low could cause the depression.

In breeding, you must not breed to eliminate the wither in trying to get a smooth neck line. The wither is like a coat hanger for all the muscles - if you were able to hang a horse up like a Christmas decoration in all stages of collection, the wither would be the balance point (e.g. the point that the string would go through).

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The shoulder
The point of the shoulder joins the forearm, and goes back to the elbow.

PREs were often used in the past as spectacular carriage horses, all their movement came from the shoulder. They often had a poor elbow (short) which gave them less lever-effect to allow for free movement.

Movement depends on correct conformation in this region. Good conformation gives a horse elevation, suspension and length of stride. If the horse's movement comes from the wither via a good shoulder, then the horse will have a big stride.

If a horse has a lot of power behind, but a bad front (e.g. shoulder conformation), the horse will not be able to lengthen. Horses with this problem will often prefer the canter to trot, as the extra moment of elevation gives them more time to gain ground.

If a horse has a shoulder that is too upright, it will tend to stand with its front legs too far back. If the arm is too horizontal, the horse will have trouble with the length of stride.

Freedom of the shoulder gives the horse the:
- ability to elevate
- ability to travel forward
- ability to open and cross (lateral freedom)

If the horse can't open its legs in the half pass, the movement will lose balance and rhythm.

The relationship between the angles of the entire top line is important as they allow for the lowering of the hind quarters.

If the back is very hollow - even if the neck is ok - the bone structure is very upright. It is difficult to ride and fit a saddle to.

The loin should not be concave, as this weakens the system.

The Levade is the expression of controlled impulsion at the halt. If you can channel energy through supple muscles, then it can be achieved without force in all saddle horses.

A long back with correct conformation and muscle will have more lateral flexibility than a similar short-backed horse. You may be able to get similar longitudinal flexion as a shorter backed horse. Such a horse (long backed) may be able to compete acceptably at the middle level.

Lateral work allows the rider to strengthen one hind leg at a time so that the horse can use both (strong) hind legs in a straight line.

As riders, we are not teaching the horse anything. As riders, we want to artificially create what the horse can do naturally at our request. Perfection is not achievable, but we can aim for it.

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Front Legs
The top line muscles allow the horse to spring and get good elevation. Power is needed, but good conformation is required to allow the horse to stay in balance.

The energy lost in going forward should be directed upwards.

A horse with a weaker loin will tend to overcompensate by bending the hind leg.

To perform a request, we need to do more work to build up more muscle to compensate for weak conformation (or any areas of weak conformation). The rider needs to be very careful if a horse is weak in some areas (e.g. loin is stronger than the hock), as it is very easy to overwork the weaker conformational areas.

For example, excessive passage is often an overcompensation for a weak loin - the rider must be careful.

Conformation defects may not be a hindrance to a successful career - as the PRE will give whatever it takes to do the work - but it needs to be carefully managed. Better conformation does make for easier performance, but is not everything.

The toe should always point forward; there should be no flick of the foot (e.g. the sole should not point forward).

Elevation is from the shoulder, not just the arm.

The legs and feet carry all the load of the horse (think in terms of psi). The feet should fall evenly as a whole foot. If a leg is not straight, the weight will be carried on a smaller area of the hoof, and the joints will often not grow evenly. This may result in too much muscle development in one area, and muscle atrophy in another.

In a horse that is back at the knee, the toes will tend to grow faster and if it is not corrected, the joints will wear unevenly.

Legs can lose straightness at any joint.

Deviations (in the straightness of a leg) will be exaggerated in a horse with big movement; also, if you ask the horse for big, powerful, elevated paced, any deviation will be magnified (e.g. more apparent).

This is not so bad a defect if it only visible in the big movements - it is a worse defect when it is visible at a jog.

When evaluating a horse, you need to look at the horse as a whole - the good things and the bad things. If you have an 18yo horse that has worked well (and soundly) for 15 years, you don't need to look at the legs. This is different for a 3yo horse. A horse that is over at the knee still has 'shock absorption' through the joint, so this is not as bad a defect as back at the knee.

You should look at the horse differently depending on its age and purpose e.g. a 20yo broodmare with a sway back is not a problem; a 4yo mare with a sway back is.

Leg deviation & straighness can be transmissable, but can also be affected by the environment. If you pay attention to deviation in a foal, much can be corrected. Get professional advice to shape the leg correctly, as with pruning a tree. Once a leg has stopped growing, you can only try to balance the pressure on the foot - so corrective trimming may still be required as an adult.

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Hind Legs
Same balance - look from where the legs 'hang'.

The croup should not be narrower than the chest - this will tend to lead to cow hocks.

The Achilles tendon in the horse is above the hock, and is actually the end (or start point) of all the top line muscles.

Lack of straightness (under saddle) is not always caused by bad conformation in the leg (may be due to a lack of muscling). If a young horse goes wide behind when initially asked to perform extended trot training, it may become a habit.

A very steep croup is often found together with a weak loin and 'standing under'.

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The relationship between the head and the rest of the bone is proptiortional - you can't have a fine head and heavily boned body.

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When showing a horse, you need to try to draw attention to the horses good points, and away from its defects. For example, trimming the coronet band hair can create an optical illusion (of better hoof angle) - even if the illusion is discovered, the fault doesn't look too bad. Painting a hoof can also be done so that a better illusion is given.

To clip the mane - clip it fully approximately 4 weeks before the show. Then, in the days before the show, look at the neck and trim the hair to improve the appearance of the neck e.g. to create the illusion of more curve in the neck, have the mane a little thicker at the base. To compensate for a thick jowl, dip in front of the wither.

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The most important thing is to be smooth. Trying too hard can show up defects in the horses paces, or the work.

More balance and collection will help to make the horse move more impressively, but if the horse is a 4yo, we want it to move as naturally as possible.

You can rise to the trot if you think that this will make the horse flow better. Sit for more collection, but make sure that you know your horse (e.g. are working appropriately for your horse). Sitting trot is valued more, but don't do it if it will negatively influence a young horse.

Forward is the key. Show the horses paces.

A slightly 'progressive' halt is ok, so that the halt doesn't lose momentum at the halt.

Practise the manouvres at home so that the horse can go from moving straight, to moving on a circle, without losing rhythm.

For a young horse, more progressive transition into the canter.

Showing regularity and energy is very important in the canter.

Don't let the horse raise his head when asked for more impulsion.

The balance in the horse is found by going forward - like someone tripping over a stone and running a few steps to balance themselves. Once the horse is forward and makes bigger steps, it allows him to lower his head.

If the horse becomes unrhythmic or unbalanced, then he should be pushed forward - not faster, but bigger steps.

The Serpentine is a good excercise to lead in to Shoulder In. Shoulder in to circle or serpentine is also a good excercise. When the horse is good at shoulder in, move to the Half Pass. Slowly develop the horse's ability to lower the hind quarters and step under himself.

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Miscellaneous comments from the general discussion
Equitation is universal, but the sport of dressage is German. It is easier for a Spanish horse to win a gold medal in a Grand Prix competition that it is to win at the 4yo dressage championships in Germany.

If you take a selection of random horses at the top of Dressage sport which all achieve similar scores, you will probably see that they all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some will lose marks on extensions, but gain on collected work and vice versa. So, all horses at top level are not uniformly talented in all areas.

It is very easy to criticise a horse and its defects, but it is not always so easy to list the horses good points. All horses have good and bad points - there are no perfect horses. Some conformational defects are not desirable, but may be acceptable. Don't focus on your horse's defects - know them, and work with them, but remember all his good points, too.

When judging, he has in the past placed a very typey 16yo stallion with 'some leg deviations' in front of a more conformationally correct but less typey horse. His arguement was that the breed standard is very important, and the leg deviations were obviously no issue in the horse as it was still very sound (at its age and level of work). Breed for the best horse you can, but try to stay within the breed standards - and don't necessarily write off a horse because it is not perfect.

All horses have their own personality and opinions, and should be allowed to keep these. It is good to work with the horse's personality.

Times of crisis (such as the current economic crisis) are often very good for breeds in general - during these times, less horses tend to be bred (in general) as the demand is not so great, which allows breeders to concentrate on improving their stock.

'Lightness' in riding is a wonderful thing, especially for people that don't want riding to be hard work (especially Ignacio - he doesn't like to have more than about 75 grams 'weight' on the reins). The 'scale' of lightness in riding in Europe is (from heaviest to lightest):
- Germany
- The Netherlands
- France
- Spain & Portugal

Ignacio tends to break horses in as three years old, and he breaks them in on the longe and under saddle (he doesn't do much in-hand work, although he has in the past).

He brings the horses on slowly, and tries to ensure that the horse (and its muscles) never get tired. When appropriate, he will stop a ride after just a couple of minutes.

He doesn't use a chiropractor or massage on his horses - he works very hard to ensure that they are not necessary (via not allowing muscles to become tired, equipment fit etc), and he feels that the horses can give themselves as good a massage when rolling as most people can give them.

There are some horses that definitely should not be used for breeding (due to some conformational defect), but for other horses, it is a matter of weighing up the horse's good points and matching the good and bad points of mare and stallion.

Starting a stud from scratch is an exciting thing, as it allows the stud owner to select the mares - but the stud owner needs to ensure that (if they really want to breed), they don't spend a lifetime looking for elusive 'perfect stock'.

Powerpoint Presentation
The powerpoint presentation from the clinic can be downloaded here:
Powerpoint Presentation
Tarugo, ridden by Ignacio Bravo Garcia
Ignacio Bravo riding Tarugo