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!!!