Conformation First, Then Pedigree and Color

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life, Rodeo

The following is one of those “just my opinion” pieces, so don’t get your tail in a crack over it if it hits a little close to the target. With that said, here goes.

I follow many sites on the internet, both on Facebook and other sources. Most of those sites have something to do with horses and consequently, there are many pictures shared of stallions, mares and geldings that folks are either just very proud of or are trying to promote or sell.

In many of the pictures of stallions or broodmares, the color and pedigree are bragged up to no end. Sadly, in many of them, that’s also all they have to offer. I cringe at the responses to those postings when people are swooning over how beautiful and perfect some horse is when all the horse has to offer is color.

Aren’t they looking at the conformation at all?

Form to function conformation is essential in a horse, though we’ve all known those horses that were poorly built but still a top horse. That’s fine. I’ll bet that horse wasn’t a stud or a broodmare though, right? When choosing a horse to raise horses from, I think it’s desirable to have a horse that is pleasing to the eye and physically sound in conformation.

When looking at any horse, I like to see a broad forehead, large, intelligent eye, clean throat latch, a nicely shaped neck with a longer top line than underline that ties in just ahead of the point of the shoulders on the chest. That horse will have flexibility and a natural way of carrying it’s head in the right position. It can pick up it’s front end and move it while it is flexed at the poll.

Next, I look for a long, sloping shoulder with the withers well shaped and set well back. That shoulder angle is what dictates what stride the horse has and how smooth it moves. If the shoulder and the pastern have the same angle, you’re in business. Behind the shoulder, I want a horse deep through the heart girth. Lung and heart capacity is in that area and I want a horse with staying power.

A short back and strong loin go hand in hand. The back and loin support the rider as well as take the pull of anything that is roped. The strong loin helps the horse pick the front end up and move it. The angle and length of the hip should match the angle and length of the shoulder. The longer the hip the more power in the hind end.

Working down the hind leg, I want a low set hock so that horse can get his feet up under him, both to stop and to turn. His stifle joint should have a good muscle mass over it as the strength of the stifle is critical to performance and an injured stifle can end a career. I want straight legs that set well out on the corners of the body, whether front or back legs. A horse’s front legs should be straight from the shoulder to the ground, looked at from the front. Cannon bones should come out of the center of the knee and the line should run straight down through the hoof. A broad, well shaped foot is the foundation the whole leg needs.

I really don’t care what color a horse is. If we’re not just looking at them or making furniture out of their hides, color is a poor criteria for choosing a horse. A favored color is only a bonus, as far as I’m concerned. Look at the horse first, then the color.

Has he been ridden? No, but he has a very nice disposition, you say. How do you really know? Just because you can lead him around and he hasn’t killed anyone? The only test for disposition is putting one to work as a saddle horse. If that horse rides nice, stays broke, has a good attitude about learning, and wants to please, then I would say it has a good disposition. The same goes whether it’s a stallion or a potential broodmare. If it hasn’t been ridden and proven, all you know about is the color and pedigree.

For me, the bottom line on breeding a stallion or a mare is this: do I want to raise another one just like this one? I see people every year who breed an inferior mare to a so-so stud and then are surprised with the poor offspring.

If I’ve ruffled some feathers, I think my work is done here. If you took offense at some of this, perhaps you got your toes stepped on a little or a lot.

Good horses are important to me and the raising of the same is a big responsibility for breeders. I hope I at least gave you some food for thought.

Kid Meyers as painted by the great Orren Mixer, portrays the quality conformation I like to see in a horse. Mixer also painted the Ideal Quarter Horse that is used by the AQHA to this day.

Kid Meyers as painted by the great Orren Mixer, portrays the quality conformation I like to see in a horse. Mixer also painted the Ideal Quarter Horse that is used by the AQHA to this day.

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training, Ranch Life, Rodeo


About Jan Swan Wood

Born and raised on a ranch near Newell, South Dakota, I have spent my lifetime in the cattle and horse business. I've cowboyed in Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, and South Dakota before settling down in my home country, where my husband and I bought a...

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