Conformation Clinic: Choose the Solid Dressage Horse

Place these warmbloods in your order of preference. Then go to the March 2009 issue of Practical Horseman magazine to see how your choices compare to sporthorse judge Julie Winkel's. From the editors of Practical Horseman.

Whether judging a model class, evaluating a prospect for a client or sizing up the yearlings at home, I first stand back and look for an overall impression of balance and symmetry. My ideal horse fits in a square box. By that, I mean he is defined by matching and equal parts, both front to back and side to side. This allows for athletic ability, soundness, trainability and longevity in the job.

From top to bottom: 11-year-old Anglo-Trakehner gelding, 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare, 5-year-old Canadian Warmblood gelding |

A horse who “fits in a box” will have a body made up of one-third shoulder, one-third back and one-third hindquarters. I like to see the withers and hips at the same level. The horse’s stance, from the point of shoulder to the buttocks, should equal the distance from the height of the withers to the ground.

I also always look at the eyes–not as a vet, but I want to see a horse with clear, alert vision. From the head, I move down the neck to the shoulders, along the back to the hind end and leg construction.

For dressage, a more upright build and a shorter neck are desirable. I look for a strong back end with a forward-sloping femur for impulsion, a more compact back for collection and structural balance with the horse’s feet standing squarely under him for ease with repetition and cadence in the movement.

See how I placed these horses in the March ’09 issue of Practical Horseman. Call 301-977-3900 to order back issues.

Owner of Maplewood Stables in Reno, Nev., Julie Winkel has been a USEF “R” hunter breeding judge for 23 years and a Canadian Equestrian Federation “S” judge for more than 10 years. Through her career as a rider, trainer, judge and breeder, Julie continues to learn and study which traits make athletic horses and how structural makeup can lessen soundness problems. Julie runs a breeding facility where her two grand prix stallions Cartouche Z and Osilvis have produced offspring who have placed high in Young Jumper championships. As a USEF equitation and hunter judge, Julie has officiated at many top competitions, including the ASPCA -Maclay Championship and the Pessoa/USEF Medal Final.

Conformation Clinic appears monthly in Practical Horseman. To submit a photo to be evaluated in Conformation Clinic, send us a side-view photo of your horse, posed similarly to those shown above. For digital photos: at least 3″ x 5″ at high resolution (300 dpi). Make sure your entire horse is in the photo and that he’s well groomed, wearing a bridle, looking straight ahead and standing on level ground–and try to avoid distracting backgrounds. Email or mail a print to Conformation Clinic, Practical Horseman, 656 Quince Orchard Rd., Suite 600, Gaithersburg, MD 20878. Include your contact information and your horse’s breed, age and gender and the disciplines in which you ride. If photograph is professionally taken, please include photographer’s name and contact information.

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