Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What is Good Conformation? by Deanie Humphrys-Dunne

"Peach" and Deanie
Photo by Bob Moseder... From “Tails of Sweetbrier
What is Good Conformation?
by Deanie Humphrys-Dunne

If you’re a horse owner or rider, you should know some basic facts about the horse’s conformation and examples of what “good confirmation” includes.

The word “conformation” refers to the body structure of the horse and other important characteristics.

My dad was a professional horseman for many decades. Our family owned a farm called “Sweetbrier.” Dad did a great deal of studying about horses. One of the first thing he studied when he was considering buying a horse was it’s eyes. Why is that? Well, you may have heard the expression “A person’s eyes are the window to the soul.” You can draw a similar conclusion with horses. My dad shied away from a horse with small, sunken eyes, often called “pig eyes.” What do pig eyes signify? A horse with a nasty disposition. Even with training, you can’t change a horse’s temperament. Look for a horse with big eyes and a kind expression. Dad could tell a great deal by the expression of a horse’s eye.

What about the head of the horse? Look for a wide space between the eyes and a little curved or “dish” in his head, not a rounded nose. Horses with round noses are called “roman-nosed” and are more apt to be stubborn.

What about balance? In order to be properly balanced, a horse needs good proportions. He shouldn’t have more weight in front, than behind.  Another important factor is the length of his back. A short back is always preferred. Why? He’ll be much better balanced with a short back and he’ll cost less to feed. When you look at the horse, is his topline shorter than the bottom line? If so, he should be well-built.

Another thing to consider is whether the horse’s withers (the highest point on his back) is higher than the point of his rump. If so, that’s a good thing. If not, he’ll tend to be heavier in the front than behind. He’ll also likely have uncomfortable gaits with a lower withers than hip.

If you’re looking for a good jumper, check out the angle from the point of his hip to the end of his rump. It should have a nice slope, not too short. That’s where the power comes from when the horse jumps.

What about legs and feet? A horse with a long forearm is well-built, particularly if he has a short cannon bone (the one under the forearm) If the cannon bone is short, it tends to be stronger. Think of it like a stick. If you have a short thick stick, it’ll be stronger than a thin twig.

We’ll talk about one last area, the lower leg and hoof. The “pastern” is the joint just above the hoof. It should be a nice angle, not too short or too straight. If the pastern is too short, it generally means the horse’s gait will be choppy and uncomfortable. The hoof should be round and if it’s large, that’s a good thing. A nice, round hoof with a wide enough space between the heels would signify a strong hoof and a good base of support. Horses with narrow hooves tend to have issues with soundness.

So, you can see there is a great deal of studying to be done when you’re looking for a horse. You need to educate your eye to recognize the angles that show good conformation and those that don’t. But once you learn, you’ll always remember them.

I’ve included a picture of me with my horse, Fleet Nancy, or “Peach” as we nicknamed her. How did she get her nickname? If you stood behind her, she had huge jumping muscles. My sister said her muscles looked like a peach.  You’ll see a wide space between her eyes and beautiful slight dish in her head.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning ways you can recognize good conformation.

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Deanie Humphrys-Dunne said...

Thank you so much for posting my article, Gina. I hope your readers find it helpful.

Gina said...

Thanks, Deanie! A great article and we always appreciate your horse wisdom!