Learning about conformation... - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 7 Old 02-21-2011, 08:17 PM Thread Starter
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Learning about conformation...

So, I'm learning about conformation so I thought it would be a good idea if I had the members help me a bit. I'm offering up pictures of my lease horse for comment.

He is one of the last foals that was sired by Great Red Pine. His mother has Gunsmoke in her pedigree someplace...(I have not seen his pedigree papers as of yet.) Registered, obviously....and is a wonderful reining horse with a big stop.

If you comment, please explain your comments with a bit of detail as I'm rather new to terms used when talking about conformation.

Thanks for any help you can offer!!!
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post #2 of 7 Old 02-21-2011, 08:24 PM
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First of all, a correct conformation picture will have the horse standing square, the camera focused on the center of the horse, on even ground, with the poll even with the withers. We also need a picture from the front, showing th legs, and from the back, with the tail out of the way. It would be great to see a picture from above, to see how the three parts of the body compare in size and shape, but that's not always easy to get.

A book that is excellent in going in-depth with conformation and its purpose is The Horse Conformation Handbook by Heather Smith Thomas. I highly recommend it.

From the picture, it's hard to tell much. He looks to have good feet and correct pasterns, a nice triangular rump, and an okay shoulder. I do not like his front legs, the cannons are much too short for the forearm and might cause for a choppy stride. He looks a bit sickle hocked behind, meaning the hocks are pointed inward.
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post #3 of 7 Old 02-21-2011, 08:59 PM
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I don't think this horse is sickle hocked...from what I see in the pictures

This is sickle hocked

Maybe he is a bit cow hocked?
I don't think these are good conformation pictures. He looks like he has a very long ewed neck and I doubt that he would look like that standing normally from the side. He does look like his front cannon bones are too short and his shoulder looks too straight... That is what it looks like to me though. Nice back length, good pasterns, in the first pic he has a cute head. I like the deep red coloring he has : )

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post #4 of 7 Old 02-21-2011, 09:17 PM
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Originally Posted by ShutUpJoe View Post
Maybe he is a bit cow hocked?
Oops, that's what I meant
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post #5 of 7 Old 02-21-2011, 10:55 PM
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"with the poll even with the withers"

Only for stock/Western horses.

Each type of riding, there's a different idea about how to pose for conformation - the pose emphasizes the traits each riding sport wants.

"he is sickle hocked"


"he is cow hocked"

Many stock breeders say they want their horses to be slightly cow-hocked.

There isn't any way to tell though, from those pictures.

In fact, the best way to evaluate a horse's conformation is not from photos, but in person. Photos really can distort things, and it's awfully hard to take a good photo. A horse can be caught standing in an awkward position and you may think it's got some fault when it does not.

Too, a lot depends on the skill of the photographer. If the camera is held too high, it makes the horse's legs look shorter. If held too low, it makes the legs look longer. A slight angle can make a hind quarter look massive when it's not. A photo from the front can make the head look like it's abnormally large.

Pose affects how the photo reads too. A high head carriage can drop the back, making it look hollow. A low head carriage can make the shoulder look straighter than it really is. Awkwardly stretched out hind legs can make a horse look camped out. If the hind legs are too far forward they can make a horse look sickle hocked.

In addition, you really need to see the horse in motion. You really do. You need to see how those parts work together. How a horse stands, just isn't as important as how he puts all those parts together and makes them work.

I think the best thing you can do to learn conformation is the exact opposite most people do - stay away from details at first. Most people zoom into details so quickly that they miss the basic proportions. I constantly read on these bb's where people say a horse has this or that when they can't see the proportions at all.

Learn to see basic proportions. Squint at the photo and blur out all the details so you can see basic proportions.

Look for how the length of neck, back and leg relate to each other.

Horses don't really have a 'long neck' or 'long legs' - there is no arbitrary length that is 'long'.

They have long legs in proportion to those other lengths, or they have a long back in comparison to the legs.

Keep in mind that a horse can be a 'rectangle' - a long body compared to the length of leg. Or he can be more like a 'square' - a slightly shorter body, and longer legs.

Learn to think 'Type'. For example, are you looking at a working ranch horse? Or a show hunter? A draft horse that pulls a plough in a team, or a top level dressage horse? Those types seem very obvious, but there's still a type for an eventer, a dressage horse, and they are more subtle.

You always have to think Type. A draft horse is a heavy, solid animal, you don't expect him to look like a race horse. A stock horse just isn't going to look like a show hunter, either.

What you'd accept in a draft horse, for example a very heavy body with heavy muscle, would be a fault in a race horse.

Honestly, it's far more important to first of all, see those basic proportions, and understand the TYPE of the horse you're looking at, and its intended use.

And you might also say, not just intended use, but how intensely is this horse going to be used in that sport? Is the horse expected to do a few schooling shows at Intro level of dressage each summer, or is he expected to make the Olympic team? The type would be very different.

Think very hard about what is desirable in the halter competition of a specific breed.

For example in an Arabian halter class, we look for that lovely little head with the dished face, and shapely ears. A level croup with a high set tail.

But to be honest, how much of that really would affect how a horse is used? Will pretty, shapely ears help a horse scramble up a trail or herd a cow or perform a pirouette?

Is it an important trait? Not really - it's important only in the breed ring. Learn how to separate in your mind, the breed traits that may be so sought after in the halter ring, but really don't do anything other than mark out that horse as being in that breed.

Try to remember what traits are important for the breed halter ring and not so important when choosing a horse for all the other uses it might be put to!

Think very hard about use the horse will be put to. If a horse is going to be ridden at a walk once a month in the summer, we don't have to be nearly as fussy about his conformation as we would be for a Grand Prix show jumper. I often chuckle when people go wild, picking over the conformation of a horse intended for very casual, light use.

Think about how tradition dictates the overall type of a horse for a specific use.

We feel that a high rump, short forelegs and a low-set chest make a good Western horse.

An endurance horse should be slim and narrow like a radiator.

The more involved you get in a riding sport, the more you'll know about what type that riding sport looks for.

And the bottom line again is to think very hard about use. We just wouldn't go over a family horse with the same sort of requirements in mind as a Grand Prix show jumper.

Last edited by slc; 02-21-2011 at 10:59 PM.
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post #6 of 7 Old 02-22-2011, 01:51 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the detailed explainations!

Anyone have any comments on the color question? Color tends to confuse me a bit. The legs look like they have something of a dun characteristic and being that his sire was a red dun, it seems to fit. However, I've not seen any liver chestnuts with the dun factor that are that dark...which makes me curious.
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post #7 of 7 Old 02-22-2011, 06:35 PM
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I don't know; I've never bothered much about color as I don't find it to be significant in dressage. Dun factor and stuff like that people get very, very touchy about; there's a lot of money and emotions wrapped up in horse colors in general.

I just try to keep in mind that only a little bit is known about color genetics in horses, and similar appearing colors and patterns, can be due to different underlying genes. Additionally, new horse color genes crop up from time to time, changing people's assumptions.

Dr. Sponenberg calls those darker points in a chestnut, 'Tostado'. He uses a lot of the Spanish color modifying terms like that. If the legs shaded to amber/a paler color than the main coat, he refers to them as 'Alazan'. He likes to use some of those modifiers, but unfortunately most people don't know his system.

So others may say, 'chestnut with darker points' or 'chestnut with lighter points'.
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