Evaluation of Conformation in the Horse


What is Judging?


To form an opinion or estimation of after careful consideration.


HOWEVER, to form a valid opinion, you must: 1. Be familiar with the horse. 2. Know the criteria used to judge horses. 3. Be able to recognize conformational faults.

Developing Life Skills

Learn more about the horse.

Learn how to evaluate and select a horse for a suitable purpose.

Learn to make choices and form opinions.

Learn to have confidence in your horsemanship skills.

Learn to defend your idea, and to take other’s ideas into consideration.

The Basics Before Judging

The Basics of Horse Anatomy

Know the parts of the horse:

Skeletal Anatomy

External Anatomy

Basic Horse Colors & Markings

Chestnut/Sorrel with Star

Grey, 2 stockings and 1 sock

Chestnut/Sorrel with Blaze + Stockings, Socks

Dark Bay with Star, Snip

Palomino with Strip

Form to Function

The 5 Key Characteristics to Judging Conformation in Horses

    1. Balance

    Balance refers to how well the horse is put together. Areas to consider include:

    * Proportionality

    You should be able to draw 3 equally-spaced circles on a balanced horse.

    Red: From the point of shoulder to the heart girth.

    Green: From the heart girth to the rear flank.

    Yellow: From the rear flank to the point of buttocks.

    * Top-line

    The top-line is evaluated from the poll to the tail head.

    Should be strong and develop out of a balanced neck, shoulder, back, and croup.

    * Back

    The back extends from the withers to the loin, and should be short relative to the underline.

    Top: A short and strong back allows for carrying more weight.

    Bottom: A long underline allows the rear legs to reach far underneath for a long stride.

    * Croup and Hip

    The croup and hip are important parts of the hindquarters, which are the engine of a horse’s stride.

    The hip should be long and sloping.

    The croup should blend smoothly over the hindquarters.

    * Heart Girth

    Adequate capacity through the heart girth is needed for the intake of air during exercise.

    The length from the withers to bottom of the barrel should be about equal to the length from bottom of the barrel to the ground.

    * Shoulder

    The shoulders should have a 45-50 degree slope. This allow for:

    A longer range of front leg motion.

    A more comfortable ride.

    Reduced risk for lameness (more “shock absorbing” capacity).

    * Neck

    A nicely balanced horse will have a long, clean neck. The neck should:

    Be proportional to body size.

    Tie cleanly into the shoulders and withers.

    Tie high into the chest.

    2. Structure/Travel
    * Structural Correctness

    1. Correct: Side view – Straight Column of Bone

    Front and Hind view – Straight Column of Bone

    2. Deviations: Front View

    Hind View

    * Travel

    1. Correct: Length, Straightness & Softness of Stride

    Tracking Straight at a Walk and Trot

    2. Deviations: Common Deviations in Travel

    3. Muscle

    Muscling is judged by both quality and quantity:
    1. Quality refers how symmetrical the muscles are over the entire body.
    2. Quantity refers to the size of the muscles.

    Generally, more muscling is preferred over less muscling in all breeds

    Muscling should be evaluated from the:
    1. Side view – shoulder, forearm, loin, hip
    2. Front view – chest
    3. Hind view – stifle, gaskin

    * Shoulder (Side View)

    The shoulder is important for forward and lateral movement (such as jumping). It should be: Large and prominent or Blend smoothly into the barrel.

    * Forearm (Side View)

    The forearm is important for forward movement and support of the front of the horse. Smooth, well-defined muscling is desired.

    * Loin (Side View)

    A well-muscled loin is important for coordination of the horse’s front quarter and hindquarter during movement, as well as vertical extension. A strong loin will also help to support the back.

    * Hip (Side View)

    A well-muscled hip, especially over the croup, will give the horse impulsion, or drive, of the hindquarters.

    * Chest (Front View)

    A heavily muscled chest and forearm is needed for good extension and more lateral movement power during motion for the horse. A V-appearance of the chest will be present on a well-muscled horse. Forearm muscling should be bulging from the chest to the knee.

    * Stifle and Gaskin (Hind View)

    The stifle muscle provides most of the power from the hindquarters, and the gaskin muscles are important to power the flexion and extension of the hind legs. The horse should be as thick (or thicker) through the stifle as they are in the hip. Both the inner and outer gaskin should be bulging, tying deep into the hocks.

    4. Quality

    Quality is a combination of a horse’s:

    * Head

    * Throatlatch

    * Skin and Coat

    * Bone Structure

    5. Sex and Breed Characteristics

    Femininity versus Masculinity

    Breed Characteristics and Breed Standards

Practice Judging Class / Quarter Horse Mares

Quarter Horse Mares – Side Views

Quarter Horse Mares – Rear Views

Quarter Horse Mares – Front Views

Quarter Horse Mares – Side, Rear, and Front Views

Quarter Horse Mares – Top Pair Reasons of 1 over 3 –

In the top pair today, we placed 1 over 3 because we felt 1 had the best combination of femininity, balance, and muscling of the two mares. We felt that 3 was certainly a mare that was a little more structurally correct in her pastern, standing on a little more slope in the pastern, and more level over the croup and along the hip.

Quarter Horse Mares – Middle Pair Reasons of 3 over 2 –

In the middle pair, we put the solid sorrel 3 over 2 because we felt like 3 had more overall quality and refinement throughout.

Quarter Horse Mares – Bottom Pair Reasons of 2 over 4 –

Moving to the bottom pair, we found 2 placing over 4 because 2 stood taller at the withers, was more structurally correct throughout, and was a mare that stood with a longer, more sloping shoulder and more total length of hip.

We left 4 at the bottom of the class today, realizing that she has some very nice qualities. However, she is the smallest mare in the class, and she toes out a little bit in front when viewed from the rear. We would like to see this mare a little more level in the top line when viewed from the side.