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Horse Conformation

A horse with good conformation should be the aim of every person who intends to breed a foal. Breeding from a stallion or mare with anything more than minor faults in their conformation should be avoided. Correct conformation enables the horse to carry out the work required by humans with the least amount of stress on their bodies and joints. They will be less prone to lameness and give a more comfortable ride. Assessing whether a horse has perfect conformation can be a difficult task, but it is in every horse lovers interest to be able to ascertain an overall impression of good conformation in a horse used for general riding activites.
Initially look at the horse as a 'whole', does he look like he has been built in proportion? There should be no one part of the horse's body which looks too be greatly over or under sized in relation to any other. The horse should have an alert expression with bright, wide set eyes, the neck should be proportional to the body and a convex arch between the withers and poll. Look for a good, sloping shoulder as this will give the horse a longer, flowing stride, the horse should also have well defined shoulders which form a widening V down into the shoulder.
The chest area should be MEDIUM WIDTH allowing plenty of heart room and allowing the fore legs to be far enough apart to prevent brushing.The fore legs should run in a vertical, straight line from the top of the leg down to the foot, whether looked at from the front or the side. The horse should have a deep body, allowing plenty of room for the heart and lungs, the back should be of medium length to carry the rider's weight comfortably and without strain. Well rounded quarters and broad hips provide power and allow the horse to move forward with good impulsion. The horse's hind legs should be formed so it is possible to visualise a straight line running from the point of buttock, through the point of hock, down to the fetlock and the ground.
The forelegs should be straight from the top of the leg to the foot when looked at from the front, and also from the top of the leg to the fetlock when viewed from the side. The forearm should have well developed muscles, and be longer than the leg below the knee. The leg below the knee is preferably fairly short as this minimises the strain on the ligaments and tendons. The knees should be in proportion with the rest of the leg, they should be broad, flat and deep as this then gives enough room for the attachment of tendons and ligaments.
Cannon bones should be short and straight, this again allows room for tendons and ligaments meaning they are less liekly to become strained. The fetlock should appear flat rather than round, any lumps are usually a sign of work, age or brushing. Pasterns should be neither too long or too short; long, sloping pasterns give a springy ride but can be liable to strains. Short, upright pasterns tend to be strong but give a bumpy ride, this extra concussion can cause lameness.
With the horse's hind legs it should be possible to draw an imaginary straight line from the point of buttock, through the point of hock down to the fetlock joint. The hocks should be fairly large in size, with a flat, clean point at the back of the joint. Any lumps or swellings are a sign of injury. Sickle shaped hocks have a more acute angle to the hocks.
Hocks out behind can indicate that the horse is a good jumper but they will struggle to gallop or perform dressage well. Straight hocks will often give a horse the ability to perform dressage well but there is less leverage for jumping. Some horses with straight hocks can suffer from a slipped stifle especially at a young age.
The hind quarters when viewed from behind should give the appearance of being rounded with plenty of mucle providing power. If the hind legs are placed too far apart the horse may be limited in its length of stride, in rare cases this can lead to increased concussion and ringbone. Hind limbs that are close together can be underdeveloped, making them weak and prone to strains, the closeness can also cause brushing injuries.
Bowed hocks have the points of hock wide apart, the toes are turned out and the foot is likely to screw as it comes into contact with the ground. This conformation can lead to bone spavins, bog spavins ot thoroughpin. A horse with cow hocks is often a good jumper but is liable to brush, the points of hock come close together, and the toes are turned out. When assessing conformation it is essential to judge the horse as a whole and develop an 'eye for a horse'. Try to look at many different types and breeds of horse to compare the variations. Remember there is no such thing as perfect conformation, but you should avoid any serious deviations from the 'norm' as they can lead to excess strain and injury. For more information about the finer points of equine conformation, we recommend the Threshold Picture Guide #19: 'Conformation'.

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