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Desirable and

Undesirable Equine


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Desirable conformation

The head should be in proportion to the rest of the horse. If it
is on the large side, the horse will be very difficult to raise
off the forehand. A slightly roman nose may indicate some common
blood such as that of a cob, whereas a dished face will indicate
the presence of Arab or welsh blood Depending on the size of the
animal. The teeth in the front of the mouth should meet evenly.
If the upper teeth protrude over the lower teeth, it is called
parrot mouth. If the lower teeth protrude from the upper teeth,
it is called sow mouthed or undershot jaw. Both of these faults
are an unsoundness, it only effects the ability to bite food such
as grass but not the ability to chew.

The eyes should be well set on either side of the head, and
through experience a small eye tends to suggest a mean streak or
stubbornness. They should be clear and shiny. Any excess of white
round the colouring may suggest a streak of wildness or ill
temper. Large ears are not a fault and some people even consider
them to be a sign of generosity although some horses with larger
ears tend to need a bit more encouragement.

Look for how the head is set onto the neck. There should not be a
great amount of flesh through the jowl area of the horse. Horses
with jowl’s that are thicker set will find working correctly very
difficult. The nostrils should be large and clear of any excess
fatty tissue to enable the horse to breathe when working hard.

The neck should be as you would expect for the type of work you
want the horse to do. A short thicker neck would indicate a lot
of power whereas a longer arched neck would indicate elegance. If
the neck dips in front of the withers, it will tend to make the
horse quite ewe necked, this will make it difficult to achieve
the correct outline in ridden work and also give the horse a more
hollow back when ridden and especially jumped. You should look
for a good length of rein, ideally you do not want the horses
head in your lap when you are riding it. Look at the horse, where
would your saddle sit? If the distance from the front of the
saddle to the bit looks short then there will be a tendency to
have a lot of rein not in use. I like to have about 6” of rein
hanging behind my hands when the horse is relaxed. Personal taste
varies. There should be an unbroken curve from the poll to the

The shoulder should not appear to have too straight a line at the
front of it. A straight shoulder often gives a choppy up and down
movement from the paces, this is quite uncomfortable to ride on.
However it is quite desirable in a number of driving breeds. The
whole shoulder should be well muscled without being too heavy in

Undesirable conformation
The front legs should be well muscled through the forearm and a
good length of the upper front leg is essential for speed. Knees
should be broad and flat with no puffiness or lumps. Any scars on
the knees suggest that the horse isn’t careful over a fence or
has a tendency to slip or trip on roads. It could be caused by an
accident however but ask the owner if you are in any doubt. The
leg below the knee should not look like it has a tight pair of
socks on. It should be a relatively straight line from the top of
the tendon down to the fetlock. Look at the leg from the side, if
the legs look to have a slight bend towards the hind legs, this
is called “back at the knee” it is a conformation fault. In a top
level jumping horse it will cause a lot of problems as the
tendons will be under a great deal more strain. Ideally I go for
a horse who looks as if it’s knees are bending ever so slightly
forwards, this allows a lot more flexibility when landing over a
fence or when riding at speed. However you don’t want too much
forward bend as this will again indicate a possible stumbler. The
cannon bones should be flat at the front and on the short side is
better than longer ones. This ensures that the tendons are short
and therefore less likely to damage. The slope of the pastern is
important also. Too much slope and the tendons will be under
constant pressure, too little slope and the concussive effects on
the foot will be very great. This can lead to serious problems in
the foot.

The feet must be of good quality. Upright small feet are called
“boxy” and are to be avoided. Big Flat feet are also to be
avoided as they will have a tendency to get bruised very easily.
The angle of the hoof wall should be a continued line from the
slope of the pastern. There should be a good quality, clean frog
on the underside of the foot, and the bars of the foot should be
wide and deep. Look at the horse from the front, if it’s knees
bend inwards or outwards, these are called “knock kneed” and
“bow legged” respectively, the horse’s action will suffer and the
horse will not move straight. Also look what the feet do, they
should stand squarely and evenly on the floor, if the toes point
in, “pigeon toed” the horse will probably not move straight as
they will not if their toes point out, “splay footed”.

The chest and body should be well proportioned to the rest of the
horse. The chest should be deep and enough room to get a pair of
clippers through easily. The ribs should be well sprung, this is
important to provide adequate space for the lungs to expand when
exercising hard. If the chest is too wide it may produce a
rolling action when ridden. The back should be well proportioned.
Too much dip sway backed and you find great difficulty fitting a
saddle Too flat and the saddle will slide about on the horse. A
roached back is one that curves up behind the saddle, this often
indicates a comfortable ride and good jump, but it is a
conformation weakness and should really be avoided. You should
also check, by putting a saddle on the horse, girthing it up and
getting on it too see if it is cold backed. If it is it will sink
away from you as you get on or in severe cases when the saddle is
tightened up. The horse should not appear too long in the body.
Horses that appear to be this way are often quite weak over their
backs and require special attention from a chiropractor. The
underside of the horse should not appear to be like that of a
greyhound, herring gutted, This indicates a general weakness and
as such should be avoided. It will also cause the girth to slip
back. A young horse may well be up on its back end meaning that
the hind quarters are higher than the front. This is perfectly
fine as horses grow in fits and starts, the front end should
catch up. However in an older horse this is undesirable as it
will make the horse very difficult to bring up off the forehand.

The hindquarters should be well muscled, The tail should be set
on fairly high. If the tail is set on low and the horse has a
definite slope from the point of the hip to the tail, this is
defined as goose rump and in many horses denotes a lack of speed.
If however the horse has a bump over its pelvis and a well set on
tail, this is called jumpers bump and tells you that the horse
has probably got a good jump that is well rounded. The thigh
muscles on the inside of the legs should be well developed and
not make the horse appear to be split up the middle. You are
looking for a reasonable amount of length from the point of hip
to the point of hock and again short cannon bones. Hocks should
not point towards each other, cow hocked, nor must they be bowed
out, sickle hocked The hock joint should be large but not fleshy
and the line from the point of the hock should be straight with
no bulges out from the hock joint. This is called a curb and can
be caused by strain on the tendon. The bulge could also be caused
by the heads of the splint bones becoming enlarged, this is
called a false curb. Curbs are a sign of weakness but generally
give little trouble once they have formed on a young horse. The
vertical line below the hock should line up with the rearmost
part of the quarters (point of buttock) when the horse is
standing squarely. The statements concerning the lower forelimbs
of the horse apply equally to the hind limbs.

Dynamic conformation.

The walk and trot should be checked both under saddle and in

The walk should have a 4 time beat and the strides be of even
length. The footprint of the front foot should be studied to see
whether the hind foot lands in front of where the front foot has
come from. A good walker is a horse that looks like it is going
somewhere in a purposeful manner. The walk is a difficult pace to
improve, so a horse with a naturally good walk is a bonus. I good
walker is generally a good galloper. Also take a look at how the
shoes are worn, this will give a good general picture as to how
the horse moves.

The trot is a 2 time movement and when there is any extension
there should be a moment of suspension between beats. The horse
should be trotted towards you so that you can see that it moves
straight. A movement where the horse is swinging its legs round
from the knee is called dishing and is a waste of energy and
unsightly but not harmful. Any action that brings the feet close
to the legs is called brushing and is to be avoided if you do not
want a horse that will injure itself. The hind feet often pass
very close a good check for this is to look at the hair on the
hind pasterns, if it has been rubbed then the horse could well
require boots of some sort. When the horse is trotted up listen
for sounds that indicate forging you will hear the hind shoes
clipping the front shoes. This can be helped by shoeing. Watch
the horse from the side. Look for even strides from both pairs of
diagonals and a good ground covering technique. A good horse will
flick its toes out without any effort and will use its shoulders,
back and hindquarters actively.

The Wind is easily checked by getting the horse to gallop as far
as it is fit enough to and listening to its wind when it is on
the move as well as when stationary. You should be listening for
any signs of noise other than that which you would expect the
horse to make. These could be anything from a slight whistle to a
roar depending on the problem. If you hear any of these noises
ask the owner if they have heard them, also it would be advisable
to get a vet to have a listen.

Ask the handler to get the horse to step back and to turn the
horse around them, making the hind legs cross if possible, these
exercises will show any unsoundness due to stiffness or wobblers
syndrome (a problem with the nerves in the back)

This article and the accompanying illustrations were kindly
compiled by Heiress.
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