Bench knees in horses

Asked January 13, 2017, 1:53 PM EST

Is the conformational fault "bench knees" genetic in horses?

Saline County Missouri horses conformation horses health bench knees faults

1 Response

Hi – I found this statement in a 2009 publication called Inherited disorders and their management in some European warmblood sport horse breeds, available at http://stud.epsilon.slu.se/3890/1/nicolic_d_120221.pdf :

“The heritability of bench knee conformation has not yet been estimated although studies on conformation have noted that in some breeds or populations, bench knee conformation is relatively common. Holmström et al. (1990) found the prevalence of bench knee conformation to be 60% in Swedish warmblood sport horses.”

When a trait is more common in a population of animals defined by either geography (location) or breed than it is in all animals of that species, a genetic component is believed to exist. It sounds like that is the case with bench knees.

I also found this statement on p. 15 of Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse by Drs. Michael W. Ross and Sue J. Dyson (2nd. Edition, 2011): “…offset (bench) knees… appear to be highly heritable.”

If you are thinking of purchasing or breeding an animal with bench knees, I’d advise against it. For optimal health, longevity, freedom from pain, and overall welfare, we should constantly be striving to select for the healthiest horses with the best conformation. Enough career-ending injuries can happen to horses that we do not want to lower their odds of a long and high-quality life by perpetuating those with known conformational faults. There is a reason bench knees are considered a conformational fault (the animal’s form is not correlated with optimal function), so it is best to avoid purchasing or breeding individuals with this fault. Bench knees could be tolerable given some uses (light trail riding, for example), but could become a large issue for other uses (barrel racing, jumping, eventing, endurance rides, etc.).