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University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

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Horses are judged according to their conformation and performance. This usually occurs during horse show, but also extends into our daily selection criteria. By understanding how to adequately identify positive conformation traits, a horseman or horsewoman can more accurately select horses for purchase, performance and breeding stock.

Some people are professional horse judges. These individuals have expertise in evaluating and ranking horses according to specific criteria determined by a breed association or other governing organization. Horse show judges generally spend years studying and perfecting equine evaluation. Many horse show judges gain experience by judging horses as youth or college students at horse judging contests.

A horse judging contest provides an opportunity for individuals and teams to develop and practice their horse judging skills in a competitive setting. Contestants judge a series of classes (as many as 12 classes per contest) consisting of four horses each. Contestants then rank or place each class and take notes so they can later give oral reasons (an explanation of why they ranked a class a particular way.) Each contestant may be asked to give as many as four sets of oral reasons, each to an individual person, one on one. A contestant's rank or placing of classes is then compared to an official placing determined by a panel of judges. Each class is worth 50 points. Oral reasons are also scored with a possible 50 points being assigned by the official judge.


Conformation and performance are two categories of horse judging. Judging a horse's conformation deals with analyzing individuals of a horse as well as the horse as a whole. Judging conformation is similar to judging a beauty contest. Other classes concentrate on how the horse performs under a saddle. These classes are
referred to as performance classes. The following exercises will concentrate on judging a horse's conformation.

Judging conformation is easy once you understand the basics of Balance, Muscling, Structural Correctness, Quality and Travel. Taking all these factors into consideration when evaluating horses will assist you in making the most informed decision in the conformational selection process.