Friday, March 14, 2014

Conformation Clinic: Part 1

First off, sorry this took so long! Thank you so much for sending photos for me to use in my project. I think it turned out really well and I had a lot of fun analyzing these horses.

Secondly, I wanted to do a little review of the program I used. I had the On Track Equine program as a trial. They are upgrading the system so it was a one-shot sort of deal and I had to download it for class. My first impressions of the program was that it was awesome. All sorts of tools to edit photos and videos, measure stride length, angles, distances, make straight lines, curvy lines, etc. I barely got to brush the amount of tools that this program has.

Despite all of that, I thought that the program had a lot of flaws and design issues that need to be remedied, which I'm assuming is what they're doing by re-releasing the software. For instance, saving the edited photos was very difficult and out of the 15 different photos I did, only 9 of them got saved. I have no idea where the other 6 went :( I'm going to see if I can borrow my teacher's copy of the program that she purchased and we'll see if I can do those other 6 again and get them posted.

In the meantime, I'm going to break these conformation clinics into groups of 3, comparing horses and "placing" them as if they were in a competition. Grouping is done randomly, just by the order that the horse's photos were saved to my computer. If I got multiple pictures, I tried to pick the one that I thought showed the horse to their best. Keep in mind that conformation is a fairly subjective field and I am judging for dressage here. Here we go!

Horse 1: Penny

Stats: 7 year old, 16.2hh Thoroughbred mare

Horse 2: Simon

Stats: 8 year old Thoroughbred gelding

Horse 3: Paddington

Stats: 15.1hh Haflinger gelding

Placing: 2, 3, 1

First Place: Simon

I chose Simon because overall, he is the most balanced horse of the group. While at first glance, I would say he is quite front heavy, in using the program I was able to determine that all of his "parts" were actually quite equal in length: neck, shoulder, barrel and hindquarters were all approximately equal.

His neck ties well into his forehand with the junction being above the point of his shoulder. He has a nice long and laid back shoulder, which means a longer stride.

His neck is well-muscled with a good length and nice clean throatlatch so he shouldn't have any issues flexing at the poll or bending.

He is a touch more downhill than ideal (his topline is nice and level, but when you look at the angle formed from his stifle to his elbow, he is one of the more downhill horses in this group).

Additionally, he is slightly sickle-hocked (his cannon bone doesn't line up to a straight line dropped from the point of the buttocks) meaning there will be additional stress on his hocks.

Another flaw is that he is slightly tied in behind at the knee, which is common in ex-racehorses though I'm not sure he ever actually raced?

His stifle is fairly low-placed, being below his sheath, allowing his hind leg to move freely without interfering with his body. His lumbo-sacral (LS) joint is ideally placed directly above the point of the hip which is considered very important for dressage horses, while both of the other horses have an LS joint slightly in front of the point of the hip.

Second Place: Paddington

Paddy placed second under Simon because he isn't quite as balanced as Simon and has several issues in conformation which will make dressage a little bit harder for him.

First off, he is fairly straight through the shoulder, which will limit stride length. He does have a nice long and upright humerus which can help, additionally making it easier for him to fold over jumps, but will not aid in dressage.

He has a long back which does not match the rest of his body parts and can make lifting and rounding the back more difficult than with a shorter back.

In looking at the hind end, he has a fairly sloped croup, which I personally tend to like in horses because it really allows them to use their hind end well and get beneath themselves, however, in dressage we tend to like a flatter croup which will mean a longer stride behind so they track up nicely. His stifle is pretty highly placed as well. I'd rather see it sit below the sheath, where it will allow a greater range of movement. Even with the higher stifle, he is not too downhill built.

His hind legs are slightly camped out, which could just be how he was stood for this photo, making his leg straighter. This is considered ok for a dressage horse, while in a jumper you want more angulation. His neck has a nice shape to it and ties in well to his shoulder and is a good length. He is slightly thick through the throatlatch, which could limit flexibility through the throatlatch and poll, however what is more important is the "space" behind the jaw that you can measure by feeling with the fingers. Ideally there should be at least 2 fingers of width behind the jaw. It's hard to evaluate through a picture, but it looks like he does have that "space" so he shouldn't have much trouble flexing.

He has a nice flat topline that could use a little bit more muscling. And he has nice large nostrils which aid in air intake and good slope to his pasterns (the "ideal" is 45 degrees and he is at about 53) which will mean a smooth ride and less predisposition for tendon/ligament injuries.

Third Place: Penny

Penny overall was the least balanced of this group and overall I would say is more ideally suited for jumping than dressage.

She has a short neck (could be partially due to the fact that she's slightly looking towards the camera) and longer back, we'd ideally like to see all four parts of the horse equal. The short neck could limit flexibility, but is actually better for dressage than for jumping. It is quite developed on the underside of the neck, which is because, as a jumper with a short neck (ideally a jumper would have a longer neck to use as a lever to propel over the jumps), those muscles are needed to help propel the horse over the jumps. The long back makes lifting and rounding the back harder (not impossible, just more work) and she has a weak loin that will require conditioning to keep it from developing a hunter's bump or sagging through the back as she ages.

Of this group of horses she is the most uphill, making her lighter on the forehand. She has a nice low stifle, which again is ideal especially for jumpers as it will allow her to easily clear wide jumps and get her hind end out of the way over larger jumps. Her hind leg is well positioned for soundness and her pasterns have a correct angulation for good movement and soundness.

Her shoulder is not quite as straight as Paddy's but could be more sloped, then again she has a very long and upright humerus which counteracts the slightly straight shoulder so she will still have a nice long stride. She also has large nostrils and a deep heart girth which should contribute to a large volume of air intake making her more athletic.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for part 2!

I hope I wasn't too hard on any of the horses, I tried to cover their strengths and their weaknesses. If you need clarification of anything, let me know. If you'd like to use photos of your horse on your blog, feel free, just link back to my blog please :)
Conformation resources:

I really like these articles by Judi Wardrope


  1. Looking forward for the rest of the series hoping my horses were used, would even be happy to have them pitted against each other!

  2. What an interesting read! Its funny how different people look at a horse with different conformational preferences in mind, it is quite an opinionated subject. Good job! x

  3. These are awesome... and I know two out of the three horses!

  4. I never knew there was a program that could calculate angles and such -- so cool!! This is very interesting, and I can't wait to read the rest!

  5. Cool post! The second set of pictures look like maybe blogger changed the horizontal vs vertical relationships when it resized them?

    1. Yeah, and I can't figure out how to fix it, I tried to change the width/length pixel ratio but that was as close to "normal" as I could get :/

  6. This is great! Thanks for using Penny :) She is definitely a jumper, I appreciate the feedback. Her neck is not quite as short as it looks there, I never noticed but you are right, the angle her head is at makes it look shorter. What an interesting program!

    1. Yeah, I figured that might be why it looks short. It's funny how camera angles and the horse's stance can make all the difference in making a horse look awkward vs. amazing! She's a pretty girl though :)

  7. Very informative! He is definitely behind at the knee in person and I suppose sickle hocked as well... I just didn't understand what that term meant until you explained it here. Very educational thanks for critiquing my horse!