Hockiness in Andalusians

by Donna DeYoung

Hockiness in Andalusians is one of my pet peeves. Hockiness means the hocks (or heel of the hind leg) come up behind the haunches instead of driving underneath. It can be very noticeable in young foals when their body is small and their legs look huge.

Some breeders mistakenly advertise hockiness as “movement”. It IS movement, but movement in the wrong direction. A foal that is extremely hocky is showing a false movement. Instead of DRIVING, they are hocking! Hockiness usually goes along with a weak connection through the loin. 

A foal that doesn’t use his back end may have a subtle dip through his back in the loin area. This dip allows him to naturally “hollow” his back. Because of the hollowing, he can’t lower his hindquarters to drive up underneath.

Some hockiness can be trained out by the use of side-reins and a surcingle which teaches the horse to lower his hind end, develop his topline, and drive from behind. It is better, though, if the horse is “born with a topline”.

Hockiness doesn’t occur in just horses. It occurs in dogs and even deer. Cattle tend to be hocky.

Hockiness is most confusing when it is combined with a long sloping shoulder and good front-end movement. Confusing, because people get carried away looking at the front end of the horse where the neck and head is. A hocky horse with good front-end movement will have a lot of ground covering movement. However, the “parallelogram” or equal angles of front and hind leg action will be absent. That is because the hind legs are moving up and behind or pushing behind the vertical and the front legs are reaching out in front or ahead of the vertical. 

All is not lost with a hocky horse, however. Hockiness adds to showiness. A hocky horse can be trained to do a flashy passage (Spanish trot, or floating trot with hesitation) and Spanish walk.

The real problem with hockiness, however, is that it lowers the capability of the horse to be a true athlete. If the hockiness is genetically strong, when combined or bred to another horse that is hocky, you start getting real structural and functional problems. Some signs of this are horses that are unable to easily switch leads at the canter, horses unable to quickly stop with their hindquarters under them, horses unable to come through the bit into the riders hand…In other words, hocky horses don’t make the best athletes or candidates for dressage, jumping, or reining.

So, what does a hocky horse lack? A hocky horse lacks in impulsion. The following quotes are taken from “Sport Horse Conformation and the Breeder” by Dr. Robert Baird.

“Impulsion is the action of driving the basculed body forward with the propulsive muscles of the hindquarters, not the hocks. A horse without a bascule is a horse without impulsion. A horse without impulsion is grossly inefficient, and is prone to injury and premature unsoundness. The signs of ring function are: engaging the hindquarters; rounding the back; and arching and reaching of the neck.”

A hocky horse lacks engagement. He is unable to flex his loin where the loin meets the croup (this is why I said a hocky horse may also have a not-so-good loin area).

“It is of paramount importance for all, but especially for dressage riders, to know that collection starts with flexion of the L-S joint, the point where the loins meet the croup. For the stifles to bend, the loins must flex. Whatever the loins do, the stifles must follow; and whatever the stifles do, the hocks must follow. When the horse coils the loins, the back and the root of the neck rise, and the pelvis and hocks are tucked under the body. This is engagement..”

How do you tell if a horse is a little hocky? has just enough angulation in the hocks? or is way too hocky?

Hockiness also goes along with sickle hocks at times. Or legs that are out behind.

From the side, the hock can be one of three things…

Normal: with the cannon bone vertical, the point of the hock lies directly below the point of the buttock

Over-angulated: too closed an angle at the stifle and the hock (sickle-hocked; crooked; z-shaped; camped out)

Straight-legged: open angled, post-legged (over-straight; usually coon-footed).

It is important to know, that “tracking up” or the reach of the hind foot over the imprint of the front foot is related to the angle of the hock.

“Tracking up is easy if the hind leg angle is normal; it is inevitable if sickle-hocked; and very big if the horse is sickle-hocked and can coil the loins.”

Horses with hind-legs that are too straight in angulation, may still make good athletes if their loin flexes efficiently. Their walk may suffer in scope, but they will still make good “racehorses, steeplechasers and jumpers”.

If the angle is too open at the stifle, “there is a tendency to subluxation of the patella. If too open at the hock, concussion may lead to premature arthritis. Closed or more angled hind limb joints are preferred for dressage, but if too long and angled, especially at the hock, soft tissue injuries such as curbs and spavins are more common.”

Finally, Dr. Baird has some good breeding advice:

The goal in any breeding program is to produce foals that are at least as good as their parents, hopefully better. However, there is reliable evidence that 25% of all foals do not live up to the qualities of their sire and dam, and another 25% make only serviceable riding or pleasure horses. So that 50%, or one in every two foals, are only fair or poor compared to their ancestors. In any other endeavor, a 50% relative 'failure' rate would be very disappointing.

The best chance of obtaining genetic excellence in a sport horse occurs when it has well-conformed parents that themselves have good performance results. Occasionally we will see an outstanding performer whose parents and close relatives have not performed, or at any rate have not done so with distinction. That individual may represent a rare and valuable new line, but it is advisable to treat so-called 'new lines' with caution when making a breeding decision. 

Once the breeding choice has been made and the foal is on the ground, 'what you see is what you get', regardless of the qualities of the parents.

Additional reading:

Here’s what some dog breeders are saying about front and rear ends, their functionality, and hockiness…Some people understand hockiness as the hocks turning inward.

I'm not, by the way, advocating BAD rears or BAD fronts in a breeding animal. BUT, I would choose a moderate, less angulated animal that was balanced as my breeding animal over a dog with a particularly nice front but a crumby rear

And the dog must move CLEANLY, even if the rear or front (or, since the dog is supposed to be balanced, BOTH) don't have the reach and drive I'd like.

Mismatched fronts and rears seem to make for poorer movement than a balanced dog that could have better angulation

For me, BAD movement in the front means a hackney gait or breaking at the pasterns

bad movement in the front: throwing the front, "high stepping," wasted movement, flipping the wrist

I would rather have a dog reach less but reach cleanly than have it fling its front out and break at the pasterns

the shoulder that makes for the most front reach is not the most functional running shoulder

it's important to know what your breed's WORKING GAIT is before you look at the animal's construction

dogs that are very agile use their rears and take the weight off their fronts for turns

I still want to see full extenstion of the rear from the side, and a powerful drive off the hocks

Long hocks make for a poor lever when driving off the rear

As the dog pushes off a longer hock, he must expend more effort to push forward than if the hock is shorter and must only turn off the shorter bone to drive the dog's body forward

And, if the dog's bones from the hip to stifle and stifle to hock are not matched, there is going to be some really funky stuff going on

ON a galloping breed, the pelvis must be slightly tilted to allow the rear legs to tuck under…You will also see a slightly lower tailset on a galloping breed…It goes with that tilted pelvis

speed in a galloping breed comes from the release of stored energy in tendons/ligaments/muscles

Fronts and rears gotta match, no matter WHAT the breed…That means, the angle of the shoulder blade and upper arm must match the angle from the hip to stifle and stifle to hock…Otherwise, you got one INEFFICIENT moving dog, no matter how pretty it is standing still.

Skyhorse Ranch - Andalusian horse breeder in Texas with Andalusian horses for sale. Breeders of PRE Pura Raza Espanola horses with cartas from Spain. Selling black, grey, and bay Andalusians. Recommend Andalusian stallions at stud. Pictures, history, facts, and info. Spanish Andalusian horse farm. Bloodlines from Spain in the USA.

Templates in Time