Q: People say my horse is barrel-chested. What does this mean? Is it a positive or a negative?
A: There are two types of chest conformation that are considered efficient. These are the round, barrel chest and the wide, deep chest. Horse-people generally tend to prefer the wide, deep chest, as a barrel-chested horse can appear to be out of proportion – in that his legs can appear too long for the depth of his chest. If the legs are too long for the depth of the body generally, the horse tends to have poorer agility and balance. Many horse-people also find barrel-chested horses uncomfortable to sit on, as they tend to be wider. Finally, some questions have been raised about the endurance ability of these horses with shallow chests. However, it is important to thoroughly examine the barrel-chested horse from different angles. If a barrel-chested horse seems shallow in the chest when viewed from the side, you may find that he makes up in width what he lacks in depth. Looking at him from the front or back, as well as the side, can give you some idea about the volume of the chest, and whether or not he has sufficient lung volume. From in front, the ribs should be wide enough to be seen behind the front quarters, and from behind the ribs should be slightly wider than the hindquarters. If the horse has a large, well-muscled hindquarter, it is acceptable for the ribs to be the same width as the hindquarter. If the ribs are visible as stated, then the chances are that your horse has more than sufficient room for good lung function. Most barrel-chested horses in fact have more than adequate stamina, as they do tend to have compensated as mentioned to increase the capacity of their chests.