The “ideal” horse might not be so “ideal” in terms of ability and welfare. According to Australian researchers, equestrians have an image of the ideal horse that sometimes conflicts with what’s best for the horse. Through an online survey with silhouettes of different horse shapes that focused on various body parts, more than 1200 riders and handlers selected their preferred equine images. The research team found that while these respondents chose neutral shapes for most body parts, they tended to like head and neck images that aren’t necessarily compatible with good equitation. Most of the respondents liked a thick neck, stated Paul McGreevy, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney. But a thick neck in horses is often related to obesity, which is inconsistent with good health and sports performance. The thick neck preference could be related to cultural bias created through artistic images of crested-neck war horses and royal horses throughout history, he said. It might even be related to humans’ ancient history of hunting horses and thereby preferring a meatier look….
Respondents also preferred a smaller, dished head, the study authors stated. But a smaller skull can be related to a brain shape that’s associated with excitability and reactivity, which can be dangerous for the rider and incompatible with certain sports disciplines.
The good news is that 93% of the respondents showed a preference for a natural head carriage rather than a hyperflexed position, they added. Current equine marketing often uses photos that show thick-necked, small-headed horses in hyperflexed position, but apparently the equestrian world is only influenced by the first two of these.
Caspar GL, Dhand NK, McGreevy PD. (2015) Human Preferences for Conformation. Attributes and Head-And-Neck Positions in Horses. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0131880. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0131880