Rural Heritage Logging Camp

Conformation of a Good Logging Horse
by Glenn French

The trouble with logging is that most of the work is heavy and in close quarters. Because it's heavy, logging requires power in a horse and doesn't usually provide much room to give him any help. The way a horse is put together determines whether he has power or action, so he has to be built a certain way that differs for each purpose.

When I look at a horse from the side I want to see what I call a square-built horse. His height at the withers should roughly equal his length from the point of his shoulder to the point of his butt, and half his height should be in body. Most horses built for action are over-square in height‹their legs make up more than half the height and their canon bones are where most of the difference is. Long legs give a horse action, but rob him of power, because his system of levers gives him less advantage in applying whatever force he can generate in his hindquarters, which is where his driving or pushing force comes from. If his drive comes from his hindquarters, mass has no substitute.

From the side I want to see about one-third of his length in shoulder, one-third in his back, and a good third in hindquarters. The point of his hip to the point of his butt should have plenty of distance and look prominent to the eye. The curve of his rump where the muscle is should come well down in back and tie in low down toward his hocks. A horse built for action will have his muscle carried high and not be tied in down low, but will look more like a drumstick on a chicken. This shape lets him pick his feet up high, but gives him less advantage in his system of levers, robbing him of his applied power.

From the front he should have a broad brisket, a broad barrel, and broad hips. Like excess in anything, if you get too broad he will transfer his weight down through his bone column on the inside and be called base wide, which is a fault. If he is too narrow, he will transfer his weight down through on the outside and be called base narrow, which is the opposite fault. What we want is a broad-based horse that transfers his weight in a balanced way straight down his leg. You can check for this balance by looking at the wear pattern on the bottoms of his front feet or shoes.

From the back, standing as if I were driving him, I want to see broad hips. The points of his hips should give the impression of breadth. He needs breadth here to have something to hang his hindquarters on. He needs plenty of muscle mass to generate power. His inside stifle muscles should roughly equal his outside ones and should be thick, which you can check by lifting his tail over to one side.

As your eye follows down, his hocks should be cocked inward, but not touching each other. If he has good breadth of inside and outside stifle muscles, his hocks won't be touching. When he pulls, his hocks are forced outward. If they are already sprung out, they will be forced out even more. This part of his conformation is stressed the most in a heavy pull. As well as "No foot, no horse," we could say, "No hock, no horse." The leg needs to be straight, though. Since we want the force transferred straight down the bone column and straight through the joints, cow hocked isn't what we're after, either.

The pastern should be relatively short. A long pastern gives a lot of bounce; but whatever else a horse may be, he is a system of levers. A short pasterned horse doesn't have as much leverage against his muscles that are supplying the driving force on a load as a long pasterned horse. You don't want his fetlock dropping to the ground when he exerts himself. Too short, though, and he will probably suffer from too much concussion because he lacks a part of his shock absorption system. Little pastern action doesn't absorb concussion by allowing his fetlock to drop down and spring back up. So too short can be a fault. We want a short pastern for power, a long pastern for action.

Years back when halter class judges picked well-built horses for working purposes, they chose a different style of horse than they do today. Nowadays if a horse is some kind of halter champion, chances are you don't want him for logging. You can't have both action and power in the same horse, because they are opposite ends of a spectrum. If you try for a compromise, usually the horse will be deficient in one or the other. When you need action you want action, and when you need power you want power, not some compromise.


Glenn French is of Otis, Oregon, is the past president of the North American Horse & Mule Loggers Association. This article appeared in the Holiday 2001 issue of Rural Heritage.

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29 April 2012 last revision