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Proper Conformation of a Performance Horse


Why Form Equals Function

A pretty face or flashy markings shouldn't be your sole criteria when choosing your next horse. You should also consider the horse's conformation. Conformation refers to a horse's musculature, body proportions in relation to each other and correctness in bone structure. When it comes to evaluating conformation in horses, beauty isn't only in the eye of the beholder - form equals function.

Conformation shapes a horse's entire life. It affects what horse we choose for a specific discipline and how long a horse will be able to perform and stay sound in that chosen discipline. Good or poor conformation has a direct correlation to the breed and use of a horse. A horse that has poor form for a race horse could have great form for a quality show hunter, trail horse or dressage horse.

To evaluate conformation you need to take a walk around the horse, examine it close up, then again from 20-30 feet away and when the horse is in motion. Each evaluation location will give you a different perspective of the horse's conformation. Major areas to focus on are balance, muscling, type and way of going.

Balance - Refers to the overall proportion of the horse. Do all of the parts look like they fit together? Ideally, a well-balanced horse will have a long, well-muscled neck that connects to a long sloping shoulder. His back will then continue to be a straight line from wither to croup, or top of hip. He will also have straight legs when viewed from the front and side.

Muscling - When evaluating horses for athleticism, pay special attention to muscle mass in the following seven areas: chest, forearm, shoulder, loin, croup, stifle and gaskin. Well defined muscles in these areas will enhance the way in which a horse can perform in his discipline.

Type - A thoroughbred is going to be built differently than a draft horse. Consider how a horse needs to be built to do his job and then determine if his conformation is appropriate for his type.

Way of Going - The way a horse's legs are built will affect his way of going. Watch the horse at the walk, when all limbs are moving independently to observe way of going. A horse that does not walk with hind limbs following front limbs, when observed from behind, can potentially have unsoundness issues.

Remember, no horse has perfect conformation. In fact, many horses with conformation flaws have excelled at all levels of competition. When looking for your next horse, evaluate its conformation, but don't overlook its athleticism and heart.


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