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Xenephon's 350 B.C. Advice for Selecting a Young Horse

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   January 26, 2011 10:34
The ideal head of the warhorse

Many of Xenophon's suggestions below are still applied today when selecting a sport horse.

Xenophon details what is to be examined when inspecting a horse to buy as a war-mount. He is especially careful to stress the importance of soundness. His recommendations include:

  • A hoof of thick horn, and a frog that is held off the ground.
  • Pasterns that are not too straight and upright, as these will jar the rider and are more likely to become sore, nor too long and low, as they will strike the ground when galloping and will be cut on rocks.
  • Thick cannon bones
  • Good bend in the knees, as the horse is less likely to stumble or to break down
  • Thick and muscular forearms
  • Broad chest, for both beauty and because the legs will be less likely to interfere
  • A neck that is high-set and carried upward. Xenophon believed this would allow the horse to better see what was in front of him, and also make him less able to overpower the rider, because it would be more difficult to put his head down.
  • A bony head with a small jawbone, a soft mouth, and prominent eyes for good vision
  • Large nostrils, for good respiration and a fiercer appearance
  • A large crest and small ears
  • Tall withers, to help hold the rider on, and to give a good attachment between the shoulder and the body
  • A "double spine" (fleshy back), which is softer and more comfortable, as well as prettier
  • A deep, rounded side, which allows the rider to stay on more easily, and allows the horse to better digest his food
  • Broad, short loins, allowing the horse to raise the forehand and engage the hindend (Xenophon describes the ability to collect), and are stronger than long loins.
  • The hindquarters should be muscular and firm, for speed
  • The gaskins and buttocks should be well separated, so the horse stands wide behind, allowing him to be more balanced, and to give a prouder bearing
  • He should not have large testicles

Xenophon then directs the reader to look at a young colt's cannons to predict his height.