Lean On My Shoulder

Hello everybody!

I recently became a little confused in reading a description of a mare I like. They described her as having a nice upright shoulder.

Now if I am not mistaken the shoulder should be “laid back” or 45 degrees. Not upright, right?

Piggy back question: English and Park type horses? Should they have 45 degree shoulders? Or is the angulation of the shoulder unimportant? I personally thought that the more laid back the shoulder the better lift and movement.

Thanks everyone!

(Same thoughts on western and hunt horses too, but the mare in question is an english horse. I didn’t want anyone to think that I believe only english type horses have laid back shoulders.)

10 Responses to Lean On My Shoulder

  1. cap1963 says:


    I was really hoping someone would comment on this, as well. I have my thoughts/opinions, but I was hoping someone with more knowledge would expound upon this.


  2. empressive says:

    Hey Cap!

    I think everyone is busy right now. I will probably give it till the end of next week the re-post this question. That will hopefully ensure enough time for everyone to see it. Unless of course there are many other posts or I become impatient. Then I will re-post sooner.

    Although this might be one of those touchy conversations? Well that would be a bummer. Maybe that is why some people say Saddle horses are not comfy, if the horse has a straight shoulder.

  3. cap1963 says:

    Well, I’m no expert, but I’ll give my two cents worth. Corrections to my opinion are welcome.

    I believe Empressive is correct in that, ideally, shoulders should be laid back (isn’t that the description in the standard?). I think that’s why a horse with a straighter shoulder cannot or has a difficult time (physically) competing in Park and EP classes. Not that hunt or western horses should have straight shoulders, but a horse with a straighter shoulder can compete in these classes because they don’t “need” extremely high action.

    I also think (and I hope I get either confirmation or correction on this) that it is easier for a horse to get it’s rear in motion and underneath itself if the angle of the shoulder is correct (not that there isn’t more to rear action than that – just one of the reasons). It’s easier to be lighter in front if the shoulder is correct.

    Not all horses are show horses and not all show horses can compete equally in all disciplines. I might get some flak for this comment, but it really looks ridiculous to me when a horse with lots of action, long toes, and long tail is competing in hunt or western. It does not correlate with form vs. function.

  4. Scottfield03 says:

    Ideally, you want the shoulder laid back as opposed to steep. Yes, this does allow for a more open type of movement up front, and yes, it is especially important with a saddleseat horse. But, a laid back shoulder does not guarantee motion, just as a steep shoulder doesn’t always rule it out. I showed a very gifted park hrose for some time who had a remarkably steep shoulder, and he had motion to burn. Go figure. :-)

    I tend to be a little less worried about shoulder angle and how it affects a horse’s motion, and a little more worried about how a steep shoulder will affect the bridle. Often times a horse with a steep shoulder also has an upside-down neck. The horse may still be able to really pick it’s head up, but it likely won’t be as free a mover and not as pretty in the bridle as a horse that has a more laid back shoulder and a correctly shaped neck.

    As for how a shoulder might affect a back end, I think the problem is more likely that a steep shouldered horse is often just as steep behind, so it is upright on both ends, which is less desireable for our breed. This type of a horse will tend to be choppy and short strides and also a little less confortable to ride. Add short, steep pasterns, and you have one bouncy, stiff lookin’ critter.

    Be sure that you aren’t confusing someone who describes a horse as “Upright” as necessarily describing the horse’s shoulder angle. On the contrary, when I hear someone describe their horse as very “upright,” to me that means very upheaded with an upright line from hoof to poll, and thats a good thing. Nothing to do with shoulder angle.

  5. StacyGRS says:

    I am guessing the wording of the ad got mixed up…horses are often described as having an upright neck…this is a good thing. An upright shoulder is not going to give you an upright neck. A good shoulder and an upright neck make everything from bridle on easier. It does not make or exclude motion, as Scottfiled said, but it enables a horse to put their head and neck where we want them naturally and nbot have to go out of their way to do it. I think it does make it easier for a horse to put their hind end under them, BUT, it does not mean that it will happen! If they have an upright neck and a long back, or straight hind end, then those are going to effect their ability to push forward off their hind quarters.

  6. Thornwood says:

    I’ve got an explaination for you Scottfied – high motion comes from the arm (the arm runs along the line from the point of shoulder to the elbow). High action requires that the arm be at least 1/2 the length of the shoulder (measured from center of wither to point of shoulder) and also that it (the arm) be on a vertical plane. So the horse you had with the steep shoulder had to have also had a very long and vertical arm to go with it. With this particular configuration, it’s more likely than not that he/she had more of an up/down flight of hoof as opposed to a round and long-strided one. The shoulder contributes more to the length of stride than height of motion.

    All that said, like Stacy said, without a strong and balanced hindquarter to propel it forward – ya’ got bupkus.

    To the original poster – a 45 degree angle is good for a “horse”, but a Morgan should ideally be closer to 30, and that goes for all divisions.

  7. Scottfield03 says:

    Hi Thornwood!
    You know, it never ceases to amaze me– I really do learn something new every day! That makes PERFECT sense, and sure enough, the park horse I was referring to did have a freakishly long forearm, but no matter what we did with his shoeing, he was always a bit more “Sewing machine” like in motion than open and rolling. I figured it was his steep shoulder, but your explanation makes sense to me.

    Thank you.

  8. cap1963 says:

    Please help me to understand this. I try to study the parts and anatomy, but it’s obvious to me that there are some parts I really don’t get. The arm is really only from the point of shoulder to the elbow? And should be completely vertical? Please help me because I can’t envision the line from the point of shoulder not angling back to the elbow.

  9. Thornwood says:

    Scottfield – What I’m talking about it the arm, which is different from the forearm. Forearm is the upper part of the leg, the arm is the lower part of the shoulder for lack of a better description. If you were to take a length of masking tape, put one end on the point of the shoulder and the other right on the elbow, that’s the arm.

    cap – the arm can’t be absolutely vertical, the front legs would stick out in front of the horse :) This would be much easier to explain with pictures, perhaps think about it like this: picture a total horizontal line and a total vertical line, in the middle is a 45 degree angle. That 45 degrees or thereabouts is what I’d call a vertical arm.

    Things aren’t very precise when we’re talking about conformation. The standard says something like “the stifle should be well let down”, pretty sure 10 people could come up with 10 definitions of what that means! Same with laid back shoulder. Laid back compared to what?


  10. empressive says:

    WAHOO! We’ve got some live ones here!

    Thanks everyone for commenting. I was getting a little sad there.

    Cap- I think something that comes into play with the “Park v. Hunt” with a laid back shoulder” is the insertion of the neck. I think when the neck comes out lower then the action is not as high.

    To help a bit with the arm part. Take a look at a skeletal pic of a horse. You will see the shoulder and a smaller bone conneting the shoulder to the leg. That is the arm. Much like our hips connect our upper bodies to our lower. Think I got that right…

    Scottfield- Totally agree. I never really thought of the “up-side-down neck” like that, but I have noticed it. That the cannot hook as well & bring their head in. I worked with a very stubborn Paso whom had a VERY thick neck and “ewed” a bit. I really like the way you put the problem.

    Stacy- I re-checked the add and it does say “deep-upright shoulder”. Wait, what would deep have to do with this? Fudge! More questions! Yep I do agree with the “up right neck” the bloody nose section sure is fun! I figured an upright shoulder would not facilitate an upright neck. Thanks for confirming this.

    Thornwood- I never knew that about the arm of the horse. Something new to look for now and it does make sense. Also while 45 is basically the average “good” degree for any shoulder. I did not know there was a “Morgan average” of 30.

    Like my Dad say… “Too many horse people all think they are trainers and know everything.”

    He doesn’t know too much about horses. They are his “big” dogs. He takes them on walks too! LOL

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I have really learned so much! Thank you!

    Below is a link to the ad I saw. I forgot to ad that her shoulder is described as “deep and upright” I do not know if this changes things, but for me it is still confusing. The deep part, I get the shoulder part now!


    Yep, that’s it. Very interesting. Thanks again everyone!

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