Welsh Mountain Pony Conformation Series by Cherry Wilson
The Shoulder-Part 1
From Genghis Khan, to Roman generals, to Arabian sheiks, and on to todays dressage riders and race trainers, all down through the ages, horsemen have recognized the importance or good shoulders, long shoulders, laid back shoulders. But WHY?
Let’s take a look at the diagram of the proper shoulder, also to be found in the WPCSA rulebook pg. 85.
Here the bottom side of the neck sets into the body high up so there is an ample amount of vertical chest wall. If you lay a straight edge from this point up to the wither, you will find a long and sloping line. That is what is meant by the term “laid back” or “laid down” shoulder. And if this configuration is correct, the wither will always be back behind the elbow, which is proper. Also note good depth of body.
Now look at the diagram of the poor shoulder or straight shoulder. Here the bottom side of the neck sets into the body low down so there is not ample amount of vertical chest wall. If you lay a straight edge from this point up to the wither, you will find a short and steep line. That is what is meant by the term “short” or “straight” shoulder. In this sort of configuration the wither will be more forward, usually over the elbow, not proper. Also note poor depth of body.
You may also see these points on the full body diagram of the pony as marked with a straight line on the shoulder angle. Study these diagrams and reread about these points until you are able to see them on living ponies and you are able to identify which the pony possesses, a proper and laid back shoulder or a short and steep shoulder.
A proper shoulder is critical for a long stride on front, being able to pull the knee up to get over a fence, or a cushioned and soft ride. Often very heavy individuals with very heavy necks, will also have straight shoulders, with the wither over the elbow. These will ride rough with a pounding gait since the shoulder is straight and the weight of the rider is not in the spring of the back but instead right over the front leg. They will break down sooner due to this fact, and often they will have long backs and short necks as well.
The Shoulder Part 2 - Shoulder Gap
In the first shoulder article we covered the ANGLE of the shoulder in the written article and the diagrams. This time we will cover the shoulder GAP.
First you will notice in the diagram (ill#4) of the standing pony leg bones and shoulder, at the front where the shoulder joins the leg, there is an open GAP between the two bones. And in the diagram (ill#5) of the pony in motion where the leg is extended, the GAP is closed. So, what does all this mean? Here is the rule---THE BIGGER THE GAP THE LONGER THE STRIDE. And that works on every kind of equine, every age, every size. And what determines the size of the GAP is the ANGLE of the shoulder, as in part 1.
If the shoulder is straight, the GAP will be small and the stride will be short. If the shoulder is long and laid back, the GAP will be large and the stride will be long. You can try this, make fists, put your knuckles together with a small gap between, then move your fists back and forth. You will find very little room in there before the bones jam together. Now put more space between your fists, move them back and forth. You will find more room and more motion. The same works on an equine. Just remember, very simple, small GAP small stride, big GAP big stride.
And why do we want a big stride? More useful in; driving, jumping, dressage, or any of the other events in which Welsh Ponies participate, and a far smoother ride. Short shoulders with small gaps ride rough. Long shoulders with big gaps ride smooth.
Another good thing to remember is you always want the WITHER BEHIND THE ELBOW and the farther the better. WHY? In that configuration the shoulder WILL be long and laid back. If the elbow is under the wither, the shoulder will be short and upright.
Since all equines carry more weight on the front half than the back half, a good and proper shoulder assembly is critical. And no amount of training or equipment can change that, you must BREED good shoulders.
Next time we will cover the top line. Cherry Wilson
The Topline or Spine Part 1
The spine of an equine, from ears to tail is commonly called the TOP LINE. You can view this in the full pony diagram. Follow the line down the top of the neck, through the withers, back, croup and on to the tail head. A good rule to remember is THE PROPORTIONS OF THE SPINE WILL NOT CHANGE. That is, short necked, long backed babies, will be short necked, long backed adults. And long necked, short backed babies will be the same as adults.
Please look at illustration # 7 short neck – long back. The dashed line is the shoulder angle, upright or straight, with a low wither and thereby making the back too long. The dotted lines are where the shoulder and wither ought to be.
Now look at illustration # 8 short croup – long back. The dashed line shows the shoulder to be ok but the croup is too short causing the back to be too long. The croup is from the highest point of the rear assembly to the tail head. The wither on this one is ok also.
Now look at illustration # 6 which is ideal. The three major parts of the top line, neck, back, croup are all in proper proportions. This configuration makes the equine balanced, strong and capable of any sort of performance.
So here is the rule---EQUALLY BAD IS A SHORT NECK PULLING THE BACK FORWARD, OR A SHORT CROUP PULLING THE BACK TO THE BACK. Either way from the front, or the rear, you end up with a long back, which is often dropped as well, not strong and coupled either with a croup that is too short or a neck that is too short
All parts of the equine fit together in a most specific way, and when they are all as proper as they can be, the equine can move, whether driving or jumping, cross country or in dressage, in a more stable and balanced way, using all parts equally well.
The Topline or Spine Part 2
We have discussed the different lengths of the top line, now we will look at the angles of the top line or spine. In 1ll. # 9 the front is low and the rear is high, plus the wither is too low as indicated by the dotted line. The shoulder angle is proper as indicated by the dashed line. On this animal the croup is higher than the wither and it should be straight across as in Ill. # 6. A high rear can be caused by a rear cannon bone that is too long. Or it can be caused by a gaskin that is too long. Either one pushes the rear and croup upward, placing more weight on the forehand. A tell tale sign of one of these in a performance class will be as they travel down the rail, the stride behind will be longer than the stride on front. And they will travel more strung out behind as they are unable to get their back legs up under them, greatly hindering any sort of performance. And usually these can not be pulled up much on the front end and travel with the head and neck lower.
In Ill. # 10 this is a dropped croup, again the shoulder is ok indicated by the dashed line, and the wither is proper. This very steep angle can be seen on many Quarter Horses. You do not want either one, but the dropped croup is preferable to the other one. With this dropped croup, again the stride behind will be shortened as the angle is too steep. This one is able to get the back leg under itself but there will be reduced action behind and reduced ability to pull the leg upward. These may have a more showy action on the front than the rear.
Either of these faults will produce a less then ideal performance, whether in driving, jumping, or dressage, due to improper balance, the ideal being shown in Ill. # 6.
Next time we will cover the hip and back leg. Cheryl Wilson.