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Straight Hocks in Sport Horses

My horse went through the Future Event Horse program and was incredibly successful. However I’m certain after all is said and done he won’t make it to anywhere near the upper level of the sport. My horse even had an article written about him about how great his conformation is. Reviewing his FEH conformation score sheets and articles I noticed that a lot of stuff commented on the positives he had but nothing negative that would limit his career. And I don’t know what I don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know. And that’s okay.

Now, these various judges and people that have looked at him over the years to include vets… nobody remarked on his straight hocks. I did lean heavily on these remarks, scores, articles, vets, etc to feel somewhat confident in his conformation. He’s absolutely beautiful with no glaring faults but clearly I am not as educated as I could be.

Do you think these people that looked at him and judged him knew he had straight hocks? Do you think they knew the implications of what this could cause? My wife who is my farrier can only shrug at me and say this is what happens with purpose bred breeding. (Me trying to do better and buy purpose bred so I’m not fitting a square peg in a round hole.)

I have no negative feelings about his history nor do I think this was done intentionally. It just is what it is. We all did the best we could. My horse ended up with bilateral proximal suspensory desmitis of the hind limbs secondary to this conformational fault.

I want to ask on this forum here specifically in the sport horse breeding how you feel about straight hocks. Is this part of developing better purpose bred horses? How do you determine if a hock is too straight? I read that anything over 160 degrees is going to be prone to suspensory issues but depending on how my horse is standing the angle can be manipulated. What is the ideal hock conformation for eventers or dressage horses? If you have a picture I would love to see it.

That is a rough diagnosis. I am sorry.

There is some degree of too-straight hock in some more popular event sires and mares.

How much that limits their future career depends on a lot of variables.

It is not just about the hocks. It is about the stifle, the hooves, the farriery, the management, the turnout, the work load, genetics – all of this you likely know. I look at the rest of the body when trying to decide if the hocks are too straight. What is the relationship with the stifle and croup? And pasterns? You can tell if the open hocks present a problem if you see the pelvis tilt, the pasterns appear soft, and muscling changes in that area as the horse learns to stand more under themselves because they don’t have a pillar of support. What I don’t want to see is hocks and stifles nearly in a plumb line.

That being said I do think there is a tendency for some judges and inspectors to have rose colored glasses about genuine conformation faults. If it is sport bred and not a TB, of course. :wink:

Bilateral PSD can sometimes be a red herring when the real issue is something entirely different; could be ESPA/DSLD, could be KS, could be truly bad farriery at hand to make NPA and put undue compensational stress on all other parts of the body.

Horses will get straighter as they get older, so it’s really important to consider the age and the history of the horse. A horse with too straight hocks as a 2 year old, will likely suffer for it. A horse with too straight legs at 10, could make a fine riding horse.

To me the ideal hock conformation really depends on the rest of the body. In a general sense the more open the angle, the better suited to jumping and better limb folding ability. But it comes at a cost. To use specific event stallions that IMO have straighter hind ends to compare I think OBOS Quality 004 is about as perfect as a non-blooded stallion could be. Quiberon is straighter, but not too straight - but getting there. Cruising (and clones) are too straight for my taste.

OBOS Quality 004


Cruising (Clone)

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“straight” is pretty subjective, and hock angle is only 1 part of the strength of the hind end, and of the functional conformation of the horse as a whole.

To really talk about specific hocks, we need a decent conformation picture of the whole horse.


Thank you, and that’s a good point about the relation of other joints in the hind end. Looks like so much more to learn!!!

I find the subject very interesting, but none of the horses pictured are standing square (each of them have one hind leg very much out behind, which is an unusual position for a proper conformation photo) so it is difficult for me to judge.


They do this so you can see all four legs. This is standard for a conformation photo and at inspections.

No substitute for seeing them and their offspring in person, though.


I understand, but for judging conformation from a photo, as in this instance, it is much easier (for me anyway) to evaluate the horse when it is standing square.


Totally valid. Unfortunately, I don’t know if such photos exist of the three stallions I mentioned. I tried to attach the best ones I could find.

I’m not sure your correlation between straight hocks and the BPSD is entirely fair. Unfortunately, it’s a common condition in sport horses that are asked to carry their weight on their hind legs or push off to jump fences, which puts extra strain on the hind suspensory. By “secondary to his conformational fault”, do you mean the vet attributed the BPSD to his hind limb conformation?

Hocks that are too straight are much more common in stock horses bred for halter classes than “sport horses” ie. warmbloods with heavy TB influence.

I don’t know what kind of scores you got for conformation as part of the FEH program. I do know judges are more likely to comment on the positives. A horse in a breed show earlier this summer had a front foot where the toe was turned out ~15 degrees. Obviously this is a significant fault and could have an effect on his long term soundness. The rest of his legs were nice. The judge gave the horse a 6.2 for the legs/feet and gave no comments in the box. The same judge (in a different class) gave my horse a 7.7 for legs/feet but commented that her pasterns were slightly soft. If the judges give a higher score, the owner wants to know why it wasn’t an 8.0 or greater, so you give a reason. My horse got a lot of scores around 7.5, which I know is because her conformation is good but she’s still growing and was in a funky phase at the time. If the judge is giving scores ~7.0, they think the horse’s functional conformation is fine in that area, but not phenomenal. Judges might see a hundred horses in a day. They remember egregious faults and which horses were exceptional.

For upper level prospects, I care more about where the hock is under the body. I want it centered under the hind quarters, not trailing behind or tucked up under the body. This can be a conformational fault or a sign that something else is going on in the body and the horse is compensating for pain/discomfort by standing weird. My REAL concern about upright hocks is strength and soundness as they age. There’s some evidence that straight hocks can contribute to DJD. Also, upright legs can make a horse short strided and sometimes less comfortable to ride.

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Another thing regarding conformation judging for sporthorses: especially in young horses, the horse that wins might not be the best horse later or even have exceptional conformation. A well-developed three year old in a balanced stage of his growth with a funky leg might win over a horse that is early in it’s three year old year that is butt-high and lacks muscle. Because conformation is not all about legs.

Yes, the ideal stance for conformation is the off side legs a half step under the horse, the near side legs with vertical cannon bones. BUT, the camera also needs to be centered vertically and horizontally, ideally from far away and zoomed on, so you can more or less see everything directly from the side

Those pics are either a bit forward of center (#1 and 3) or the near hind leg is too far back (all 3) so you can’t see hind leg angles, and that trailing hind leg also impacts the hip shape

They also can’t be leaning forward over the front vertical leg (#3) because that makes the pastern lower than it is.

Good confo pics are hard. Yearling TB sales pics are probably among the best as a whole, but there are some really good ones of many other breeds as well

You don’t want square, you want the staggered stance. Square makes it too easy for the off leg to shadow the near leg and create illusions of weirdness.

IMHO, the conformation judging of young horses has not caught up to the functional conformation analysis to look at the whole function, not just this part and that part


However, “you” don’t want the exaggerated staggered stance shown in the pictures above. I don’t anyway. Its very difficult (for me) to analyze the legs or the hindquarters of a horse that is standing with a leg so far behind them.


I agree with all of what you said, but I don’t think you’ll find better photos of the three stallions I mentioned. That’s what we have to go with AFAIK. I mentioned them in specific because OP mentioned straighter hocks.

In the TB industry we’re spoiled with photographers who can take excellent conformation photos, including our rehoming orgs. The WB world hasn’t really caught up to speed. It’s hard enough to find a conformation photo half the time if you’re interested in a stallion.


yes, exactly, that’s why I said the near side legs need to have the cannon bone vertical

Oh yes, for sure, we don’t always have the right confo pic to really evaluate even famous horses :slight_smile: We just can’t really see the angles of those horses due to their stances

Yes the vet said it’s secondary to straight hocks and there’s a paper by Dr. Dyson that said every degree of hock angle over 160 degrees increases their chances of developing suspensory injuries by like 12%. His is exactly at 160 degrees.

I do agree that halter horses have very straight legs behind, but I don’t think they’re participating in activities that would hurt their suspensories like sitting and pushing off.


I think I’m using the wrong terminology. By standing “square” I don’t mean halter horse square.
The stance of the mare below is what I’m thinking of.


You may have to scroll down.

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As a quarter horse person told me " You don’t ride those halter horses". I have no idea what you are supposed to do with them after feed and lead.

yes, that’s the ideal :slight_smile: It’s so easy for that near hind leg to trail behind the horse. getting those 2 near legs vertical can be a chore

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My point about halter horses was more in response to your wife saying that this is what happens with purpose-bred horses. Straight hocks are not a common, “diagnosable” occurrence in sport horses. My mind goes to compression of the cervical vertebrae and EDM. Horses with a high inbreeding coefficient are predisposed to certain illnesses and abnormalities, but we should be minimizing that with responsible breeding.

Can you provide a link to that paper? I’d like to see what statistics they present beyond simple correlation to get to 12%. Horses don’t read numbers, and most sport horse vets I’ve talked to would attribute hind suspensory injury to repetitive loading. The FEH program and a lot of what we expect from sport horses is not easy work. I think people are starting to notice a discrepancy between the horses that do the young horse programs and the horses that have long careers at the top of their sport. Just food for thought on how pushing young horses in these programs might affect the horse’s long term soundness. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and don’t have answers. I’m sorry this happened with your young horse.


Yes I will grab the link! I think you’re absolutely right about the FEH and young event horse but what shocks me is I never see FEH graduates in the upper levels (unless the YEH horses were also FEH but I’ve not seen them discern that when discussing YEH alumni). I see USEA several times a year releasing articles about young event horse graduates or winners and where they’re at now. And how many are currently going at the 5 star level. The level of progress made on such a young horse in such a short time to have 9 year olds at the 5 star level is just whimsical to me. Like what stars aligned, what did you have access to, what conformation and temperament and talent and supreme soundness and balance made these particular horses so successful. I didn’t want to participate in YEH because I thought what they were asking is no way in support of long term soundness and what it takes to prepare to even get to that level.

I don’t think there was anything particularly stressful for the 4 year olds under saddle in the FEH but I wouldn’t support it for the 3 year olds! I’m holding out hope for mine that after he recovers from this he can fulfill his “potential” that he was bred for and that he’s just a late bloomer and will be one of the teenage horses going around decently. I know he will require careful management and I’m prepared for that. I’ve already crossed out certain venues we will never be able to go to again because of the deep poor footing.