The Withers: Mutton withers:
The horse has flat and wide withers, from short spines projecting off the 8th-12th vertebrae.
Seen in any breed, most commonly in Ponies, Arabians and American Quarter Horses.
The withers are an important attachment for ligaments and muscles that extend head, neck, shoulder, and back vertebrae, and are also insertion point for muscles that open ribs for breathing. If mutton withered, the horse has less range of motion when extending the head and back muscles, so is less able to elevate its back with its head and neck extended, which affects ability for collection.
Difficult to hold on saddle. If saddle slides forward, it can put weight on the forehand, interfering with balance and restrict the shoulder movement by saddle and rider movement, causing shortened stride, interfering or forging.
The horse is often difficult to fit with a driving harness
Pleasure riding and non-jumping activities are best for the horse High withers:
The 8th through 12th thoracic vertebrae are long and angle backward to create steep, high withers
Especially seen in Thoroughbreds, Saddlebreds, and some Warmbloods
High withers provide a lever for the muscles of the back and neck to work together efficiently. As the head and neck lower to extend, the back and loin muscles correspondingly shorten or lengthen. The backward angle of withers is usually associated with sloping shoulders, which provides good movement of the shoulder blade. This makes it easy for the horse to engage in collection, lengthen, round its back for jumping, or extend its shoulder for improved stride length and speed.
If the withers are too high and narrow, there is a chance that a poorly fit saddle will impinge on withers and slip back too far, creating pain especially with the rider’s weight. Performance and willingness will suffer. The Back: Long back:
With the back measured from peak of withers to peak of croup, exceeds 1/3 of horse’s overall body length. Usually associated with long, weak loins.
Especially seen in gaited horses, Saddlebreds, Thoroughbreds, and some Warmbloods.
The horse's ability to engage back depends on its ability to elevate the back and loins, requiring strong back and abdominal muscles. A long back is flexible, but harder for horse to stiffen and straighten spine to develop speed or coil loins to collect and engage the hindquarters to thrust rear limbs forward. This then affects upper level dressage, cutting, reining, barrel racing, and polo: sports that require rapid engagement of the hindquarters. Reduced flexion forces the horse to jump flatter with less bascule.
It is difficult to develop a long back's muscle strength, so a horse is more likely to fatigue under the rider and to sway over time. The abdominal have more difficulty in compensating, so they are also less likely to develop. Loins and hindquarters may swing more than normal, increasing the occurrence of sore muscles which leads to a stiff, rigid ride. Cross-firing or speedy cutting likely at high-speeds from a horse with a long back.
Movement of the back is flatter and quieter, making a more comfortable ride and is easier for horse to change leads. Short back:
The horse's back measures less than 1/3 of overall length of horse from peak of withers to peak of croup
Can be seen in any breed, especially in American Quarter Horses, Arabians, and some Warmbloods
The back may lack flexibility and become stiff and rigid. If vertebral spines of back are excessively small, the horse may have difficulty bending and later develop spinal arthritis. This adversely affects dressage and jumping performance. If still in back and torso, the stride will become stiff and inelastic. The horse may overreach, forge, or scalp itself if the hind legs do not move straight.
The horse may be handy and agile, able to change direction with ease. Good for polo, roping, cutting, reining. If the horse has good muscling, it is able to support weight of rider with rare occurrence of back pain.
Conformation best used in agility sports Sway Back:
The span of the back dips noticeably in center, forming a concave contour between the withers and croup. Usually causes high head carriage and stiffness through the back. Associated with a long back.
Often associated with weakness of ligaments of the back. Examples include a broodmare who had multiple foals and the back dips with age, an old horse where age is accompanied with weakening of the ligaments, a horse with poor fitness/conditioning that prevents adequate ligament support of the back muscles, or an overuse injury to the muscles and ligaments from excess work, great loads, or premature work on an immature horse.
Some horses with high croups and straight backs often appear to be swayed.
Often accompanies long loins. If the loins aren’t broad, the ligament structures may weaken, causing the back to drop.
A sway back positions the rider behind the center of gravity, interfering with balance. * The horse is unable to elevate for true collection, which can affect any sport but most notably dressage, jumping, and stock work. The back may get sore from lack of support and the rider’s weight.
The horse is unable to achieve rapid impulsion since the rear is less connected with front end. To achieve speed, the horse must create some rigidity in back and spine, which is not possible with a sway. This causes problems in racing, eventing, Steeplechasing, and polo.
This horse is most suited for pleasure riding and for teaching students. Roached back:
In the area where the back and loins join the croup (the coupling) there is an upward convex curvature of the spine. Often a result of a short back, or injury or malalignment of the lumbar vertebrae.
Often accompanied by less-developed loin muscles in breadth, substance, and strength. The spine already “fixed” in a curved position, and the attaching muscles are unable to contract properly to round or elevate the back. Thus it is difficult to engage the hindquarters or round the back by elevating loin muscles. Vertebrae often have reduced motion so the horse takes shorter steps behind.
Jumping and dressage esp ecially are affected.
The horse is stiffer through the back and less flexible in an up and down motion as well as side to side.
There may be back pain from vertebral impingement.
There is a less elastic feel beneath rider as the back too rigid. Agility sports (polo, cutting, reining, barrel racing, gymkhana) are more difficult. Steep Croup or Goose rump:
A steep croup is often linked to shortened stride. Less of a fault for slow-moving horses such as draft breeds than for light riding horses Flat or Horizontal Croup:
The topline continues in a relatively flat manner to the dock of tail rather than falling off at oblique angle at the hips.
Seen especially in Saddlebreds, Arabians, and Gaited horses
Encourages a long, flowing stride. This helps a horse go faster, especially when a flat croup is sufficiently long to allow a greater range of muscle contraction to move the bony levers of skeleton. Hunter's Bump:
The horse has an enlargement at the top of the croup, or a malalignment of the croup with the pelvis and lumbar vertebrae, caused by the tearing of a ligament at the top of the croup. One or both sides of L-S joint may be affected.
Fairly common, usually seen in jumping horses and in horses that rack in an inverted frame.
It is a torn ligament caused by excessive hindquarter effort, or from a horse that had the hindquarters slip out underneath or trotted up a very steep hill. Usually does not cause problems once healed, although it is easier to re-injure.
Usually associated with horses with weak loins or a long back that is unable to coil loins properly for collection. Commonly caused by overpacing young horses, a rider allowing a horse to jump while strung out, or by racking (or other gaiting) in a very inverted frame.