Equine conformation

Parts of a horse

Equine conformation evaluates the degree of correctness of a horse's bone structure, musculature, and its body proportions in relation to each other. Undesirable conformation can limit the ability to perform a specific task. Although there are several universal "faults," a horse's conformation is usually judged by what its intended use may be. Thus "form to function" is one of the first set of traits considered in judging conformation. A horse with poor form for a Grand Prix show jumper could have excellent conformation for a World Champion cutting horse, or to be a champion draft horse. Every horse has good and bad points of its conformation and many horses (including Olympic caliber horses) excel even with conformation faults.

See also: Equine anatomy

Conformation of the head and neck

The standard of the ideal head varies dramatically from breed to breed based on a mixture of the role the horse is bred for and what breeders, owners and enthusiasts find appealing. Breed standards frequently cite large eyes, a broad forehead and a dry head-to-neck connection as important to correctness about the head. Traditionally, the length of head as measured from poll to upper lip should be two-thirds the length of the neck topline (measured from poll to withers). Presumably, the construction of the horse's head influences its breathing, though there are few studies to support this. Historically, a width of 4 fingers or 7.2 cm was associated with an unrestricted airflow and greater endurance. However, a study in 2000 which compared the intermandibular width-to-size ratio of Thoroughbreds with their racing success showed this to be untrue.[1] The relationship between head conformation and performance are not well-understood, and an appealing head may be more a matter of marketability than performance. Among mammals, morphology of the head often plays a role in temperature regulation. Many ungulates have a specialized network of blood vessels called the carotid rete, which keeps the brain cool while the body temperature rises during exercise. Horses lack a carotid rete and instead use their sinuses to cool blood around the brain.[2] These factors suggest that the conformation of a horse's head influences its ability to regulate temperature.

A dished face on an Arabian.
Shires often have a Roman nose.


A pig-eyed horse
A horse with a parrot mouth.


Jaw size

Jaw position


Neck length and position

Bull neck: short and thick.

Neck arch and musculature

A nicely arched neck.
Ewe-neck, with muscling on the underside.
Large crest.


Conformation of the shoulder, forearm, and chest

The Shoulder

Upright shoulder

Straight, upright, or vertical shoulder

Sloping shoulder

Laid-back or sloping shoulder

The Humerus (a.k.a. the arm bone)

The arm bone is from the point of shoulder to the elbow, it is covered in heavy muscle and serves as a leverage point for the muscle of the front leg attached near the elbow.


Conformation of the Ideal Humerus (all measurements are while the horse is standing squarely)


"Too Long Humerus"

note "standing under" simply means that the horses legs are too far under his body and his chest sticks out.

"Short Humerus"

note: that is the shoulder is too angled (less than 45 degrees) then the horse's front legs will be stilted and stiff.

The Elbow


Possible Faults

"Turned in/ Tied in Elbow"

"Out-Turned Elbow"

The Forearm (radius)


Long Forearm

Short Forearm

The Chest

The Shape of the horse's chest plays a significant role in his level of endurance and stamina. A horse that will do slow, steady work might not be hampered by chest conformation that limits lung capacity, but any other horse that will do work requiring speed, power, or endurance needs as much room as possible for maximum lung expansion. The horse's ribs form the outer surface of the chest and define the appearance of the horse's midsection, or Barrel, the area between the front legs and hindquarters.


Chest Shape When viewing the chest from the front, the chest should be wider at the bottom than at the top. The shoulder blades should be much closer together at their tops, toward their withers, than at the points of shoulders where the front legs attach.

Well Sprung Ribs

Slab-Sided Ribs

Barrel Chest and Deep Chest

Chest Faults Narrow Chest

Too-Wide Chest

[All information is derived from "The horse Conformation Handbook" written by Heather Smith Thomas]

Narrow breast

Pigeon-breasted horse, with the sternum protruding


Conformation of the body


Mutton withers.

Mutton withers

Hollow behind withers

High withers on a Thoroughbred.

High withers


See also: Back (horse)
A slightly long back.

Long back

Short back

Short back

This horse has a significant sway in the back.

Saddle-, hollow-, low-, sway-backed/ down in the back

Loin and coupling

Roached back

The mare in the picture has both a "widows peak" and long loins.

Long or weak loins/weak coupling

Short –coupling

Rough coupling/widow’s peak

Croup and "hip"

The croup is from the lumbosacral joint to the tail. The "hip" refers to the line running from the ilium (point of the hip) to the ischium (point of the buttock)of the pelvis. After the point that is made by the sacrum and lumbar vertebrae, the line following is referred to as the croup. While the two are linked in terms of length and musculature, the angle of the hip and croup do not necessarily correlate. But it is desirable for a horse to have a square to slightly pear shaped rump. A horse can have a relatively flat croup and a well-angled hip. Racehorses do well with hip angles of 20-30 degrees, trotting horses with 35 degrees. Once a horse is developed, the croup should be approximately the same height as the withers. In some breeds a high croup is hereditary trait.

Steep croup but fairly long "hip".

Steep Croup or Goose rump

Flat croup.

Flat or Horizontal Croup

Short croup

Short "hip"

Flat "hip"

Jumper’s Bump (also known as Hunter's or Racking Bump)

A "jumper's bump"
A Clydesdale with a very low set tail.


High Tail Set

Low Tail Set

Wry Tail/ Tail Carried to One Side

Ribcage and flanks

Wide Chest and Barrel/Rib Cage

Pear-Shaped Ribcage/Widens Toward Flank

Well-Sprung Ribs


Tucked Up/Herring-Gutted/Wasp-Waisted

Good Depth of Back

Conformation of the hindquarters and hips

The Hindquarters

Short Hindquarters



A cat-hammed horse.

Cat-Hammed/Frog’s Thighs


The Hips

Narrow Hips

Rafter Hips/Wide Hips

One Hip Bone Lower/Knocked-Down Hip

High Stifles/ Short Hip

Low Stifle/ Long Hip

Conformation of the front and hind legs

The Cannon and Tendons

Long cannon bones.

Long Cannon Bone

Short cannon bones.

Short Cannon Bone

Rotated Cannon Bone

Bench or Offset Knees/ Offset Cannons

Tied-in Below the Knee

The Front Legs- The Knee

Medial Carpal Deviation/ Carpus Valgus/ Knock-Kneed

Even in his statue, Seabiscuit was visibly over at the knees

Bucked, Sprung, or Goat Knees/ Over at the Knee

Calf-Kneed/Back at the Knee

The Front Legs- The Fetlock

Toed-Out/Lateral Deviation of Pastern from Fetlock/ Fetlock Valgus

Toed-In/Medial Deviation of Pastern/Fetlock Varus

The Hindlegs

Short Gaskin/Hocks High

Long Gaskin/Low Hocks

Hocks Too Small

Cut Out Under the Hock

Slightly camped out behind.

Camped Out Behind

Sickle- or Sabre-Hocked/ Overangulated Long Hind Legs

Post-Legged/Straight Behind

Bow-Legged/Wobbly Hocks

Cow Hocks/Medial Deviation of the Hocks/Tarsus Valgus

Conformation of the pasterns

The angle of the pasterns is best at a moderate slope (about 50 degrees) and moderate length.

Long, sloping pasterns on a Thoroughbred.

Pasterns Long and Sloping

Short, upright pasterns.

Pasterns Short and Upright

Conformation of the feet and base

Toeing out causing the horse to wing-in with his front legs.

Toe-Out/Splay Footed

Toe-In, Pigeon-Toed

Base narrow in front.

Base Narrow in Front: Toed-Out or Toed-In

Base Wide in Front: Toed-In or Toed-Out

Stands Close Behind/Base Narrow Behind

The Hoof

Feet Too Small

Feet Large and Flat/ Mushroom-Footed

Mule Feet


Club Foot

Contracted Heels

Thin Walls

Flared Hoof Wall

Overall balance and bone

Insufficient Bone

Light-framed Thoroughbred

Light-Framed/Fine Boned


Withers higher than croup.

Withers Higher than Croup

A "croup-high" horse.

Withers Lower than Croup/Rump High/Downhill Balance

Too Tall or Too Short (in context to rider)

This horse is too tall for this specific rider.

See also


  1. Paul S. Mostert, Ph.D. (2001-03-03). "Debunking the jaw-width myth". Thoroughbred Times. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  2. McConaghy, F.F.; J.R. Hales; R.J. Rose; D.R. Hodgson (1995). "Selective brain cooling in the horse during exercise and environmental heat stress". Journal of Applied Physiology. 79 (6): 1849–1854. PMID 8847243.
  3. Rooney, James (1998). The Lame Horse: 093.
  4. TheHorse.com: AAEP 2003, "Conformation and Racing Problems", http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=4986 retrieved 6 August 2009

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "article name needed". Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al. 

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