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How did you learn conformation?

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  • How did you learn conformation?

    Do some people just not have an eye for it?

    I've been somewhat working on "judging" conformation for years. It's something I've always been bad at and have tried to improve. I've taken classes where it's part of the curriculum, read books, watched videos online, talked to trainers, and I still don't see it.

    Now if a horse has something REALLY wrong with him (extra long back, terrible pasterns, downhill build, I usually pick it out. Some minor issues I might even be able to tell you "that horse just doesn't look right." But when it comes to comparing a set a functional animals... fugetaboutit!

    For example, every time I get my Practical Horseman magazine, I immediately flip to the Conformation Clinic and make my choices. Today I got them completely backwards! (My 1 was her 3, my 3 her 1.)

    Proud member of the "I'm In My 20's and Hope to Be a Good Rider Someday" clique

  • #2
    I got this month's PH Conformation Clinic backwards, too .

    I generally look at the horse one part at a time. Shoulder, front legs, back, etc. Look for good and bad points of each part, then look at the horse as a whole.

    There was this really good guide somewhere for evaluating confo, I wish I could find it! The person had you start with a good picture of your horse, open it in Paint, and use dots and lines to show angles and stuff. Anyone know where this is??
    Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
    Do not buy a Volkswagen. I did and I regret it.
    VW sucks.


    • #3
      I think I have a decent eye but not perfect. I'd say I got it from obsessing about horses for the last 38-40 years. Understanding the underlying structures and what they do/how they move is probably important. I loved studying anatomy in Biology. Just keep at it, you'll get it.


      • #4
        I learned to evaluate horses by hanging out with someone who bought and sold at livestock sales. You've GOT to have a good eye when something 250 lbs underweight walks into the ring and you've got less than a minute to decide if it's something worth spending time and money on.

        I think the best way to learn is to look at AS MANY horses as possible. All different types, all different weights, all different uses. Always start at the GROUND and look up. The various parts of the horse should build on each other. I know that whenever I get distracted and don't start with the feet first, I often miss something fairly glaring.

        And always focus on the *skeleton* of the horse. Until you can see the skeleton in a living, breathing, moving horse that's in front of you, pull up photos and visualize the skeleton there--draw it out in paint if you need to--and compare between horses.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Simkie View Post
          I learned to evaluate horses by hanging out with someone who bought and sold at livestock sales.
          Be sure the pay that excellent experience forward if you can.

          And hats off to the folks who can imagine that racing-fit 3 year-old TB with "riding horse" muscle on it.

          For the legs, nothing is better than doing a dissection. If you get the chance take it. When you work from the outside and structures your recognize all the way to the inside with your own hands, it sticks with you.
          The armchair saddler
          Politically Pro-Cat


          • #6
            I learned exactly the same way Simkie did My mentor was (and still is) a brilliant and intuitive horsewoman who taught me about form and function and how to spot a diamond in the rough.


            • #7
              From the horse books of my youth, plus hanging out with horsemen who never made DVDs or appeared on tv (including as mentioned at livestock auctions), plus 4-H livestock judging teams.

              But, hopefully not to digress too much, I do consider other things when buying a horse. Heck, my now 11 yo gelding has the ugliest front end and ugliest trot on the planet- but I took the chance on the conformation faults, just decided he would never be schooled over fences which would by now have broken him down, because his mind and attitude were top line. Should I choose to part with him, people will fight over who gets to buy him (his 'presence' and personality just blind people to his faults, I guess).

              Actually, as I think about it, what I look at as the biggest factor in a horse, for me, is the eye. Just seems to tell a lot about a horse, I guess. I'd rather have a toed out horse with a good eye than a 'perfectly conformed' horse with a pig eye.


              • #8
                Originally posted by amastrike View Post
                There was this really good guide somewhere for evaluating confo, I wish I could find it! The person had you start with a good picture of your horse, open it in Paint, and use dots and lines to show angles and stuff. Anyone know where this is??
                You might be referring to Dr. Deb Bennett's series, "Conformation Insights" in Equus magazine over the past two years. I was just looking at the one on the hind quarters from 2011 and she has you do exactly that. Amazingly informative, and when you actually do a hands on, geometric analysis it really sinks in. I have her conformation DVDs which are excellent, but I get more from the articles. You can call or email Equus and get all back issues since her series started.


                • #9
                  Keep at it

                  It does take time to really start to be able to see structure. Another point is that ~sometimes~ the movement you might expect given the standing conformation may not be realized once the horse is in motion.

                  Not only have I spent years training my eye on horses, but also dogs. Granted, dog conformation isn't identical to horse confo, but learning some of the differences (shoulder attachment is quite different in canines than equines) helped develop my eye.

                  I like to read and will pick up any book on conformation, gaits (Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement is a good one) etc. for both horses and dogs. Knowing horse confo really helped me appreciate dog confo--when you ride a horse who is extremely straight in the rear or who paddles in the front, you get an appreciation and FEEL for part of the reason why that isn't desirable.

                  The other thing that helped me, especially for learning angulation, was studying skeletal anatomy and drawing lines on photos in a computer graphic program like what is done in the photos from Conformation Clinic and Deb Benentt's articles. Then, you are training your eye to find the point of shoulder, hip, angle of shoulder blade, angle of pastern, etc. Do it yourself, not just look at photos where someone else placed the dots and lines on the horse. Keep in mind though, how the horse is stood up in a photo and the angle from which the photo is taken can make quite a bit of difference when assessing conformation.