Conformation - noun
Definition: The shape or proportionate dimensions especially of an animal.
When you start to really get into horses, you begin to realize that conformation (not conf-i-rmation, which is completely a different topic) is a subject that is most important to horses and their people.
Let's face it - the horse's entire future is dictated by how its body is put together. Good breeders over the centuries have considered conformation as one of the critical factors in stallion and mare approval. Horse shows everywhere have conformation and movement classes designed to validate and reward young horses that are built to excel in their discipline and stay sound. Take an equine course and you will likely have to learn all about not only the horse parts and names, but also the common conformation faults.
Speaking of which, when it comes down to it, most horses are not built to the ideal standards. One might have a club foot, another might have a long back. One might be sickle-hocked while another is camped out. There are so many possible variations of not-so-perfect that you might initially be a little overwhelmed by it all.
The trick is to know the horse's strengths and weaknesses, and what needs to be done to compensate for or support that area of need. Aye, there's the rub.
And so we set off on a lifetime of learning - from the science of it (identification and understanding), to the practice of it (riding). We figure out how to solve the specific problems - and believe me, every horse is different - through riding, shoeing, veterinary and medical care, and whatever else is needed to help the horse be happy, safe and exercised over the long term.
Some people say that conformation is not as important as other traits such as temperament, rideability and level of education. I think the key is to first of all, analyze the horse's conformation as it relates to the kind of riding you want to do, and then, take into account everything else.
It is quite possible to pick a horse based on his training level, for example, knowing full well that you will always have to engage his hind end to compensate for his long back. Or maybe you will do best with a short-coupled horse that can turn on a dime despite the fact that he might be a little higher energy than you were looking for.
In any case, knowing about conformation is almost as important as knowing how to ride. One informs the other, and the more we know about both, the more we can do well by our equine friends.
How does conformation affect your horse and riding? Tell us in the comments below.
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