The Basics of Horse Conformation – Purdue YDAE
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The Basics of Horse Conformation – Purdue YDAE

August 21, 2019


Conformation is a general term that includes mostly structure and balance, how all the parts of the horse fit together and make one whole. The overall health of the horse is affected by conformation in the sense that we think that horses that are structurally sound, meaning they are not likely to get lame, are more likely those that have straight legs and have good balance and conformation. We use our horses here on the ranch. We use them to gather cattle, we use them for riding lessons, and we use them to compete on. If the horse is not put together correctly it is likely that the longevity of that animal will be short. Conformation is important to me, probably a little bit different that a halter person or somebody that shows halter would look. I still want some of those aspects – straight legs and good conformation but I also want good movement. I want a horse to be sound. I want to make sure that they’re going to do the job we want them to do whether it’s Western pleasure or English or if it’s jumping or if it’s contesting. I feel like you need a little bit different ability. And I look for something a little bit different in each of those horses. If you’re going to purchase a horse it’s going to be an investment whether it’s going to be for pleasure or business. Nobody wants to lose money. If they’re lame and you can’t use them then you’re at a vet. I think over the years I have learned about conformation in different ways, I started in 4-H and I was on a training farm growing up so I evaluated horses that way. But I think I just learned a lot just evaluating horses for other clients and trying to see what they need. Then when I am riding horses and breaking them for people you see a lot of flaws and things that kind of get in the way of what you’re trying to do, what the program is. So you look at those conformation faults and say this what I definitely don’t want in the next horse. I need it to be a better mover or whatever is going to fit what it needs to do. Conformation is easy to learn but you have to be a student of the skeleton and the structural correctness of the horse. And then get used to looking at a lot of horses and see how it all fits together. It should look like it is all one balanced horse. [music] There’s certain correct balance conformation that isn’t related to the breed itself and that usually means it’s proportional. All the parts fit together. In what we mean balance, front end should be a little higher or as high as the rear end, the legs should be straight and on four corners under the horse. So how the horse fits together is a structural, skeletal, muscular issue not a breed issue. I feel like the horse should be in balance, if it’s not you definitely have more weight on the front end or the hind end which changes the stride. So I definitely like a balanced horse. In general, a horse’s neck should be the same length as it’s back, it’s back should be the same length as its hips, so you could divide the horse into three parts, horizontally from the profile. So that’s the first thing I think I’d look for, then as you look down the legs I think you want to be able to drop a straight line from the middle of the shoulder down a line in the back of the front leg that would bisect the leg and descend right behind the heel at the bottom. And likewise if you go to the back leg there should be an angle of a “V” that comes forward from the pelvis or the hip joint, if you will, forward to the stifle and back again to the hock so there’s good angulation of this stifle joint and it’s not too what we call “posty”. And then the cannon bone itself should be pretty much in line with the back of the buttocks of the horse. So there’s a line from the buttocks to the hock to the back of the fetlock and back. Then I always get back away from them again and look at the whole profile and how does this whole horse fit together. The balance of the horse to me is most important and that it looks like whatever breed it’s supposed to be. [music] The quality of the horse, its movement affects the comfort and what the rider feels mostly in how much concussion is absorbed in the angles of the pastern and the shoulder. It’s a much more comfortable ride is the horse is reaching with longer more sweeping strides, rather than shorter, choppier strides where the toe hits the ground with a lot more concussion. It’s a more comfortable ride if the horse is structured correctly. Pasterns are important. They’re up and down, they’re straight up and down. The straighter a pastern bone is the more uncomfortable the horse is going to be to ride. That is key. Quality of the movement and how they move is affected by the conformation, mostly in the angles of the bones. How the shoulder and the arm are angled allows the horse to have a longer stride in front and the position of the head dictates whether the leg goes higher and lower or reaches further forward and longer strides. The rear-end is where all the power comes from, the engine. So the real power of the horse is determined by the angle of the pelvis, the angle from the pelvis to the stifle. So how well the rear end is set underneath the horse really determines the ability to move well. [music] Since a horse drives from the rear end I really like a strong hip and I like their hock to drive up underneath them. We call it, you’ll hear in the show industry that they are splitting their hocks, when they drive up under them those two hocks are separating really far. That’s one of the things I look for. Also a flat knee movement, when their leg stretches out in front of them, I want their leg to stay straight not bending and picking up. We call that knee action. I don’t want a lot of that. I also want a horse that has a good structure and not too straight of a shoulder, not too much of slope but good strong square body. Is she straight legged, does she have a good deep hock, does she have a nice rump, is she pretty headed, is she smart? I think when you are going to look at a horse to buy you should definitely bring another set of eyes with you. Conformation is a factor but sometimes you fall in love with the “OH, Its cute!” instead of how it’s put together and is it going to do the job that I want it to. [music]

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