Tuesday, September 2, 2008


No, this time I am not ranting. It's just that the rant really got me to thinking about people's perception of "good" conformation and just how much it comes into play...you know, like when you are looking at purchasing a new horse or thinking about breeding a mare or whether or not that colt gets to keep his nuts or not.

You want to know my experience with it? The only time anyone has ever "talked" about a horse's conformation is when they are trying to find a reason to get me to lower the price. Yep!! In all my years, that is the only time anyone has ever tried to use a horse's conformation faults against them. The most important thing to most people is "What can he do?".

Having grown up around horses and with a family that has raised horses for generations, good conformation values has always pretty much been ingrained in me. The one place that it always lacked any importance...and not with just my family...is when it came to breeding mares. No kidding right? One of my favorite quotes regarding the majority of reproducing mares comes from R.H. Smyth, MRCVS. He said, "Mares which are too lame to work and are suffering from the effects of poor conformation seldom are wasted. Instead, their faults are perpetuated by breeding them. There probably is no surer way of achieving bankruptcy."(End Quote) This is a very old quote from a very old conformation article by Marvin Beeman, DVM. For years, that quote is what kept me from breeding my good mare. Bless her hard-working heart, that mare has some conformation faults, that at the time I perceived were severe enough to keep her from reproducing(Thankfully, I got over that insignificant hurdle...but I will explain that later.).

Alright, breeding issues aside...Dr Beeman states "Conformation is a FACT, not just an opinion. Certainly, judges(he gave lectures mostly at AQHA judging seminars) are entitled to their opinions, but that those opinions must be learned."(End Quote) The "must be learned" part is very important. The only way to "learn" anything outside of the "stated" breed standard is to judge lots and lots of horses. Typically, I don't consider evaluating a horse as judging them. I prefer the term...comparing. Because really, judging livestock is an art in comparatives.

Take Orrin Mixer's painting of the "ideal" Quarter Horse for example...
This is what the AQHA says is the breed standard. A beautiful piece of art work. A not so wonderful example of the perfectly conformed horse. Is that a collective gasp I heard?? Honestly, that was not originally MY opinion. That opinion was taught to me by my college horse judging coach. The first person who didn't just hand me a bunch of terms to try to apply to horses I was comparing. He actually taught those of us on the judging team how those terms applied to "form to function" and how to weigh conformation flaws. A man I almost didn't give the opportunity to teach me anything based on the first halter class he had us judge.

See, the first halter class he had us judge included, in my opinion and the opinion of the entire rest of the class, an obvious top pair of horses and an obvious bottom pair of horses. To the surprise of the entire class, he placed the obvious(to us) bottom horse on the top. We were all pretty disgusted. Then, he made us give him reasons as to why we all thought that horse should be on the bottom. It got pretty heated. I never did agree with him on that placing, but I made myself listen to him. Pretty hard to do when you are 18 and know it ALL! It broke down like this...irregardless of the fact that that was one ugly, ill-put-together-lookin' horse, he simply didn't have any conformational faults. All of his angles were correct, his back to underline ratio was correct, his head, throatlatch and neck were correct. He had a long hip and low hocks and very correct legs. Talk about an eye opening experience. Mr. Instructor proved to me that there is a lot to "judging" horses.

Now, once the class was over, he cut up with us a bit about the ordeal. He told us that it was a valuable lesson to us. Just so we understood that, just because all the pieces went together right, didn't make for a particularly wonderful horse. As a matter of fact, this poor horse had a hard time walking on level ground without wandering or stumbling. He lacked any athletic ability whatsoever. His owner had tried, unsuccessfully to turn him into a reining horse, a western pleasure horse and a hunter under saddle horse. He said he was scared to try him in trail or jumping, since he was so uncoordinated. He was a very kind and well-broke horse and I heard he was well bred...just couldn't walk and chew gum at the same time.

So now...the next lesson Mr. Instructor gave us was to look at that beautiful painting and list the conformation flaws on that "ideal" QH. Go ahead, give it a try...remember...form to function and the truest test of conformation...would you want to ride this horse??

PS-I'll be posting from my trip. Gonna be too much to share, not to post for 2 weeks-LOL. Equine chiro...house painting...the dressage barn I am gonna check out...wheeeeee!!!


sue said...

Hello!!! got your message and thank you so much!!! I read your blog (almost daily) even though I don't always post a comment.... I am really enjoying the "talks" about confirmation..... have a safe and great trip.... will be looking for those posts!!!!!

Adventures Of A Horse Crazed Mind said...

I can tell you why I wouldn't buy this horse for my purposes (reining and cow horse types keeping form to function in mind.)

1. Head set. WAY to high for me. This horse is tied in high (on the bottom side of his neck) and has a very upright form to his neck. This would prevent him from being able to get round, lift his back and step under himself.

2. Throat latch- to sharp, not allowing the bit to hand and sit in his mouth correctly.

3. I like this horses shoulder angle but it is not long enough on the bottom side (so that his front legs are more under him.) He looks like he would be heavy in the front end causing him to put more concussion in his front feet (that may lead to soundness issues)

4.I would want a longer back/loin so that I was able to get more flexibility and a horse that can break at the loin in his stops for a round stop that is smooth and feels nice (on this horse you'd burst an ovary!)

5. Pastern angles. I would like a horse with a little longer pastern and not as steep (for a more comfortable ride and to reduce concussion in his feet/joins. for long term soundness.)
I like a bit more wither on a mature horse.

6. I like a bit more of a slope to the croup and a lower tail set so that they are set a little more under themselves already and will make a better stopper. I also like there to be more distance from the point of croup to the tail head (which to me means longer hip and more reach under himself)

7. I look for a different kind of set to the hocks so that the cannon angles slightly inwards and the horse is able to step under himself without added strain to his hocks and tendons.

8. I like a horse that is built more uphill (or downhill...I never get that right) I like the point of croup to be just a hair lower than the point of wither. This would make for a much smother lope and allow the horse to run uphill.

That to me is form to function, even if they are technically "wrong".

Adventures Of A Horse Crazed Mind said...

Sorry, that would be "for the bit to SIT in his mouth at a correct angle"
and "a much SMOOTHER lope"
I am sure there are a dozen more mistakes and my "under himself" is very redundant but important in reiners.

Btw, have a great trip and take LOTS of pics. I look forward to hearing about it.

Mrs Mom said...

Would I want to ride this horse? Ummmm... no, not really. He has always looked like two or three different bodies put together there. Dont like the neck set, dont like the hip, he is going to be short and choppy, and sore in the back and muscles a lot. He might- if his brain was right- work out to be good for puttering along on the trails at low speed, but for "work" of any kind.. nah.

Know what *I* always thought was funny??? The APPY standard is that same horse with spots painted in on his arse.


Have an AWESOME trip lady, and I can not WAIT to see the ride!!! Sorry I have been absent some round the blogs lately--- it has been just overwhelming in a few too many ways...

ANyways---- after the storms are over, we should be round more! ;)

Vaquerogirl said...

I'd have to agree with anlmost everything ' AHCM' wrote about this picture. Yet keep in mind that it is a piece of art and that it was painted quite awhile ago. Styles in QH have changed so much!But if you look at the JOURNAL you will still see horses of this 'type' being ridden, shown, bred and awarded. Particularly rope horses... Since the QH world is getting so specialized these days it would be hard to make one picture be a representative of the entire breed. (If I had to choose one horse though it would be Rugged Lark) English type QH horses are getting as big as thoroughbreds, reining horses are small and tight,racing QH's are long and whippy looking. Something for everybody. But as we know- sometimes a horse is great in spite of it's conformation.

kdwhorses said...

Another great post on conformation! You go girl!

I hope you have a great trip and you get some quailty alone time with your man!! Take lots of pictures of your trip!

Andrea said...

Great post!! I think that horse looks far from perfect, LOL, I couldn't imagine trying to get that horse to do western pleasure. I am about form and function too. That horse looks like it could be a great heading horse.

fssunnysd said...

I think adventures of a horse crazed mind & mrs mom summed up nicely :)

"Ideal" sure has changed in the TB world, too - look at some of those old Stubbs prints sometime.

But you know what can override poor conformation on occasion? A good attitude and try - which is probably why some of us cling to (and occasionally breed) horses with conformation flaws. Horses that have heart and a good nature are a prize. And if their conformation deficiencies can be countered by a mare or stud strong where they're weak....

Sometimes it's worth the gamble to keep those qualities around.

I'd rather ride ugly (even ugly & choppy) than ornamental & nasty, if I have a choice!

Callie said...

I don't know the finer points of conformation and probably couldn't put it into words, however, this painting has never set well with me, just funny lookin'. I do know that I know what I like to see as a whole, and feel and hear about a horse.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I wonder whether the focus on "conformation" as something that can be rated and scored came about back when the cavalry was buying large numbers of horses? They needed to assess a lot of horses quickly and pick those which were most likely to become sound reliable riding horses. The old Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship includes a section on how to score conformation numberically and generate an overall score for each horse. Nowadays we have the luxury of being able to take time to look at each individual horse and see what he can do, however the old focus on "conformation" lingers. It's just a theory: what do others think?

fssunnysd said...

White Horse Pilgrim said... "wonder whether the focus on "conformation" as something that can be rated and scored came about back when the cavalry was buying large numbers of horses?"

Huh - interesting. Almost every breed and discipline has developed its own standards and its own favoritisms. And look how much some of the breeds have changed over the years as people out-cross, & inbreed selectively for certain traits. (The old-style Lippitt Morgans, formerly prized and bred as Army re-mounts, vs. the "new" Morgans, which to me look a bit like mini-QHs would be one example). People do still seem to be pretty hung up on applying standards to everything!

But even if you abandon specific standards... there's aesthetically unfortunate stuff - roman-noses (if you don't like them), big ears, etc., that don't cause problems. And then there are the horses with builds that lead to soundness problems - pigeon toed, over at the knees, cow-hocked, bad feet....