What do u think the affects of quarter horses being built downhill have to do with their performance?

“Stacy, what do u think the affects of quarter horses being built downhill have to do with their performance?”-Ingrid S.

What do u think the affects of quarter horses being built downhill have to do with their performance?

This young horse runs ‘downhill’ meaning his hindquarters are higher than his front end. Many young horses go through growth spurts and exhibit this but out grow it. This young guy grew up and always ran downhill even when fully grown.

This is an interesting question to think about mostly because it seems like it should have a simple answer. I have never heard someone say, “Yeah, I chose to breed that horse because he/she runs downhill.” I doubt anyone has aimed for this as one of their breeding goals, which would indicate that it is not a desirable characteristic. This would make it seem like people would avoid breeding for it…

But it isn’t quite that easy.

It is very difficult to breed for one specific trait. Often trade-offs are made.

There is one specific bloodline in reining that is prone to producing horses that run down hill. Running down hill should cause the horses to be heavy on the forehand. This could cause the horses to be more difficult to change leads on, it could cause the horses to be heavy hitting during their slides and it should make them less athletic…but that isn’t true in this bloodline. Why? Because the horses also tend to have a lot of ‘heart’ or try. A desire to please. A willingness to work. And these characteristics have over-ridden the seeming downsides to running downhill.

Do people breed these horses because they run downhill? No. They breed them because they make great horses despite the fact that they run down hill. Generally people choose to cross the bloodline with horses that don’t run down hill in an attempt to keep the mind and improve the body. Several generations away from the original horse the breeders seem to have succeeded. Many of the offspring maintain the desirable mind combined with improved conformation.

It should be easy to say that a horse being built downhill will negatively effect the performance…but it would seem that although it is not desirable, the amount of heart a horse has is a bigger determiner of performance.






  1. Sarah on November 2, 2021 at 11:58 am

    Hey Ms. Westfall,
    I love your work in and out of the show pen, I have a Smart Chic Olena and Reminic bred mare. I believe she is downhill built. Can you suggest any saddle pads that could help me with her saddle fit? We are having some rubbing issues and I also wondered if her breeding was one of the downhill built bloodlines?

    • Stacy Westfall on November 12, 2021 at 12:54 pm

      I chose to work with Stagecoach West to design and sell our saddles because they have the best customer service. This includes helping people find the right saddle and pad for their horse EVEN IF that is NOT one of my saddles.
      I would reach out to them by phone or email. They often have people send photos, etc and can recommend the best choices for your saddle fit issue.
      Here is their website: https://www.stagecoachwest.com

  2. julia on September 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    That makes me think of an old trainer who told me I struggle more riding dressage because I have short little legs and a squat little body and dressage is much easier to ride with long legs. I asked if I was screwed and she said of course not – I’d just have to work harder but I could still be a great rider. I figure the same is for horses. It just takes a really knowledgeable trainer to help you work with the physical traits you have 🙂

  3. ingrid s on September 7, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    the reason i posed this question was that while i ride and train reining horses i do personally own an irish warmblood. his front end is at least an inch higher than his hind end. maybe even two. i will stick him later this week. he is so smooth to ride. even when not collected. i have been blessed with being a part of the quarter horse breed since i was 11. the person i rode for had joe reed daughters and also racing stock. since then i have also been blessed with riding a son of doc bar and mr gunsmoke. i am not bragging about the horses i have been on. only stating that i have seen the evolution of the breed take a sharp turn downhill. i have asked many breeders this question and have been told several times that the cutting breeders have had much to do with this. not to ruffle anyones feathers. but i am 55 this year and have seen many things that people do i dont condone. tail cutting. blood letting. saline injections. all for the sake of “winning”. and again. i blame the judges. so. sorry for the rant. but i enjoy the vast amount if replies. 😉

  4. Rebecca on September 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Come on people this blog is not about spelling it’s about horses and horsemanship not everyone is perfect but I bet Stacy could ride circles around you!!

  5. Suzi on September 7, 2014 at 10:50 am

    There’s a difference between being truly down hill, as opposed to being “big butted.” A lot of QH are big butted, but not downhill. Truly down hill IS a conformation flaw. Also, often youngsters (yearlings, 2 yr olds) grow at uneven paces and can sometimes appear to be down hill, but later even out. I own a mare who is somewhat downhill, I imagine some wouldn’t say she is at all, but she IS big butted: meaning the top muscles of her rear end are large and above her withers, but her spine isn’t running downhill. I’ve never been able to get her to change leads (as opposed to my perfectly built QH mare and gelding who learned in one lesson). She trots AMAZING, but her lope throws my back out– literally. I’ve often wondered if her large hiney is the culprit for her lousy lope. BTW, she’s had 2 foals and neither is downhill or even unusually big butted, but pretty correct.

    Can someone please state who they THINK is the QH breeding that tends to be bred downhill on purpose? I’ve kept up with reining and performance breeds for many many years and have never heard this statement before.

    • Stacy on September 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      Maybe you were responding to someone else, but just incase you thought it was me…I wasn’t saying that breeders aim for downhill but they do sometimes accept it if the horse has other great qualities…like heart.

  6. Lynda Harris on September 7, 2014 at 9:22 am

    We have a 7 year old QH gelding that is built down hill. Need suggestions for saddle fit. He has a wide muscular back and finally has developed some withers so saddle doesn’t slip forward even when riding in the mountains. But there are dry spots on each side, appears to be pressure from the higher rump and the motion of his body. He does have lots of action/motion when walking, trotting, and loping and is the roughest gaited horse that we have. We have tried various ways to prevent the dry spots but have not conquered the problem. I need the ladies’ ground seat and prefer the cowhorse type saddles. My favorite is the Lady McCall Cowhorse. We have all sorts of quality blankets with and without shim systems. Thanks in advance for any suggestions. Doc is very foundation bred. Dam is a nice cutting mare and sire was a very nice calf roping horse: http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/rockin+heart+ima+doc

    • Stacy on September 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      I would suggest calling Stagecoach West and getting some ideas from them. I know they can even mail out saddles to try. Saddle fit can be a challenge:)

  7. Sarah Bernier on September 7, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I’ve seen “downhill” horses that’re heavy on the front…I’ve also seen “perfectly built” horses that’re VERY heavy on the front. (Case in point: my new horse that’s built just about as well as you could want!) I think what it really boils down to is a) what the horse is being used for most often, b) how they naturally carry themselves, AND more importantly, c) how the horse has been trained to use its body.

    Some horses have an inclination to push with their hind end, rather than pull with their shoulders…and vice versa. We’re working on the “vice versa” part of my little QH right now.

    So, does being built “downhill” affect a horse’s performance? “It depends.” 😉

  8. simone schulz on September 7, 2014 at 7:17 am

    Hi Stacy I wanted to write something to your previous horse blog .You spoke of Shawn Flarida. it was recently world champion reining in france. It was very ugly pictures shown of him and other colleagues from the USA by practice area. You asked how you would decide. Now I think the horse world needs role models like you, and your horse would fight for you. When I first saw you and roxy, it was revolutionary for me !! Ride with faith ….

  9. Barbara Tooley on September 7, 2014 at 7:02 am

    My QH mare is now 6 and built downhill. I have often inquired about this being a limitation for her but I see it in her lineage and I am blessed that she is extremely well bred. She is quick,powerful and only wants to please! Her mind and heart are incredible and this makes her my forever horse. If you will, she is my Roxy and my heart will never love another horse the same. (But I have room to love Oh so many more horses!!)

  10. Ray on September 7, 2014 at 2:38 am

    A lot of horses are built downhill (croup higher than withers) – it makes them a less comfortable ride but often faster and better at a sprint (they can push off better/easier). A lot of racers are built downhill – it is not considered a disadvantage there. On the other hand racehorses are not ridden for that many years and “carry” their (very light) jockey riders in a very different way than in other riding disciplines. A lot of polo horses are built downhill as well. It is not considered a disadvantage there as well because of the sprint capabilities of many downhill horses. I’m not saying everybody should start looking for a downhillbuilt horse to ride, I just mean that they have their advantages, too.

  11. Natalie Nelson-Lang on September 7, 2014 at 12:45 am

    The horse in the picture is a young horse and not necessarily down hill, but could be in a growth spurt. Horses grow like a teeter totter, higher in the withers – level out – higher in the hip – level out – repeat. With that said, there are some that mature with downhill conformation, which is incorrect and undesirable. The fact that have more heart to overcome the incorrect conformation explains the practice of injecting Legend in the joints and the heavy use of glucosamine and other joint supplements. Down hill conformation will stress the front joints and will cause them to give out and break down. There is a reason breeders strive to breed for correct conformation, and not for a flaw. While temperament is a great trait, particularly a temperament that possess a lot of heart, it will not protect a horse from breaking down due to a conformation flaw. Conformation is based on the skeletal structure of the horse and without it the horse will eventually break down – it doesn’t matter how much try they have.

  12. Joanne on September 7, 2014 at 12:24 am

    this is the first time that I have ever heard of a horse being built downhill. It is kinda of confusing I don’t really understand how it all works out. I thought horses were taught to do things that their genes didn’t determine this kinda of stuff. Learn something new all the time.

  13. Sharon Hill on September 7, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Isn’t it the same with people. Everybody has something that isn’t perfect but we manage on learning to do it our own way. The ones with blinders on, that think a thing can only be done one way or by the perfectly formed in fact limiting themselves.

  14. Lisa on September 7, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Rebecca, I’m sure Stacy is much more qualified to answer but yes horses grow like a teeter totter so they will look uneven till about 4-6 yrs old normally especially QH’s. Thats when you will see if they are going to be downhill or even.

  15. Lindi on September 7, 2014 at 12:03 am

    What does it mean? Being built downhill?

    • Stacy on September 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Sorry for not defining that sooner. Being built down hill or running down hill means the front end (whithers) are lower than the hind end(butt).

      • Lindi on September 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm

        Oh it’s ok! Thanks! I figured that’d what y’all meant but just wanted to make sure. I’m in school right now majoring in equine management and we had a lot of speakers the other day, mostly trainers, and I thought I heard one gentleman say, while talking about confirmation, that if he sees a horse whose back end is higher than his front end then he knows he will be able to stop well… is that the same or is he just talking about having a big booty?

  16. Janette on September 6, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    The down hill gene is so strong in the Quarter Horse, but where did it come from?

  17. cqtipy on September 6, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    I’ve seen downhill, swaybacked, high withered, no butted, and/or “mutt” horses out perform your sleek super pedigreed stock simply because they have bonded with their peeson and work as a team…I.e. HEART! As a matter of fact, I prefer a skinny tossed out needing some care rescue horse over just about any other. They will often do anything for you once they realize they are loved and in a good safe place. Great post! Thanks for saying what needs to be said!

  18. cqtipy on September 6, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    I’ve seen downhill, swaybacked, high withered, no butted, and/or “mutt” horses out perform your sleek super pedigreed stock simply because they have bonded with their peeson and work as a team…I.e. HEART! As a matter of fact, I prefer a skinny tossed out needing some care rescue horse over just about any other. They will often do anything for you once they realize they are loved and in a good safe place. Great post! Thanks for saying what needs to be said! 🙂

  19. Kaylene Wilson on September 6, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    You’re human and we love you all the more for it!

  20. Camille on September 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Wow to the snarky people out there. Love you Stacy and keep on writing and riding! 🙂

  21. Stefani on September 6, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    “conformation” not confirmation.

    • Stacy on September 6, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      My editor-spell-checking-husband is watching his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes (college football) players take a beating. He didn’t proof my blog very well:) You have discovered my great weakness…spelling. Well, I’m not great at math either. But I can ride a horse!

      • Rebecca Fetterman Vensel on September 6, 2014 at 11:43 pm

        You sure can ride a horse and we are so glad you can! My friend has a 2 year old quarter horse filly who is built down hill but don’t some horses grow unevenly, and there is a possibility her withers will catch up?

        • Stacy on September 7, 2014 at 4:57 pm

          Yes, it is true that many young horses will go through this stage and eventually level out. The little guy I had a photo of never did level out but it was the only photo I had to use.

      • julia on September 8, 2014 at 1:53 pm

        I’m excellent at spelling at even I occasionally spell a word wrong that I know better (it’s called a typo!) I am so much more interested in the content than the presentation. Just like in shows – you can have a beautiful outfit, but if you ride like crap and treat your horse poorly it’s not going to matter one bit!

  22. Carol Brandt on September 6, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Downhill might make the horse an excellent carriage horse! My routine goes like this. What’s the best path for this horse? That’s where we go!

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