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Saddle Research Trust – Part 6: The 20 Mile Tall Horse.

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Eohippus, the tiny forefather of modern equines. Photo from Wikipedia.

During lunch at the the SRT Conference, members of the Press were invited in to meet the Lecturers, and given 5-10 minutes to interview one of them. This was an unexpected treat… but also a bit nerve-wracking because I hadn’t prepared any questions so was forced to think on my feet while taking notes and trying to look intelligent!
I was allocated to Professor Renée van Weeren, who is an expert in Equine Musco-Skeletal Biology, and who lectured later that afternoon on how to apply Science to the Equine Industry. During our brief chat, he said that:

There is still a lot of resistance to science from the (horsey) public, which is very traditional.

There are many variables, always, of course.

There is a clear need to find empirical evidence.

Dressage is the most traditional of the equine spheres.

Progress is hampered, and of course horses are not rational!

There is a public groundswell of opinion about ‘cruelty’ and we must defend ourselves proactively.

Desperately trying to come up with an intelligent-sounding question, I asked about his biggest concern about the horse industry worldwide, as it is at the moment.

He thought for a few moments and then answered:

That horses are growing too fast, and getting too big (with associated problems such as OCD.)

All over the world, native horses and ponies are never especially tall. Anything larger is man-made, from many generations of selective breeding.

The average (mean) final height of Dutch horses have been growing by 1mm every year for the last 30 years.
This might not sound much at all, only 1 mm.


If Eohippus, the small proto-horse, the tiny, couple-of-hands-tall precursor to our modern equines, had grown at this rate, year on year, then it would now be … twenty miles tall.

I boggled, and asked if that was definitely correct, as I wrote it down. Yes, definitely, he repeated it verbatim.

Our time was over… frustratingly. I could have cheerfully monopolised him, talking about equines for the next 24 hours!


[This ever-increasing height of specific breeds of competition horses should be a huge concern to us all. Pure physics shows that the longer something is, the weaker it usually is. Valegro and a host of other small, supreme equine athletes, including Jappeloup, Headley Bravo and many others, prove that, in the excellence stakes, size absolutely doesn’t matter. Also, smaller horses are often tougher. Huge horses rarely have very long careers. As humans get bigger, the temptation to keep breeding bigger and bigger horses is very clear… but should be resisted.]

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  • Another problem we are finding as saddle fitters is that horses are being bred to be more “uphill” but often run off towards the hind quarters making it tricky to fit a saddle that sits level….

  • Interesting, Sue. Yes, I can imagine the problems.
    My dressage trainer is very against this whole ‘horses being bred to be uphill’ thing… he says it was done yonks ago in Germany and didn’t work then either, just as it causes lots of problems for German Shepherd Dogs (same theory, a ‘balanced’ quadruped being bred to be higher in front…)

  • That’s interesting – the comparison with GSDs – we have those too – and one does unfortunately have dropped hips, so I hope he will stay sound into his old age. But I hadn’t thought of the connection with horses. I recently saw a photo of a champion broodmare – can’t remember which studbook – but she was shaped just like a giraffe, it was so extreme. I can’t find the photo now – someone posted it on Facebook, but I wish I had kept it, so if you come across it, please let me know!

  • Will do Anne. Thank you. Yes, I’ve seen a few horses shaped like that. I can see the basic sense of ‘if it’s built uphill it will be easier to ride uphill’ but of course there are reasons why horses are naturally level (ish).