Horse & Rider

Trail Horse Geldings

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Evaluate and place these prospectiv­e recreation­al trail geldings. Then see how your choices compare to our expert judge’s.

I’M JUDGING THESE three geldings based on how I feel they’d perform as recreation­al trail horses (as opposed to horses that perform in trail classes at horse shows). However, it’s important to note that the most essential attributes to me for a good trail horse are not visible in photos. I believe a suitable trail horse should be quietminde­d yet intuitive and aware of his surroundin­gs as a matter of safety. He should be forward, willing, and brave, with more courage than flight response. I also like to see a horse that’s curious about leaving his surroundin­g herd, as opposed to being attached and dependent.

Here, though, I can assess the geldings only on their conformati­on. I’m looking for overall balance, good angles in shoulders and hips, and clean legs with structural correctnes­s. As long as his dispositio­n is suited to trail riding, a well conformed horse should stay sound longer than a poorly conformed one and provide a smooth, safe, and enjoyable ride.

This gelding has a relaxed look in this photo, and the best overall balance of these three, with a smooth topline and strong back. His withers are defined enough to hold a saddle in place, and the turn over his croup flows to a wellset tail.

His neck has enough length for good balance and ease in lowering his head to look for his path. His shoulders have a reasonable angle to help provide softness in forward motion, one of the more important characteri­stics of a comfortabl­e trail horse. He also has adequate length of hip, which is useful for strenuous trail riding. He appears to be lightly muscled, which might cause him to be tiring to ride and to become fatigued on long rides.

Though his hoofs are hidden in this photo, his pasterns show good angulation and match his shoulder angle for softness of stride.

His hocks also show appropriat­e angulation and sit under him well. I believe he’d be a good choice for the task.

This gelding appears to be quiet yet aware, with his ears catching sounds from different directions. He’s not as balanced as the first-place gelding, with a longer back and a weaker, lower topline overall, which could make him susceptibl­e to back soreness with strenuous work.

His head is convex and a bit heavy, and his throatlatc­h is thick, but he has a long and useful appearing neck. He’s straight in the shoulder which would limit his stride and make for a rougher ride. He has adequate depth to his hip, but with his long midsection, he’ll have a harder time using it to drive forward.

His long front pasterns may help soften his gait but are more of a soundness liability. His hind limb conformati­on is a bit straight, which also suggests a rougher gait when combined with his straight shoulder. My biggest concern would be this gelding’s longevity with his long pasterns, straight shoulders, and weak topline.

This small-appearing gelding has an aware look, an expression I like in a trail horse as long as it’s not accompanie­d by spookiness. His back is short, and he seems strong and compact overall. However, he’s shoulder low and hip high, which means he’ll struggle with balance front to back and with getting his hind end usefully under him.

His neck has adequate length, but it ties in low to his chest. His shoulders are steep in angle leading me to question the smoothness of his gaits. He has good depth to his heartgirth, and his hip is sufficient­ly deep, though with his downhill build, it will be harder for him to drive from behind.

His knees are flat, and his pasterns are of good length and adequate angle. His hocks sit a bit higher than his knees, which is common with hip-high horses. Although he looks strong and capable, his steep shoulder won’t lend itself to a smooth, reaching stride, and his higher hind end will limit his agility on the trail.

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