Conformation faults that would be a deal breaker - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 21 Old 11-13-2011, 11:29 PM Thread Starter
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Conformation faults that would be a deal breaker

Mods, I was going to post this in the horse conformation section but since I'm not asking for a critique I felt that this was a better place. Feel free to move it if need be :)

As my other thread states I may be on the journey of becoming a first-time horse owner next year. I'm an Arts student and lover of research so I'm trying to absorb as much horse information as humanly possible over the summer - I think I might need a bigger bookcase :P You can never have too much knowledge!

I'm trying to learn how to tell if a horse has good conformation and what faults can cause what problems. Naturally if/when I go on the hunt for my first horse it'll be a good idea to visually pick out faults before I take the plunge and purchase...with my parent's money :P

What conformation faults would be a deal breaker? I'm not looking for the Super Ultimate Dream Horse that'll bring home ribbons in a halter class (is that the right competition that judges the horse's conformation?) but are there any particular faults that'll cause serious problems? Or would numerous minor faults be the biggest issue?

I have a feeling the legs are the most important part of a horse because they take the most battering over the years. Oh, and the back.

Thanks for all the advice you guys are giving me. You're all such a nice lot and I really do appreciate it :)
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post #2 of 21 Old 11-13-2011, 11:36 PM
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No club feet. Short back rather than long back. Balanced neck length to back length. No monkey bites, parrot mouths or undershot jaws. Nice straight legs, not too offset cannons. No calf knees or bench knees. No roach backs.

And if you look at a horse and go.............."HHHHMMMMMM something just doesn't look right" walk away. Or if someone tries to tell you their horse has "PERFECT" conformation, walk away, that horse hasn't been born yet. Take an experienced, trusted horse person with you when shopping, one who hopefully will stay emotionally uninvolved and not let you fall in love with big brown eyes.

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post #3 of 21 Old 11-13-2011, 11:43 PM
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The deal breakers for me (if I wasnt looking for a show horse), would be a horse being back at the knee, straight through the hocks, upright in the shoulder and croup high.

Back at the knee:
A horse being back at the knee puts incredible pressure on the tendos at the back of the leg, a horse that is back at the knee is unlikely to be sound long term and is at a very high risk of tendon injury. I would never jump one.
Visualy it is quite easy to spot, the leg at knee appears to sink backwards when the horse is stood diagram C in this picture

I'll post what the others are later but I realy need to get some sleep now

RIDE your horse FORWARDS and keep him STRAIGHT

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post #4 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 12:34 AM
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This is an oversimplified guideline of what I consider easy-to-understand basics: Conformation Education - A Basic Illustrated Overview
Although, honestly, most horses can do the low-levels of most disciplines reasonably well while staying sound.
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post #5 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 02:43 AM
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Bubba I really like your conformation guide. It's easy to understand and not too wordy. It should be helpful for anyone looking for some helpful hints on horse selection. I have always brought at least two other people with me whenever I have been looking for a new horse. A second or third opinin is always nice to have.
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post #6 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 05:07 AM
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Honestly, my biggest deal breaker is bad feet and/or legs. Back length, neck shape, rump shape/size etc don't *normally* cause as big an issue as dodgy feet. A good pre-purchase will show up your basic feet/leg issues through a flexion test but honestly the only way to know for sure is x-rays which I can understand are a bit exxy for a pleasure horse.

Thinks her father has realised she will never outgrow horses for boys
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post #7 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 06:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Dreamcatcher Arabians View Post
No club feet. Short back rather than long back. Balanced neck length to back length. No monkey bites, parrot mouths or undershot jaws. Nice straight legs, not too offset cannons. No calf knees or bench knees. No roach backs.

And if you look at a horse and go.............."HHHHMMMMMM something just doesn't look right" walk away. Or if someone tries to tell you their horse has "PERFECT" conformation, walk away, that horse hasn't been born yet. Take an experienced, trusted horse person with you when shopping, one who hopefully will stay emotionally uninvolved and not let you fall in love with big brown eyes.
Sounds informative but can you translate the jargon ? I have seen many of the terms used but never defined. SO short back is better in some way ? or short back is the deal breaker?
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post #8 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 06:59 AM
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I ride jumpers and for me, there are quite a few faults that are real deal breakers.

back at the knee. As has been said it is a very serious fault that puts incredible strain on the tendons. The leg has a backwards curve to it where the middle of the knee falls behind the line from middle of shoulder to middle of fetlock. Ideally you want straight and correct forelegs.

Toed out in the front legs. I'm not a hundred percent sure WHY it's a deal breaker for me but if the horse is significantly toed out in front and the legs themselves are straight at the top then no thank you. The direction of the toe CAN be indicative of incorrect hoof balance which is where you need the experienced horseperson.

Upright shoulders - they limit reach and tuck over fences, and they limit the extension of the stride. The horse may be choppy and uncomfortable to ride. Ideally you want a shoulder with 45 degrees of slope from the vertical, though more is permissible.

Upright pasterns - limits shock absorption and therefore increases concussion on both horse and rider. Increases the likelihood of arthritis in the horse.

Low fetlocks/pasterns TOO sloped - this is a weakness increasing the likelihood of tendon and pastern injury, particularly if the horse is participating in high-impact sports such as jumping or galloping. It provides a smoother and more comfortable ride but is not ideal in a performance horse.

Long pasterns/cannons - a weakness. The longer the bone is, the more likely it will be to break. High-impact sports are a no-go.

Downhill built - the rump is higher than the shoulder, forcing the centre of gravity forwards. It puts more weight on the horse's front end therefore increasing the strain on the forelegs and front hooves, and as the front legs already carry 60% or more of the horse's weight this is undesirable. It also makes it harder for the horse to push with its hind legs, thus making jumping more difficult, and limiting collection and true extension in dressage.

Post-legged - the horse is overly straight through its hind legs with not much angle to either hock or stifle. This limits forward reach of the hind leg, makes for an uncomfortable ride, and severely limits scope over fences. It also increases the concussion on the horse's joints.

Base narrow - the horse stands with its hooves very close together and in severe cases may stand on itself. This CAN be a hoof balance issue but is more commonly conformational. The horse is far more likely to hit itself as it moves and is likely to have limited lateral reach, therefore limiting its dressage potential. It may paddle (swing the lower leg outwards) instead of coming in close as it moves.

Base wide - the horse stands with its hooves farther apart than necessary. The leg, when viewed from the front or behind, should sit on a line dropped from the centre of the leg vertically to the ground. If the horse stands wider than this, it is base wide. A base wide horse will not move straight and true and is therefore more likely to injure itself.

Neck ties in low - the horse has a low head carriage and the neck meets the chest and wither lower down than ideal. This is desirable in some disciplines but not in jumping or eventing as it limits the horse's ability to truly collect, and tends to put the horse's weight onto its forelegs.

Bull necked - don't get me wrong, I love a nice solid neck, but being 'bull necked' takes it to the extreme. This increases the weight on the forelegs and makes the horse more inclined to travel off balance with its centre of gravity forward of the rider.

Light on bone - this is the BIG one. Light on bone means the horse is not solid/strong enough through its leg bones to carry the weight of the animal on top of them. In high-impact sports it vastly increases the chances of a fracture.

Small hooves - also big. If the hoof is too small for the size and build of the horse it is more prone to concussion laminitis, navicular disease, and other disorders of the hoof, as it is not able to distribute the horse's weight correctly. I like a nice large hoof that is correct in structure and made of good hard horn. Ideally the hoof will be free of chips, cracks and unsoundnesses, and preferably not shod, as a shod horse costs a lot more to keep. I would rather have a horse shod because of the level it is showing at than a horse shod because it is not sound barefoot.

Large scars on the lower legs - this is NOT purely cosmetic! As a showjumper my horses' legs are at high risk of impact and the skin of a scar is only 70% as thick/strong as unblemished skin. If a scar is re-opened it is weaker still. If I can reduce the risk of my horse injuring himself if he knocks a pole then I will.

I haven't even LISTED anything to do with the back (long back is a no, overly short back is also a no) or the overall balance of the size of shoulder/barrel/hindquarter, OR the depth of the girth or anything like that! As a jumpers rider, I need a horse that is basically correct. I will excuse minor faults that do not affect jumping ability because no horse is perfect, but the basics need to be there. Good correct shoulder, correct hindquarter, nice deep and broad chest (heart and lung room, very important), and correct legs are first and foremost for me. Nice open nostrils are also important as in my discipline the horse is working hard so must be able to breathe in large amounts of air easily.

Unattractive heads are excusable performance-wise for a showjumper as the horse is judged on performance, not appearance... but I won't buy a horse that I don't think is beautiful, because I do not want a horse that I look at and think 'eww, ugly face' or anything similar.

Now, I actually have a horse with a few of the faults I have listed as deal-breakers! Monty has HUGE scars on both his hind legs, from fetlock to above the hock... his pasterns are almost vertical... he has HORRIBLE feet... and his shoulder is more upright than I would like! I had to excuse some of these faults if I wanted to be able to afford an experienced jumping horse with the temperament I was looking for.

If it's your first horse temperament is first and foremost. You don't want a horse that's going to break down in a month's time (I have a friend who had that happen!) but as a first horse it doesn't have to be pretty or talented or even particularly correct - just sound and sane and good to ride!

Last edited by blue eyed pony; 11-14-2011 at 07:05 AM.
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post #9 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 12:25 PM
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Crappy legs.

A little bit of certain faults don't bother me (Norman's pigeon-toed), but if a horse's legs look like broken toothpicks, I run the other way. I don't buy or sell much, so longevity is very important to me. I'm not going to buy a horse that's likely to be crippled by the time it's 12.

"A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself.
What a man can be, he must be.
" Abraham Maslow, 1968
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post #10 of 21 Old 11-14-2011, 12:33 PM
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I HATE HATE HATE posty legs! Doesn't matter what disipline, posty legs are horrible to ride comfortably. Plus there prone to more lameness than normal, correct legs.
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