Exterior (horse)

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Anatomy stallion

As exterior the appearance and the physique of a is called horse . The exterior and interior determine the usability of the individual animal, and the purpose of the breed is determined through them in the breed description .

The structure of the horse is roughly divided into forehand (head, neck and front legs), metacarpus (trunk) and hindquarters (croup and hind legs).


In horses, the term dry in the head and legs area is synonymous with well-contoured, as opposed to spongy . Used on the body it indicates a well-trained horse with only a very thin layer of fat . Thoroughbreds, for example, have a predisposition to a dry physique, while cold-blooded animals tend to have a predisposition to a spongy physique, but may well have a dry head.

The frame of a horse is the ratio of shoulder and croup length to stick size and body length. So a horse with a large frame has long shoulders and a long croup in relation to its size. A large frame indicates good mobility and is therefore desirable for sport horses.

The term nobility , or noble , is used ambiguously:

  1. For horses that are very close to the thoroughbred : in this case, Arabs and English thoroughbreds in particular are noble by definition . In this meaning, the term is mainly used for warm-blooded animals. If a breed is very close to the thoroughbred, such as the Trakehner , then not only the individual but the entire breed is described as noble. In this sense, the term refinement is also used when crossing thoroughbreds or breeds that are closely related to them in warm-blooded breeds .
  2. For an individual who is particularly close to the breeding goal of the respective breed in its entire conformation. In this sense, the term nobility can be used to refer to individuals of any breed of horse.
  3. In connection with thoroughbreds, the term is used as a synonym for dry and light-caliber .

The horse's caliber is the ratio of weight to height .


There are essentially five different head shapes:

  • Straight head: corresponds most closely to today's ideal of beauty, the top and bottom lines only have a small angle
  • Wedge head: The top and bottom line form a larger angle, the head therefore looks wedge-shaped when viewed from the side
  • Ram's nose : bulging nose, straight forehead
  • Ramskopf : arched topline, often found in baroque horses
  • Pike head: downward arched topline, mainly found in European Arabian show horses

The performance or suitability of the horse is not influenced by the shape of the head. Only a pike head that has been bred out too much does not offer enough space for the bit, which is why the diet has to be adjusted. With normal feeding, the teeth would wear out prematurely from the abrasion. Therefore an extreme pike head can only be found in show horses, but not in race horses.


Ganaschen is the name given to the semicircular rear area of ​​the lower jaw. A too tight position of the ganches makes it difficult or even impossible for the horse to assume the posture required in dressage . Therefore the Ganaschen size is one of the decisive factors for the suitability for equestrian sport.


When riding, you need a neck that bulges slightly and, like the reins, has its highest point on the poll. Furthermore, the topline of the neck should be well muscled (training question) and the neck should be sufficiently long. If the neck is too long and strongly arched, the highest point may be behind the neck. This is known as the gooseneck and is not desirable for riding, as it easily removes the horse from the reins . A steep neck set too low ( deer neck ) is also undesirable, as it makes correct posture very difficult or even impossible for the horse due to incorrect muscling (lower than upper line of the neck). A neck that is too short also affects the suitability for equestrian sport, as the horse cannot balance itself so well.


Relationship between body length and height at the withers

A distinction is made between square, longitudinal and vertical rectangular horses. The ratio of trunk length (bow to ischial tuberosity) and height at the withers ( height at the withers ) is measured .

  • Square horse - body length equal to height at the withers
  • Longitudinal rectangular horse - body length greater than height at the withers
  • Rectangular horse - body length less than height at the withers (almost only in horses that are not yet fully grown)

As work riding horses that should be used all day, square horses are preferred, which is why these are usually found in western riding . The reason for this is the higher load on the back from the rider's weight. It is more difficult for a longitudinally rectangular horse to carry the rider for long periods of time without breaks. In dressage, the longitudinal rectangular horse is preferred due to the better back freedom (mobility).


The withers of the horse essentially determines the position of the saddle and is therefore of great importance for riding horses. If the withers are too flat, the position of the saddle is unstable. In the past it was common to use a tail strap to prevent him from sliding forward, but this method should now be avoided in the interests of the horse. If the withers are too high, there is a risk that the saddle will slide too far back. In this case, it must be fixed with a breastplate .


The back should be strong and swing freely in order to be able to take the weight of the rider well. Too short a back can easily make the horse tight, making it useless for dressage. Too long a back makes it difficult for the horse to step under enough to get the weight on the hindquarters. In dressage, a not too long rectangular horse is desired, which on the one hand has the necessary freedom in the back and on the other hand is not too long.

The same high withers and croup are desired for all riding horses. For racehorses, a covered (higher) croup, which allows a greater jump length, is advantageous, for draft horses a slightly lower croup can be advantageous. Also Quarter Horses are often built over.

Faults in the back are the swayback (a downward arching back) and the carp back (an arching of the back). The back of a carp robs the horse of the necessary flexibility and thus also makes it unusable for riding. Also in front of the carriage, saddlebacks and carp backs cannot be used, as the backward pressure of the harness cannot be correctly transferred to the hindquarters here.


The croup (corresponds to the buttocks ) is also a decisive characteristic for the usability of a horse. A very straight, flat croup, as is often found in racehorses, is conducive to a flat, fast canter, but at the same time it is a hindrance to a high load-bearing capacity and can also hinder a good stepping under in the gathering . A steeply sloping croup, on the other hand, is good for the load-bearing capacity and is also desirable for heavy draft horses, but is a hindrance for dressage and show jumping . In dressage and show jumping, the sloping, well-rounded croup is desirable, which also offers optimal freedom of movement with good load-bearing capacity. In cold-blooded animals, a split croup is desirable - the croup looks as if it were split due to strong muscle building.


The essential feature of the legs is the correct position. All misalignments lead to increased stress on the joints and should therefore be as low as possible if they are present.

Front legs

If you drop a plumb line from the elbow joint, it should run through the pastern joint (carpal joint) and through the pastern joint when viewed from the side . Misalignments, seen from the side:

  • bendable: the carpal joint is too far forward.
  • Back bendable: The carpal joint is too far back.
  • preliminary: The leg is straight in itself, but offset forward overall.
  • below: the leg is straight, but offset backwards (under the trunk).

When viewed from the front, the joints should be exactly one above the other. Malpositions seen from the front:

  • Bottom-tight: The line through the joints does not run vertically downwards, but inwards
  • floor-wide: the line through the joints does not run vertically downwards, but outwards
  • Tight toes: The line runs vertically through the carpal joints, inwards from the fetlock joints
  • Toe-wide: The line runs vertically through the carpal joints, from the fetlock joints outwards

Cannon bone

The strength of the cannon bone (third Vordermittelfuß- or rear pastern bone ) is often used as an indicator of Spring suitability, since not long grown too weak Röhrbein the heavy loads landing. In general, it is also used for the horse's resilience due to the rider's weight.

Hind legs

If you drop a plumb line from the hip joint, it should run through the ankle joint and through the pastern joint when viewed from the side. Misalignments, seen from the side:

  • in advance: ankle and fetlock are too far forward.
  • Backward: the ankle and fetlock are too far back.
  • Saber-legged: The perpendicular through the hip joint runs through the fetlock joint, but the ankle joint is too far back. A slightly saber-legged posture occurs in many mountain horses and is tolerated here due to the greater surefootedness in unsafe terrain and even included in the breed description.


The joints should also be exactly one above the other when viewed from behind. Malpositions seen from behind:

  • clumsy : The line through the joints does not run vertically downwards, but inwards, usually in an O-shape.
  • Cow-hocked : The line through the joints does not run vertically downwards, but rather outwards, usually in an x-shape.

Hoof position

Hard bondage

Correct hoof position plays a decisive role in the strain on the flexor tendons during movement, which is why it is of great importance in any case. The angle between the fetlock and cannon bone is used as a measure of the hoof position.

  • Usually the angle between the fetlock and cannon bone should be about 45 degrees.
  • If the angle is smaller, one speaks of a soft bondage.
  • If the angle is larger, one speaks of a hard bondage.

Since the fetlock joint is a kind of shock absorber for the horse, the horse is softer or harder for the rider to sit depending on the bondage. A soft bondage is more prone to tendon injuries and patency. If the imaginary line through the fetlock joint, crown joint and hoof in the fetlock joint is broken, one speaks of a bear-pawed hoof position. It makes a horse unsuitable for any load because the flexor tendon is significantly overused.


Colors and badges

The coat colors of horses (see also genetics of horse colors ) and their markings are only of interest for color breeding.

Long hair

Like the color of the horse, the long hair is also not a characteristic of performance, but in some breeds, such as Friesians and Andalusians , great value is placed on full long hair, since such breeds are also used as show horses.


  • Franz Müller: Doctrine of the horse's exterior. Reprint of the book from 1868, epubli GmbH, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-8442-4943-9 .
  • Franz Müller: Doctrine of the exterior of the horse or of the external knowledge of horses. Court bookseller Wilhelm Braumüller, Vienna 1854.
  • Ted S. Stashak, Horst Wissdorf: Adams' lameness in horses . 4th edition, M. & H. Schaper GmbH, Hannover 2008, ISBN 978-3-7944-0219-9 .

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