conformation of a racehorse essentially means how well
he is put together in order to accomplish the task he was bred to
do - run fast. Conformation is the blending of the various
body parts, and how well they fit together visually and physically
to create a running machine. If you were to look at Michael
Jordan standing next to Rosanne Barr, you could instantly determine
which person had the better conformation to excel at playing basketball. Its
never that obvious with horses, but to a trained eye with many years
of experience, the differences between a potentially great horse
and and average horse can be seen.
conformation makes it an ideal runner, capable of covering more than
twenty feet in a single stride while reaching speeds of up to forty
miles per hour. The rear legs act much like springs as they bend and
straighten during running. This tremendous "spring power" helps
thrust the horse forward as its front legs provide "pull." The
Thoroughbred's head and long neck also help to make running smooth and
rhythmic. The neck moves in synchrony with the forelegs, aiding in forward
motion and extending the "arc of flight," the time the Thoroughbred
literally is airborne.
Every horse has some
physical fault with regard to pedigree and conformation. The art of
picking a horse out at auction or in the padock is determining which
physical characteristics will have an impact on the horses ability to
race. Looking at the pedigree of the horse can provide clues to faults
that may have been passed down from generation to generation, and wether
or not those faults impact the horse on the racetrack.
THE AVERAGE THOROUGHBRED RACEHORSE
The "average" thoroughbred racehorse stands 16
hands tall (64 inches or 4 inches per hand measured to withers - see
below), and weighs about 1,000 lbs. The heart of the thoroughbred
is about as big as a volleyball and usually weighs about 10lbs. The
massive heart of the racehorse can pump up to 75 gallons of blood
per minute during a race. Secretariats heart weighed an astounding
22 pounds! The average horse can run at speeds of 35 to 40 mph. The
stride of the thoroughbred racehorse is approximately 20 feet long
and they can take up to 150 strides per minute!
When evaluating a horse, the first thing to look for is balance. Do the
neck, back and hip appear to be of equal length and be well proportioned? Does
the horse's frame carry his muscle mass well? Too much muscle on a little
frame or too little on a big one can cause some problems.
The eyes should be big and intelligent, not sunken or bulging and not too close
together. The nostrils should be big to allow for serious air intake
to fuel the body. Ears should be alert, pointing, and moving in all directions. Is
the horse alert and aware of what's going on around him, does he appear in
control and confident?
Feet - A horse's hooves must be able to withstand
a great deal of pressure. Consider proportion, substance, and size
of the hoof. The underside of the hoof should have a round, slightly
oval shape with some depth. Some believe that larger feet indicate
an aptitude for turf.
Pasterns - The pastern should be at a 45-degree
angle. Its length should be proportionate - too long a pastern could
indicate weakness and tendon strain, while if too short it may absorb
too much concussion thus stressing the bone structure.
Ankle - As with the pastern, the ankle joint size
should be proportionate to the rest of the leg.
Cannon Bones - Ideally, the cannon bone should be
short, strong and have mass.
Knee - Bones in and leading to the knee should line
up in a balanced manner - not tilting forward ("over at the
knee") or back ("back at the knee").
Shoulder - The shoulder should have the same slope
or angle as the pastern. Stride length is largely determined by the
Neck - A horse's neck should be sufficient in scope
so as to provide adequate wind for the horse, and be well tied in
at the withers, while not being too low or "ewe necked".
In short, does the neck fit the rest of the body?
Head - Nostrils should be of adequate size. The
head should be broad enough to permit adequate air passage. Generally,
the distance from the back of the jaw to where the head ties into
the neck should be about the size of a fist.
Eyes - The eyes should be big and bright. Look for
an "intelligent," keen, alert eye.
Back - The distance from the withers to top of croup
or hips should match the length of the horse's neck from the poll
to the withers.
Hip/Buttocks - The croup or hip should have a gentle
slope - not too steep or flat. The gaskin should depict strength.
Hocks - A horse's hocks should not be straight as
a post, nor curved so deeply as to be sickle hocked, or behind the
body like a German Shepherd Dog. The horse should be standing balanced
Feet - Look for balanced feet on both sides and symmetry.
Avoid misshapen, dished, or cracked feet.
Cannon Bones - From the front, the cannon bones
should appear straight and of the same length.
Knees - It is best if the knees are set squarely
on the top of the cannon bones, not off to one side or another - "offset
Chest - A horse's chest should be broad, and appear
powerful. Narrow chests or slab-sided horses are said to lack power.
Shoulder - Look for balance and symmetry.
Hocks - From the rear, the hocks should appear to point straight at
you, and not turn in or out -- "cow hocks."
Hip/Buttocks - Note that much of the animal's athleticism
and power comes from behind. Definition and development are key attributes.
Front/Rear view - The horse should move straight
toward and away from you. Observe whether the horse toes-in or toes-out
as it walks.
Side view - Check for the overstep, meaning do the
hind feet reach beyond the front hoof prints? Observe the horse's
head. Be certain it does not bob unusually when walking as this may
indicate soreness or lameness.
Walk - Look for a smooth long stride.