Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There Is Just Something About Harley

I wear rose-colored glasses when I look at my horse. 

During our vet appointment, my vet challenged me to take those glasses off for a few minutes.  We discussed his weight and his inability to gain muscle mass in certain areas.  She pointed to certain parts of his body and said "this should really be filled in" and " his ribs are not showing, but he never gets any meater in his loins".  He's funny looking.  He's really funny looking.

Poor Harley. 

I knew what she meant, and I knew that she was being objective.  I can be objective, too.  I can see that my horse has a slight roach in his back, and knobby shoulders.  I would like his topline and butt to round out more, but they just don't.  He eats a high fat, relatively low starch feed and lots of beet pulp.  Unfortunately, the quality of our hay is a constant issue, but I pay for him to receive extra and I try to compensate with more reliable sources of nutrients, like a complete feed and beet pulp.  He has ample turnout (24/7) with a buddy and I work him.  During the summer we work 4-5 days a week and I do not mean little 20-minute jaunts.  We ride for about an hour with lots of variety in gait and exercise, transitions, cantering, and breaks.  He sweats and gets a shower and his skin shows the brilliance of his muscle tone complete with the bulging veins of a body builder.  Harley never bulks up, but he gets fit.  Really fit.  The kind of fit where he never seems tired and is always ready for more.  Although he is a quarter horse, I am certain that there is a fair amount of thoroughbred blood coursing through his veins and that this may contribute to his lean body type.  He is slap-sided and narrow-chested.  He has good sturdy legs, but his large quarter horse hindquarters accentuate his narrow frame.  He does not have a heart-shaped rump, no matter how much I feed him or work him, and was described by the saddle-fitter as "roof-backed".  In other words, do not ride Harley bareback unless you have installed some serious padding!  I am envious of riders who hop on their table-backed horses and go out for a little hack.  Harley and I both hurt if we attempt this.

I explained to the vet that I do have a trainer and I strive to ride him in a balanced frame with a lifted back.  I told her that he may not look like a dressage horse, but we did receive some decent scores at first level under two judges and he knows how to carry himself.  He wears a well-fitting saddle (after a long, long journey and several saddle purchases), but Harley will not develop the luxurious, voluptuous curves of a solid saddle horse.  He just will not.  We have tried bodywork and lungeing.  He is able to do what we ask, but he doesn't get any rounder and he stays lean.  I joked with the vet that there are horses who sit in the paddock and do nothing with more "topline" than my horse.  She has seen him for years, so she knows what I mean and she knows my horse.  She said that every time she looks at him, she tries to see why he is not quite the right shape.  He is not sway-backed.  He is sound and his joints are good.  She tells me that she is stumped in that regard.  I told her that he is a horse who looks better in motion.

August 2011: Harley demonstrates his ability to go long and low without any gear except a halter and a line.

My body position and energy seem to affect how well he stretches and engages.  Can you see my smile over his back?

He does this equally nicely in walk.

Canter right gives the least impressive stretch, but this is not surprising since cantering on the lunge calmly and in balance has been a very long project.  Good Boy.

A nice stretch in canter left.  On a smaller circle, he can collect his canter, which transforms his slight frame into a generous ball of muscle.

And he is.  When he is moving, Harley just looks amazing to me.  I see him on the lunge and he takes my breath away all the time.  I watch videos of us riding and I muse at his expression and drive.  He is one fantastic horse.  Is his conformation perfect?  Goodness no!  Does he give the picture of a horse that can really move?  Nope.  Even my teacher says that when she looks at Harley, she would never expect him to move the way he does.  I am not saying that he has some crazy elevated front end or extremely released shoulders, far from it.  There is just something about him.  Every clinician and trainer that I have ever ridden with has liked him.  Judges like him, even if he does not receive huge scores.  There is just something about Harley.  He has talent, even if it is not the textbook kind.  Something that makes people roll their window down and take a picture and makes neighbors hang over the fence and watch us ride for twenty minutes.  My Mom says that this is his gift.  He draws people with his good spirit.

I think that the vet's assitant had a sense of this, because she stroked his nose and consoled him, "Do not worry, Harley.  Looks are not everything."

The vet was wondering if he suffered an accident, in his life before ours.  Did he fall and suffer damage to the nerves in his back?  She explained that if the muscles are not innervated properly, they will not develop regardless of what you do to work them.  We will probably never know the answer to that question, but if the answer is "yes", that does not change a thing, because Harley obviously is coping with his body very, very well.  He is athletic and sound and seems to relish training challenges that are physically and mentally challenging.  I do not care if he does not own the picture perfect body.  Who of us does?  I love him and he is gorgeous.  I cannot believe that he is my horse.  My vet said, "Thank God you have him."  I hate to think of anyone taking him for granted or being dissatisfied with him, but I appreciate her sentiments just the same. 

My rose-colored glasses went right back on and they are not coming off any time soon.  Love you, Harley.


  1. I'm right there with you Val. Harley is a lovely horse - special glasses or not.

    Val has a roached back too. And a hip injury which may or may not hold him back from higher levels - remains to be seen. Oh, and a honkin' big head. ;)

  2. Harley is gorgeous- he stretches out beautifully.

    Our family pony has a similar "roof" back- it's painful to ride bareback. Like you said, it doesn't affect his movement, so we don't worry. (It does make him surprisingly easy to vault onto).

  3. Well, I can't see anything but perfection. I honestly can't see any flaws. I would consider myself the luckiest girl in the world if I could find a diamond like Harley. Someday...

  4. I'm wearing rose tinted glasses too .....people see my new horse and say gosh she has a huge head and the size of her feet .....HUGE. Yet I see beautiful. I figure our glasses are better quality than others.....stick with them !

  5. I think you are doing everything right and have a happy healthy horse to show for it. I constantly struggle with Steady with top line. Will he ever have a full beautiful top line with a big old round butt? I don't know but I did have to stop having my world come to a scratching halt andchange everything we were doing just because someone said he didn't look good and that I need to do something about it. Even if they are reliable sources they still do not understand our horse better than us.

  6. Val - aww ... what a sweet tribute to your boy Harley. And I love the stand by your man attitude.

    I have owned some gorgeous horses in my time, and a few clunky ones, but I have always said beauty is as beauty does. I care far more about what my horses can do over what they look like! Sometimes all a beautiful horse can do is be beautiful. What use is that?

    Love Harley and love what he can do. A beautiful inside always shows up on the outside. You're not wearing rose-colored glasses. It's Harley's inner beauty shining out!


  7. Who cares what he looks like standing still when he looks that good moving? ;)

    I know what you mean though, Gwen has god-awful legs and an overbite but I still think she's the most gorgeous thing I've ever laid eyes on. Coriander has better conformation (his sire was a world champion halter horse after all), but Gwen is a much flashier mover than he is.

    Does Harley get enough lysine in his diet?

  8. Now see, I struggle with seeing horse conformation. I'm a newby to all of this and I purchased my horses without really knowing if they had good conformation. I believe my QH is a built a bit downhill, but he is a reigning/cutting horse, and I think that is OK. My 1/2 Friesian I think is still growing, but he might be just a bit under himself with his front legs... but I don't know if that is just how I capture him in a few "bad" photos...

    I have a few books and am trying to learn. But I do see where you say Harley looks leaner than most QH's. I equate that to "graceful". :)

  9. Thanks, Calm, Forward, Straight! You are sweet.

    Thanks, booksnstrings! Glad to here Harley is not the only horse who lacks a level playing field, so to speak. ;)

    Me too, Mary, and I do. You have got to be one of Harley's biggest fans!

    Sally-I agree! Much better glasses.

    Amy-Is your guy a TB? I find that to be very tough. Everyone wants to give advice, but honestly, at some point you just have to say "this is what he looks like, he is not going to change much". And honestly for all the changes I have made over our time together, aside from muscle tone, fitness, and training, he does not look that different from the day I bought him.

    Karen- Thank you for your kind words. I think you are right!

    smaz- Harley eats a complete feed, so I am sure that he gets plenty of every amino acid, but the blood work will tell us more. Isn't it interesting that Gwen is a flashier mover than Coriander? Kind of makes me wonder how important conformation really is when it comes to performance and breeding.

    Margaret- "graceful", I like it! I do not think that he would suit me if he was a big, burly QH. I tend to like narrow horses. They are easier for me to ride! I read somewhere that most horses are born downhill, but can learn to move in an uphill frame which suits their body type. I have also read that a really uphill horse may actually have a more difficult time collecting than a level to slightly downhill horse, because their balance is such that they cannot sit back anymore. I am not sure if this equates to training issues, but I have observed (and ridden) downhill horses that can carry themselves quite nicely and uphill warmbloods that look good but are actually running on their super strong forehands. Kind of makes me think.

  10. :-) It's no lie, I just adore him. Maybe I should start a fan club! T-shirts, the works!


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