Figure 1. Anatomy of a horse.
Bridge of nose
Rump or croup
Point of shoulder
Withers Back Loin
Point of hip
Conform ation analysis is the system atic com parison
of one horse to another, and all horses to an ideal
type for the breed or athletic pu rpose. One confor -
m ation analysis system is known as BSMQTT:
balance, stru ctu re, m u scling, qu ality, type, and
travel. Start you r conform ation analysis by becom -
ing fam iliar with the parts of the horse (Figu re 1).
The ideal light horse will be balanced, as determ ined
by dividing it into three sections. Draw im aginary
lin es separatin g the shou lder area, body, and
hindqu arters. A horse can be divided equ ally only if
it h as a lon g, sloping shou lder; short back with a
corresponding long u nderline; and a long hip
(Figu re 1). The head and neck shou ld not look
excessively large or sm all when com pared with the
rest of th e body. Th e legs sh ou ld be abou t th e sam e
len gth as th e h eart girth.
HEAD & NECK
The head and neck are im portant in determ ining the
athletic ability of the horse. A su pple horse u ses its
head and neck as a ru dder and stabilizer. Free head
and neck m ovem ent has a profou nd influ ence on
th e horse’s way of going. For a horse to be well
balanced, the neck shou ld be long and lean with the
head size in proportion to the rest of the body.
Th e h ead sh ou ld follow th e type of th e breed, an d
be fin ely ch iseled with good defin ition of th e bon y
The head should be triangular when viewed from the
side; shou ld have large powerful jaws, and taper to the
mu zzle. The profile should be a straight or slightly
dished face as opposed to an arched or Roman nose.
As viewed from the front, the forehead should be wide
between the eyes, tapering to the muzzle.
The head shou ld attach to the neck in a m anner
th at provides am ple m ovem ent and flexion withou t
im pairin g of th e air passages. The throatlatch
shou ld be clean, trim , well defined and capable of
Horse Conformation Analysis
former Extension Equine Specialist
Washington State University
great flexion. A short, thick neck is often correlated
with a thick, u nyielding throatlatch, incapable of
flexion. In som e breeds, a slight arch or crest on top
of the neck is desirable, bu t an excessive crest, th ick
u pper neck, or broken crest (lop neck) are u ndesir -
able becau se they can interfere with flexibility. A
stallion shou ld carry m ore crest than a m are. A
thick “stu ddy” neck on a m are is u su ally associated
with a lack of fem inine appearance. The u n derlin e of
the neck shou ld be straight and attach high on th e
shou lder giving the appearance of a vertical chest.
A con cave n eck, accom pan ied by a depression in
fron t of th e with ers, is often accom pan ied by a
th icken ed, rou n ded u n derlin e an d th is is term ed
ewe n eck. Su ch n ecks u su ally resu lt in h igh -
h eaded h orses th at h ave m in im al flexion at th e poll
an d are lim ited ath letically.
Len gth of stride, sm ooth n ess of gait, sou n dn ess of
legs, an d power of propu lsion depen d on th e
stru ctu re of th e forequ arters. Th e fron t legs carry
m ost of a h orse’s weigh t (60–65%). As a resu lt,
m ost u n sou n dn esses from con cu ssion an d trau m a
occu r in th e fron t legs (Figu re 2).
Figure 2. Skeletal front leg.
Point of shoulder
Radius and ulna
First and second phalanx
Coffin or pedal bone
Th e two m ost critical aspects of forelim b con form a-
tion are (1) th e slopes an d an gles of th e bon es
wh ich absorb con cu ssion , an d (2) th e straigh tn ess
an d tru en ess of lim bs, so th at n o on e segm en t
receives u n u su al wear.
Forequ arters con cu ssion is absorbed by:
• th e u n iqu e m u scu lar attach m en t of th e forelim b
to th e body;
• th e slopin g sh ou lder blade (scapu la) an d, con se-
qu en tly, th e an gle form ed between th e sh ou lder
blade an d h u m eru s (arm );
• th e an gle between th e h u m eru s an d forearm ;
• th e sm all bon es an d ten don s su rrou n din g th e
• th e slopin g sprin gy pastern ;
• th e expan sion an d absorption m ech an ism of th e
The shou lder shou ld be long, sloping, and mu scu lar.
It shou ld extend well into the back. The longer the
shou lder the greater the area for attachment of the
mu scles that tie the forelimb to the vertebral colu mn.
The shou lder shou ld slope well into the back. This
decreases the angle between the scapu la and
hu m eru s and redu ces concu ssion. A sloping shou l-
der also provides for free forward m otion of the lim b
by allowing m axim u m length of stride. A short
straight shou lder redu ces stride and increases
im pact with th e grou nd. A straight shou lder is often
associated with a short, straight pastern that fu rther
shortens the stride and increases concu ssion.
Th e h u m eru s or arm exten ds from poin t of sh ou l-
der to th e elbow join t an d sh ou ld be m oderately
lon g. Hu m eru s len gth is in tegral to th e len gth of
th e stride. An excessively sh ort arm , with its
accom pan yin g sh ort m u scles, will n ot advan ce th e
forearm en ou gh an d th e stride will be sh orten ed.
On th e oth er h an d, a lon g arm cau ses excessive
wear to th e sh ou lder m u scles.
Th e len gth of arm sh ou ld be in proportion to th e
len gth of th e sh ou lder an d forearm . Th e len gth of
th e arm determ in es wh eth er legs are set forward or
back u n der th e body. Th e legs sh ou ld be set well
A lon g sh ou lder, sh ort arm , plu s lon g forearm an d
sh ort can n on allows m axim u m stride exten sion .
Forelegs shou ld be straight and perpendicu lar when
viewed from all directions. The forearm is form ed by
th e fu sion of two bones, the radiu s and the u lna,
and extends from the elbow to the knee (Figu re 2).
It shou ld be long and well m u scled. Forearm length
is im portant in determ ining stride length.
Th e can n on sh ou ld be sh ort an d flat wh en viewed
from th e side. It sh ou ld h ave tigh t, well defin ed
ten don s set well back to give th e appearan ce of
abu n dan t su pport below th e kn ees. Wh en viewed
from th e fron t, th e can n on sh ou ld be cen tered in a
straigh t, wide, clean kn ee. Rou n d appearin g
can n on s an d ten don s tied in beh in d th e kn ee are
u n desirable becau se th ey in dicate sm all ten don s
an d lack of su pport.
Knee or Ca rp us
There are eight carpal bones arranged in two rows.
Their fu nction is to bear weight and su pport the body.
Kn ee sh ou ld be straigh t from both fron t an d side
views—wide, deep, an d squ arely placed on th e leg
(Figu res 3a & 4a).
Devia tions of Knee Conform a tion (Figures 3 & 4 )
Bu ck-kn eed (3 b) ...................... over at kn ee
Calf-kn eed (3 c) ........................ back at kn ee
Knock-kneed (4 f) ..................... kn ee ben ds in
Bow-kneed (bandy legged) (4c) ... knees bend out
Ben ch -kn eed (4 e)..................... offset kn ee, can n on
bon e n ot cen tered
Th e fetlock sh ou ld be set well back on pastern s of
m ediu m len gth th at are stron g an d slopin g. Fetlock
an d pastern togeth er provide sprin gin ess to th e
gait an d also disperse con cu ssion . Rou gh en ed h air,
Figure 3. The front legs, side view.
a. Ideal b. Buck-kneed c. Calf-kneed
n icks, an d scars on fetlock are eviden ce th at a
h orse h its itself wh en in m otion . Th e join t sh ou ld
be stron g, clean an d free from stiffn ess.
Pa s t ern
Both slope and length of pastern help determine
smoothness, spring, and stride length. A pastern
which is too long and sloping (coon footed) cau ses
weakness becau se it pu ts u ndu e strain on the
tendons, sesamoid bones, and su spensory ligament.
On the other hand, a short u pright pastern increases
concu ssion and trau ma to foot and fetlock (Figu re 5).
Devia t ions of Pa s t er n a nd Foot Conform a t ion
(Figures 4 & 6 )
Base-wide (6 ) ................ stan ds wide at th e grou n d
Base-n arrow (6 ) ............ stan ds close at th e grou n d
Toe in (4 g & 6 ).............. toes pointed inward (pigeon-
toed); cau ses hooves to
“paddle” to ou tside of
midline when tracking
Toe ou t (4 b, d & 6 )........ toes poin ted ou tward
(splay-footed); cau ses
hooves to “wing in” to inside
of m idlin e; m ay resu lt in
h orse h ittin g itself
Th e h oof sh ou ld be in proportion to size of th e
h orse; deep, wide an d open at th e h eel; an d free
from cracks an d rin gs (Figu re 7). Th e h oof an gle
sh ou ld be th e sam e as for th e pastern . Th e h oof
an d pastern an gle sh ou ld n ot be broken (Figu re 5).
Review Front Leg
Th e forearm ties righ t in to cen ter of kn ee. Th e kn ee
sh ou ld be flat an d facin g straigh t ah ead. Th e sh ort
Figure 4. The front legs, front view.
can n on bon e com es from cen ter of kn ee an d
exten ds to cen ter of fetlock. Th e pastern sh ou ld
com e from cen ter of fetlock an d drive in to cen ter of
h oof. An y deviation m ay lead to lam en ess prob-
lem s. A lin e dropped from sh ou lder sh ou ld bisect
foreleg (forearm ), kn ee, can n on bon e, fetlock, an d
drop 2 in ch es beh in d h eel (Figu re 3a).
a. Broken foot in which the foot
axis (a) is less upright than the
pastern axis (b)
b. Broken foot in which the foot
axis (a) is more upright than the
pastern axis (b) (“coon foot”)
Figure 5. Examples of abnormal conformation of pastern
c. Club foot d. Sloping foot
Th e body is com posed of th e with ers, th orax, an d
back. Its con form ation affects balan ce, capacity
an d ath letic poten tial.
Th e with ers is th e h igh poin t of th e h orse’s back
an d is located at th e base of th e n eck between th e
sh ou lder blades (Figu re 1).
Withers shou ld be prom inent and capable of holding
a saddle. It sh ou ld be m u scu lar an d well defin ed at
th e top an d exten d well in to th e back. Th e with ers
serves as a fu lcru m over wh ich a ligam en t attach ed
to th e vertebrae in th e back an d n eck acts to h elp
raise an d lower th e h ead an d n eck.
Horses with low, rou n d, th ick with ers often h ave
rollin g gaits an d h eavy fron t en ds. A flat, m u tton
with ers will n ot h old th e saddle in place. Wh en th e
withers is prominent, the ligaments and mu scles
that attach the neck to the thorax move freely and
the horse exhibits greater flexibility, coordination,
and energy in its movement. High, sloping withers
with long sloping shou lders increases the length of
mu scles in the front end and resu lts in freer action.
It sh ou ld be em ph asized th at a prom in en t with ers
sh ou ld be accom pan ied by m u sclin g becau se a
th in , over -prom in en t with ers is often ru bbed by th e
saddle an d resu lts in stiffn ess an d soren ess.
Wh en viewed from th e fron t, th e ch est sh ou ld be
wide an d deep. A n arrow ch est in dicates lack of
m u sclin g an d area for th e h eart an d lu n gs. How-
ever, an excessively wide ch est forces th e legs ou t,
so th e gait m ay be rollin g an d labored.
From th e side, th e th orax sh ou ld be deep. Th is
region con tain s lu n gs an d h eart an d m u st sh ow
capacity. Th e rib cage provides a base for attach in g
forelim b m u scles as well as protectin g th e vital
organ s. Wh en th e ribs are arch ed an d project
backward, it is possible for th e h orse to h ave a
lon g, deep ch est an d u n derlin e an d still h ave a
sh ort straigh t, stron g back (Figu re 1).
Sh ort, flat, straigh t ribs decrease th e lu n g area of
th e h orse an d redu ce ath letic poten tial. Th ese
h orses are term ed slab-sided.
Th e back exten ds from with ers to loin or last rib
(Figu re 1). It sh ou ld be sh ort, straigh t, stron g an d
m u scu lar. Avoid a saggin g or swaybacked h orse.
Man y lon g-backed h orses becom e swayback with
age if n ot properly con dition ed.
Figure 6. Path of feet as seen from above.
Normal feet move
forward in a
Base-wide feet move
forward in inward
Splayed feet move
forward in larger inward
Base-narrow feet move
forward in outward
“Pigeon-toed” feet move
forward in wider outward
The conform ation of the hindqu arters (Figu re 8) will
have a dram atic effect on athletic ability becau se of
th eir im portance in propelling the horse forward.
Th e slope of th e crou p h as a stron g correlation
with th e h orse’s fu n ction . Lon g distan ce or en du r -
an ce h orses h ave a level crou p. Sh ort distan ce,
speed h orses h ave a sligh tly slopin g crou p. A very
sh ort, steep crou p is associated with straigh t h in d
legs (post-legged; Figu re 9g) an d predisposes th e
h orse to con cu ssion in ju ry in th e h ock.
Th e fem u r sh ou ld be sh ort with th e stifle poin ted
sligh tly ou tward so th ere will be a fu ll ran ge of
m ovem en t for th e h in d legs.
If the femur is carried too far to the rear, the legs are
carried too far backward. This is called “camped out”
(Figure 9f). If it is carried too far forward, the legs are
brought under the body. This is called “camped under”
or “sickle-hocked” (Figure 9e). When a horse is
camped-under the angle of the hocks place undue
strain on the hind legs (particularly the planter liga-
ments), and can lead to unsoundness called “curb.”
Th e ideal h orse h as a lon g tibia (gaskin ) an d sh ort
can n on with low-set h ocks. Th is allows th e h orse
to work off of its h ocks an d provides th e m axim u m
stride exten sion .
If the hock is raised and the tibia shortened, cu sh-
ion is redu ced and perform ance can be lim ited.
Th e h ock sh ou ld be clean , h avin g n o soft tissu e
swellin g or bon y projection s. It sh ou ld be well-
defin ed an d powerfu l.
Th e an gle of th is join t sh ou ld allow th e h in d leg to
exten d an d flex du rin g m otion an d offer th e least
am ou n t of stress to th is colu m n of bon es.
Devia t ions of Hind -Leg Conform a t ion (Figure 9 )
Bandy -legged (9 b)
• Wide at h ocks
• Rotates h ocks in a grin din g m otion
Figure 7. Appearance of a normal foot (a) compared
to one with contracted heels (b).
Bulbs of the heels
Figure 8. Skeletal hind leg.
First and second
Coffin or pedal bone
Cow -hock ed (9 c)
• Close at h ocks
• Toes poin t ou t excessively
• Stress on ou tside of h ocks
Sick le-hock ed (9 e)
• Wears join t ou t from fatigu e
• Redu ced stride
• Places stress on plan tar ligam en ts in rear of
Pos t-legged (9 g)
• Cau ses con cu ssion in h ock, predisposin g h orse
to stifle problem s an d bon e spavin s
• Pou n din g breaks down lu bricatin g flu id in h ock
Pa s t ern
Th e pastern of th e h in d legs m ay be sligh tly lon ger
th an th e fron t pastern an d will slope at a greater
Th e h oof of th e h in d legs is sloped, sligh tly m ore
th an th e forefoot. Th e an gle of th e h oof an d pastern
sh ou ld be equ al.
Review Hind Leg
A plu m lin e dropped from poin t of bu ttocks sh ou ld
tou ch rear border of th e h ock, ru n parallel to
can n on an d strike th e grou n d 3–4 in ch es beh in d
th e h eel (Figu re 9d). From th e rear, th e lin e sh ou ld
bisect h ock, can n on , pastern an d h eel (Figu re 9a).
Mu scle is th e powerh ou se of a h orse. It also adds
su pport to h orse’s skeleton an d stren gth to its
J u dge m u scling by length, thickness, and distribu -
tion. Look for long, sm ooth, well-defined m u sclin g.
Everything abou t the m u scle stru ctu re shou ld
reflect speed, power, en du ran ce, an d ath letic ability.
Mu sclin g in th e n eck sh ou ld be lon g an d lean .
Mu sclin g in th e ch est sh ou ld be prom in en t an d
h ave a well “V”ed-u p appearan ce, particu larly in
stock-type h orses.
Th e arm sh ou ld be h eavily m u scled for stren gth
an d su pport.
Th e forearm sh ou ld sh ow prom in en t m u sclin g th at
ties in low an d flat on th e kn ees.
Th e back carries th e weigh t of rider. It m u st be
m oderate, stron g, straigh t, an d m u scu lar. Back
len gth m u st be m oderate; if too lon g, th e back will
be weak; if too sh ort th ere m ay be overridin g or
in terferen ce of th e vertebrae of th e back.
Th e loin , or cou plin g, con n ects th e th ora x with
th e power fu l propu ls ion m u s cles of th e h in d
lim bs . Th e loin tra n s m its power to th e forequ a r -
ters a n d s o it m u s t be s h ort, wide, s tron g, a n d
h ea vily m u s cled.
A h orse th at is weak in cou plin g an d sh allow in th e
flan k is term ed h ou n d-gu tted, or wasp-waisted,
an d lacks drive. Do n ot be m isled by a h igh ly
con dition ed h orse th at is well tu cked u p.
a. Ideal b. Bandy-legged c. Cow-hocked d. Ideal e. Sickle-hocked f. Camped-out g. Post-legged
Figure 9. The rear legs, rear and side views.
Hind qua rt ers
Th e h in dqu arters are th e en gin e of th e h orse. Th e
m ain role of th e h in dqu arters is to provide th e
force for propu lsion . Look for th e th ree dim en sion s.
1. Len gth of crou p (loin to tail)
2. Width from stifle to stifle
3. Depth from top of th e crou p down th rou gh h ock
Crou p sh ou ld be lon g, u n iform in width , m u scu lar,
an d even ly tu rn ed over th e top. Mu scle len gth is
associated with speed an d en du ran ce; width is
associated with stren gth or power. Measu re len gth
of crou p from th e poin t of th e h ip to th e poin t of
th e bu ttocks (Figu re 1).
Th e ideal h orse h as lon g sm ooth prom in en t m u s-
clin g th rou gh th e th igh , stifle, an d gaskin . Th igh
m u scles are th e m ost m assive an d powerfu l in th e
h orse’s body. Th e stifle sh ou ld be m u scled so it is
th e widest poin t in th e h in dqu arters.
Th e gaskin sh ou ld be lon g an d well-m u scled. Th e
distan ce from th e crou p to th e h ock is associated
with speed an d desirability in form . A lon g gaskin
en su res a m axim u m ran ge of action an d provides
m axim u m area for attach in g th e h in dqu arters drive
m u scles. A sh ort gaskin decreases len gth of stride.
Gaskin m u sclin g sh ou ld be well-defin ed, broad,
wide, deep, an d tie in low an d flat on th e h ock.
Qu ality is th e degree of refin em en t of h air, skin ,
bon es, an d join ts. Th e m an e an d tail sh ou ld be fu ll
an d th e h air sh ou ld n ot be coarse or rou gh . Excess
h air at th e ch in , th roat, ears, an d legs in dicates a
lack of qu ality.
Refin em en t of th e skin resu lts in a th in , pliable
skin u n der wh ich ten don s an d blood vessels can
easily be observed. A th icken ed, pu ffy appearan ce
in th e h ead an d soft rou n d can n on bon es m ay
in dicate coarsen ess in th e h orse.
The “type” refers to a set of characteristics for a breed
or particu lar athletic pu rpose of a horse. Some breed
and athletic characteristics are listed below:
Ara bia n
• Beau tifu l h eads
• Large rou n d eyes
• Broad foreh ead
• Dish ed face
• Fin e m u zzles
• Head set neatly on a well-arched neck (swan
• Flat crou p
• Legs refin ed, s h owin g qu a lity, a ppea rin g fla t
with ten don defin ition
• Pa s ter n m ore s loped, providin g a s prin gy stride
• Moves with an im ation , presen ce, an d th e tail is
carried in th e air—straigh t
• Deep ch est an d sprin g of rib, in dicatin g capacity
• Lon g, sm ooth , powerfu l m u scles th rou gh ou t
• Head relatively sh ort an d straigh t
• Clean in th e th roatlatch an d lon g slen der n eck
• Qu ality an d sou n dn ess of u n derpin n in g is a
m u st for th e h u n ter
• An exception al m over with lon g, grou n d-coverin g
St ock Hors e
• Head reflects alert in telligen ce
• Sh ort h ead, broad between th e eyes an d sm all
• J a ws m a s s ive—s prea d wide a pa rt givin g th e
im pression of great stren gth
• Back sh ort, close cou pled
• Sm ooth , prom in en t m u s clin g in ch es t, fore-
a r m s , back, loin , an d h in dqu arters
• Mu sclin g is distin ctive an d easily recogn ized
• Moves ou t freely with grou n d coverin g strides
Th e h orse sh ou ld travel balan ced with in its fram e
an d m ove with lon g grou n d-coverin g strides. Th e
followin g term s refer to travel ch aracteristics:
Rhy thm—regu larity of foot fall or period of foot fall
Tem po—speed m easu red in m eters per m in u te
Cadence—rh yth m an d im pu lsion in th e gait
Im puls ion—closin g h ip join t en gagin g h ocks u n der
m ass of h orse, allows h orse to cover grou n d ac-
cordin g to th e en ergy of lim b exten sion
Collection—on th e bit, h ocks u n der h orse, h ead
flexed, fu ll con trol over lim bs, jaws relaxed, respon -
sive to rider, collection n ot ten se, im posed position ,
relaxed an d elastic
Free w alk—relaxed pace; lower h ead; relaxed,
stretch ed n eck
Collected w alk —on th e bit, m oves forward, n eck
raised an d arch ed, h ead approach es vertical, ligh t
con tact, sh orter steps
Extended w alk—h in d feet tou ch grou n d clearly in
fron t of fron t feet, stretch es h ead an d n eck
Work ing trot—between collected an d exten ded, n ot
ready for collected m ovem en ts, on bit, even an d
elastic steps, good h ock action
Collected trot—on th e bit, n eck raised an d arch ed,
h ocks well en gaged, m ain tain s en ergetic im pu lsion ,
sh ou lders m ove with ease, sh orten ed steps
Extended trot—covers as m u ch grou n d as possible,
m ain tain s rh yth m , len gth en s steps becau se of
im pu lsion from th e h in dqu arters
Issu ed by Wash in gton State Un iversity Exten sion an d th e U.S. Departm en t of Agricu ltu re in fu rth er -
an ce of th e Acts of May 8 an d J u n e 30, 1914. Exten sion program s an d policies are con sisten t with
federal an d state laws an d regu lation s on n on discrim in ation regardin g race, sex, religion , age, color,
creed, n ation al or eth n ic origin ; ph ysical, m en tal or sen sory disability; m arital statu s; sexu al orien ta-
tion ; an d statu s as a Vietn am -era or disabled veteran . Eviden ce of n on com plian ce m ay be reported
th rou gh you r local Exten sion office. Reprin ted May 2006. Su bject Code 160.
EB1 6 1 3