Consider the following pictures.
This horse was mustered into the United States Cavalry around 1887.(from “The U.S. Cavalry Horse by Gen. William H. Carter, Lyons Press, 2003“.)And I apologize for cutting off the right side of the picture. I don’t like to flatten paperbacks, especially ones as good as this one. However, I managed to get the all important conformation in. I also have no idea why the picture came out reversed, but that’s alright.To quote the author: “The horse, Deadwood, was purchased at five years of age, and after eight years of service, although very fat, appeared perfectly sound and moved at a walk, trot and gallop without stiffness or peculiarity of gaits. He was ridden…in 1887…a distance of about (all told) twenty-five hundred miles… He has undoubtedly been able to do this because his form is so well adapted to the weight carrying requirements of cavalry service.” (pg 25, Carter) I couldn’t find a picture of Deadwood without the lines, but they are important. Now, look at what is considered today’s ideal of a riding horse. Mind you, this is a western horse, but the cavalry horse was ridden quasi western style, even though the McClellan was neither english or western.
I apologize for the small size and the poor quality of the photo, but the second picture is taken from a newsprint magazine “Northwest Rider, June 15, 2011 Vol. 11 No. 10., pg 18.” Photo (I assume) by Charles Wilhelm, the author of the article.
Let’s assume Deadwood was foaled in oh, 1880, and Sluggo or whatever the second horse is named, was foaled in, let’s say, 2005. We are looking at 125 years of supposedly ever improving breeding of riding horses. Carter had a low opinion of remount facilities, and wrote that most of the horses purchased by the U.S. Cavalry were from private breeding facilities (pg 5, Carter). Sluggo was undoubtedly bred at a private breeding facility, as the Remount no longer exists.
Compare the two horses. Both are ‘riding horses’.
Deadwood is built to carry a cavalry man and all his equipment. This included a blanket, a nose bag, a saber, a rifle, 30 rounds of ammunition, canteen, picket line, horseshoes, grain, and other items needed for an extended campaign. The total weight…NOT including the rider…was about 100 pounds. (Carter, pg 178).
Deadwood is standing naturally with his head up, actively engaged in seeing the world around him. He is standing naturally square, and while it appears he is toeing out just slightly in the rear, that is not so unusual.
His conformation is very good. Mind you, he was the ideal for a cavalry horse, but this was the standard the cavalry officers were looking for when they purchased horses. His legs are well boned. He is a bit over at the knee in front in this picture, but in another, he is dead straight. I don’t know the ages of the two.
While I don’t have it here, his legs are as perfect from front and rear aspect as they appear here. His back is straight and strong, shoulder at a perfect 45 degree angle. His neck, while a little bit short (that may be my modern tastes, mind you) still ties nicely into a nice wither. He has a good, if a bit goose rumped croup. He is evenly proportioned, with the front, the middle and the back thirds all even and connected. His bottom line goes evenly all the way to the sheath. He’s got plenty of rib there and room for his innards. The lines on the picture are the author’s, not mine, and please, use them. You will agree with me that Deadwood was perfectly conformed to be a long distance, hard using riding horse. He fought in the Indian wars as well as the Philippine ones, so he was made right and used properly.
Deadwood was not purposefully bred for being a cavalry horse. He was purposefully bred to be a RIDING horse, and it just so happened that that is what the Cavalry wanted. He was probably quite average, although Carter singled him out. That being said, the quality of riding horses in the 1880’s had reached this high standard.
Were I in the business of breeding riding horses, this is what I’d be looking for..
Now look at Sluggo, the second horse. Wilhelm writes “Conformation is…important for the western pleasure horse. A horse with a relatively short back and a thin throat latch is preferred. The hocks should sit up underneath the horse. (Italics mine). The horse should be naturally balanced and able to carry itself easily. A horse that carries its head at withers height is a good prospect. (italics mine). The withers should not be lower than the hips as that makes it more difficult for a horse to have self carriage at a slower speed.
…The horse does not need to be flashy but a horse that stands out and catches the judges eye can be an asset….looks are important but if the horse does not have a presence, it will still be hard to catch the judge’s eye.
…It is desirable to have a horse with a naturally slow gait…You probably want to start with a horse that has a slow, pretty lope and jog already and then fine tune those gaits. If you have a horse that has the looks but is a little more forward, you can work with the horse to bring it down.” (italics mine). We always want to select a horse that is right for the disciple (sic) we have chosen.” (pg 18, Wilhelm).
So let us look at the ideal that Wilhelm proposes in his article. I don’t know if Sluggo is his, but he put Slug’s picture in the article, so I’m assuming the horse is his ideal.
Sluggo has tiny feet, upright pasterns, and a straight, upright shoulder to match. He is light boned and tied in on his forelegs. He is sickle hocked, appears to toe out a little in the rear. He is a little light in the gut, has a nice neck but not much wither to tie it into. He has a weak loin. His bottom line is longer than his top. His back, despite what Wilhelm says, slopes toward his withers. Maybe it’s the photo, but Slug’s head appears to be a little too heavy for the neck, or perhaps that’s the thin throatlatch he favors. Maybe the heavy head and too light neck and throatlatch automatically make it so that Sluggo carries it at wither’s height. He certainly doesn’t look as if he can lift it up any higher, anyway. Nor does he appear at all motivated to do so. He looks, well, like a slug.
I find disturbing that Wilhelm is far more concerned with the appearance, i.e. the color of the horse, than he is about conformation.
(As an aside, at the recent playday I attended with Soldier, my leased horse, there wasn’t a single paint or pinto there. Of perhaps fifty horses, only a handful were appaloosas. The rest were solid colored horses, many roans and duns amongst them. Paints were bred for the show ring. They cannot handle being real horses.)
Wilhelm is not suggesting that this type of horse for any use other than walking slowly. I doubt Sluggo can carry a grudge, never mind a rider. I’m sure he’s slow, he looks so poorly conformed he can’t get out of his own way.
Is it fair for me to compare the two? Despite the fact that they’re both horses, no. Deadwood was a horse made to ride, long distances, high speeds at times (I am certain that a slow cavalry horse equaled a dead one, as well as the rider), over all sorts of terrain.
Sluggo? Well, Sluggo can go around on a nice, soft, yielding arena surface. He is built to go slowly in circles, never breaking a sweat, carrying a nicely dressed young lady and a heavy saddle. No wonder he looks hangdog. He IS one.
Sluggo was bred to be a toy horse. Animated, admittedly, and just as expensive as a horse like Deadwood, but never expected to be able to work like that horse.
Deadwood won acclaim. Sluggo may win buckles.
I guarantee you, though, the one thing Sluggo will do that Deadwood never got a chance: Sluggo will breed. He will pass on his horrid conformation. He will make someone money.
Deadwood was a gelding. All he did was discharge his…unchosen, mind you…duty, in carrying a man into battle.