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What is Conformation?
  2006 Cherry Hill

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What is Conformation?

Excerpt from
Horse for Sale, How to Buy a Horse or Sell the One You Have
by Cherry Hill  1995

Conformation should be carefully evaluated whether the horse is a foal, an aged breeding animal, or a performance horse. Conformation has a strong impact on movement, performance, and soundness. While movement is most obvious as motion of the lower limbs, it is an integration of the action of the upper limbs, back, neck, in fact, the whole horse. Therefore, overall conformation must be considered when discussing the athletic potential of a horse. Certain conformation tends to lead to certain types of performance and also to certain unsoundness. However, there are no absolutes when it comes to predicting a horse's length of stride, degree of flexion or directness of travel. Generalizations related to stance, breed or type are peppered with exceptions.

Conformation refers to the physical appearance of a horse as dictated primarily by his bone and muscle structures and his outline. It is impractical to set a single standard of perfection or to specifically define ideal or normal conformation because the guidelines depend on the classification, type, breed, and intended use of a horse. A conformation evaluation should always relate to specific function.

When discrepancies are discovered, it is important to differentiate between blemishes and unsoundnesses. Blemishes are scars and irregularities that do not affect the serviceability of the horse. Unsoundness cause a horse to be lame or otherwise unserviceable. Unsoundnesses include lameness caused from such conditions as navicular syndrome, wounds, ringbone, sidebone, spavin, thoroughpin, curb, and bowed tendons as well as miscellaneous conditions such as broken wind, blindness, and retained testicles.

Horses are classified as draft (heavy) horses, light horses, or ponies. Classifications are further divided by type according to overall body style and conformation and the work for which best suited. Refer to the chart in Chapter 2.

A breed is a group of horses with common ancestry and usually strong conformational similarities. In most cases, a horse must come from approved breeding stock to be registered with a particular breed. If a horse is not eligible for registration, it is considered a grade or crossbred horse.

Several breeds can have similar makeup and be of the same type. For example, most Quarter Horses, Paint Horses and Appaloosas are considered stock horse types. Some breeds contain individuals of different types within the breed. American Thoroughbreds can be of the race, hunter, or sport horse type.

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