Learning Horseback Riding

Does a Horse’s Shape Impact How Easy He is to Ride?

There are differences in the way horses’ bodies are put together, called ‘conformation’. Learning horseback riding is more comfortable on a horse with correct conformation. Such an equine is also less likely to suffer physical problems.

The back and neck are the parts of his body which most affect how easy he is to ride. Next time you look at a horse, see if you can tell which of these types his back and neck fall into.


Good back: The back forms rectangle with the legs. The front and hind end of the horse are the same height. He’s comfortable to sit on and moves well: a good shape for the beginner rider to learn on.

Too long: The horse looks elongated and would fit into a stretched out rectangle. He has trouble bringing his hind legs underneath him and moving forwards with impulsion. For such horses, riding lessons for beginners or trail riding would be the best job.

Too short: The horse’s body fits into an upended rectangle, with the legs appearing too long for the animal. Such a horse tends to have a choppy action and is difficult to sit on. Short-backed animals are prone to leg problems.

Over-built: This type has a croup (hind-end) higher than his withers (top of the shoulders) and the rider feels as if sitting downhill. Not a horse for someone learning horseback riding and needs much training to make more comfortable.


Well-set: The neck should form a smooth line with the withers and shoulders, and taper into the head with room between the jawbone and neck muscle for the horse to comfortably bend. He’ll be easy to make supple.

Incorrectly muscled: The neck is strongly muscled underneath. This allows the horse to resist the rider and avoid becoming soft and supple.

Short and thick: Such a neck leaves little room between the jaw bone and neck muscle. He finds it hard to bend. This type and the preceding can be helped with correct riding to ‘rearrange’ their muscles but are not horses for beginners.

Low-set: There is usually a dip after the withers before the neck begins, and this makes it hard for the horse to go round in for dressage. It could be suitable for Western riding, however.

If you’re looking to buy or lease a horse, check these conformation points to ensure your equine can happily perform the work you require of him.

Read more topics at the Horse Riding Resources page.


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