Gilberts' K-9 Seminars News & Review
Copyright (c) 2004-2009 Gilberts' K-9 Seminars

The above Article is Copyrighted (c) 2007-2009 Gilberts' K-9 Seminars.
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By Patricia H. Gilbert

I’ve been asked to better explain what I mean “by the horses back ‘is not flexible.” The person stated: “a dogs topline and spinal anatomy are shorter in dimension and of course not weight bearing like that of the horse, but the horses spine and back especially in those specimens used for Dressage, show jumping and eventing have incredible flexibility and if they do not ‘Swing’ during the dance of the dressage moves the rider looks to be unsettled in the saddle not in unison with the horse.”

There are many reasons for my statement that the horses back is not flexible. More properly I should have said is not nearly as flexible as the dog. My statement has to do with the differences in the front end assemblies and spinal columns of both the dog and the horse. There are many other differences involving attachments, joints, muscles and ligaments, nervous reflex system, and proportions. However, I feel to answer the question in basic terms that just a discussion of the spinal or vertebral column is sufficient.

Yes, the horse must have great flexibility in Dressage and for other disciplines such as show jumping. Minor levels of dressage training help in any discipline. It is important for jumpers because really most of the work is done on the flat. That means when you watch a jumping competition, the horse is mostly working on the ground until he gets to the next jump and then is airborne. How he gets to a jump can shave time off if it is a timed event (performance as in dog agility competition). If it is how the horse goes (dog conformation style with movement), then he must do it with efficiency and style. Both require a tremendous amount of flexibility, for a horse. We teach a horse to bend.

Normally we talk in terms of bones simply because there are much fewer bones in the body. In the dog's foreleg alone there are over 53 muscles acting on it so you can see how much simpler it is to discuss bones. Some of the limitations in both dogs and horses are how far can something go until bones begin rubbing on each other and interfering with the range of movement.

The dog is considerably more flexible in the back than the horse. Why?

The dog's vertebrae and spinuous processes or spires (the part that sticks up from the spinal column) of the vertebrae have quite a bit of separation. They permit a greater bending and flexibility particularly in up and down, folding and stretching motions. The dog's back can go concave and convex.

The spires of the vertebrae of the horse are closer together and quite tall making a much stiffer back since any great attempts at going concave and convex would result in the spires of the vertebrae rubbing together.

The dog has 13 ribs and the horse has 18.  Generally the loin of the dog is proportionately much longer than that of the horse, again permitting much more flexibility in the dog.

The dog's transverse processes (the part that sticks out to the side of the spinal column) of the vertebrae in the loin area also have quite a bit of separation. This permits considerably more lateral or side to side flexibility in the dog than in the horse. A dog can tuck into a ball or curl up. A dog can bend nose to tail as required in some breeds. The horse cannot bend his back or spine in this manner.

The person asking about the differences between dogs and horses “honestly believes that when one reads a standard that has been written for a particular breed of horse that has been around for centuries by the verbiage and description one would change a few key words like hoof to foot.”

Therein lies the problem in many dog breed standards. Many of the standards were written by dog people who knew and came from horses. Horses were used for work, transportation and sport. The horse was as common then as the car is today. So they applied horse knowledge and wrote dog breed standards in horse terms. Unfortunately the dog and the horse have different anatomy and different parts that effectuate movement and gaits.

The person agrees that “dogs and horses are very different on many levels but, there are many similarities among various breeds indirectly and their relationship based on the application and purpose of the breed. When you get into the nuances of the dwarf breeds and bull breeds anatomy with relation to form and function takes on another dimension.....”

Absolutely! Don't forget ponies and miniature horses! Of course in dogs we have the Neapolitan Mastiff!

The person states: “it is not unreasonable for us to compare Dog anatomy and Horse anatomy based on the descriptions that are written for the individual standards. One has to take into careful consideration when comparing the anatomy of each specimen in direct relation to their function.”

The dog breed standard words should hold true but if one doesn't understand them, what good are they? What if those dog words traditionally were horse terms? What if those words apply to horse function and not really to dog function?  The true meanings are lost along the way because we no longer understand why features are important in breeds of horses and therefore dogs.

Today few of us know what kind of horse it takes for various jobs and why. If you go from there to dogs, many people don't know what kind of dog it takes for various jobs and why. I always wondered if this would be different if people truly could ride a dog. Perhaps a few bone jarring and teeth rattling rides would bring the message home.

Few of us are using our dogs for their basic original purpose. Our society does not permit or require any longer some of those purposes. We created the show ring. Yet we continue to preserve many breeds. Some breeds were lost and became extinct as their services were no longer required. If it wasn't for our collective dedication, we would no longer have any purebred dogs.

So do we really know or can we know why a feature is important in a standard? Yes, we can know but it involves a lot of study. Which brings us back to why we need to study dogs breed specifically for anatomy, function and behavior. Comparing the horse to the dog except for generalities can only muddy the waters for those who are strictly involved with purebred dogs.

Horse people who crossover into dogs have a leg up on those who just know dogs in terms of movement. They are ahead as long as they understand that the horse and the dog while they have similarities have more disparities than initially thought by those who wrote many of the breed standards.