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Horse Conformation

This page will contain all the points of the horse, as well as links to diagrams for the points of the horse.

As well as conformation faults and what is considered good conformation.



Conformation is the way a horse is built, by analyzing a horse point by point, it avoids  being side-tracked cause he looks sweet or has a pretty colour(s) Although a horses basic body conformation will vary by breed, all horses should have basic "athletic" structural attributes. A horses conformation determines how well it can  perform the functions asked of it.



Back at the knee: The knees tend to extend backwards when viewed from the side.

Calf knees: The knees are shallow from the front to the back.

Over at the knee: The knees extend forward.

Pigeon toes: The toes turn inward.

Splay footed: The toes turn outward.

Cow hocks: The hocks turn inwards when viewed from behind (like the hocks of a cow).

Sickle hocks: viewed from the side there is a concave line in front of the hocks and slanting cannon bone.

Ewe neck: The top line of the neck is concave and the lower line of the neck is convex.

Roach back: The spine has an exaggerated upward curve.

Sway back: The back has an exaggerated hollow. 



Rather than trying to make my own diagram, i thought i'd just poiunt you to some good ones.

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Below are descriptions on - Head – Neck – Withers – Chest – Shoulder - Forequarters - Back – Girth -

                                         - Rump/Croup - Hindquarters - Flank - Stifle - Gaskin - Hock - Foreleg - Knee -

                                 - Lower leg - Hindleg – Hoof – Pastern - Sesamoid - Flexor Tendons – Fetlock - Cannon



The head should be well proportioned to the rest of the body and refined. The line of the face should be straight unless breed traits with a convex or concave line.

(Convex or Roman nose in draft-horses) - (concave or dished in Arabians)


The Poll is the bony prominence lying between the ears. Ears should be Small, slender and carried pricked forward, but they don't need to be perfect. An alert ear shows awareness, a droopy ear indicates dullness, and an overactive ear may a sign of difficulty in seeing or hearing, or a nervous horse. Forehead should be broad, full and flat. Jaw need to be wide enough apart to allow the horse to flex without squeezing. Throat Latch should be fine to allow the horse ease of flexion. Eyes should be alert, friendly and wide set on the head, eyes set too close are know as ‘Pig eyes’ and they are unattractive and limit vision. The eyes are usually dark, but blue, light brown or amber eyes are sometimes seen. Nostrils should be large to allow large air intake when required, but should also be refined, because that indicates a great capacity in the rest of the respiratory system. Mouth is very important, to enable to horse to eat adequately. The incisors and lips should meet evenly. If the  upper jaw is much further forward than the lower it is commonly called a 'parrot mouth,' and if the opposite is true, it is termed 'monkey mouth’ Both of these faults may interfere with eating, especially grazing. Since they are inherited, they are discriminated against in the show ring and breeding herd. Muzzle should be  small with the head tapering down to it, with a shallow mouth. Lips They should be fine and meet evenly, the lower should not have the tendency to sag.


The neck should join the head at about a 45° angle, joining the head cleanly at the throatlatch. It should be muscular and medium to fairly long in length, but not overly long and thin, meeting at the shoulder neatly. It should also be flexible, supple, and mobile with the head carried reasonably high. It should blend smoothly into the withers and the shoulders and not appear to emerge between the front legs. The underline of the neck should be straight, and the top should have a slight curve. A long, lean neck is usually accompanies a long stride, as the muscles in the neck help bring the foreleg forward. A low-set neck often goes with moving on the forehand, and a higher-set neck makes collection and high action that much easier. An excessively thick upper neck, or a broken crest, interfere with flexibility. A 'bull neck' is thick and short and low-set, and often indicates a short stride where as a 'ewe neck' bulges on the bottom and is convex on the top. Horses with a neck like that are often high headed with little flexion at the poll, limited athletically and awkward.


The withers is the prominent ridge where the neck and the back join to the elongated spines of the second to sixth thoracic vertebrae. They should sit well back and be clean and of moderate height extended well beyond the top of the shoulder and be as high as the top of the hips.. The back and neck muscles attach to the spines that form the withers, which is why they are so important. They should be prominent and capable of holding a saddle or harness, and they should be muscular and well defined. that way there is plenty of surface area for tendons and ligaments that support the head and neck, while also providing more room for a long, sloping shoulder. The height of a horse is measured vertically from the withers to the ground, because the withers is the horse's highest constant point.


The chest should be wide and deep, to allow plenty of room for a big heart and lungs. If it's narrow, it shows a lack of development and only a little bit of room for heart and lungs and can lead to interference with the front legs. However, if the chest is too wide it forces the legs out, causing the horse's gait to be rolling and labored. The ribs should be well-sprung, and project backwards, allowing for a short, strong back as well as a long, deep chest. Chest muscles should be well developed and form an inverted "V" and the prominence of muscling depends on the breed. The chest should be balanced in relation to the overall make up of the horse.  There is a direct correlation between the size of the chest and a horse’s speed.


Ideally, the shoulder is long, sloping on a 45° angle from the wither down to the point of shoulder (a hard, bony prominence surrounded by heavy muscle masses) and muscular and extends well into the back. The angle between the scapula and the humorous should be greater than 90 degrees, and the arm should be at least half as long as the shoulder. Shoulders should be overlain with lean, flat muscle and blend well into the withers. A sloping shoulder is usually associated with prominent withers and a deep chest, a long, free, swinging stride is almost always developed. Short, straight shoulders and round withers have action that is cramped and less elastic. However, a more upright shoulder is desirable in horses used for driving, because it allows higher action.


 The forequarters affect the horse's freedom of motion, length of stride, smoothness, and soundness. They provide propulsion in front, a base of support, and they act as shock absorbers. As the front limbs support 60-65 percent of the horse's body weight, their structure and soundness is very important. Most unsoundnesses from concussion and trauma are in the front legs of riding horses. The ideal proportions are long shoulder, short arm, long forearm, short cannon, and medium pastern.


 The back extends from the base of the withers to where the last rib is attached, and acts as a 'transmission' between the hindquarters and the forehand. Also, of course, the back is what supports the rider, and it is one of the most important parts of a horse. It should be short, straight, strong and muscular. A long back makes collection harder, but some length is good for scope and the amplitude of movement. Horses with long backs are also more apt to develop a sway back.  If the horse's back is short, it will be more agile, but if its too short the movement is less smooth and springy. The back should have some length for swiftness and be gently concave, and slope upwards slightly from the back of the wither.


A 'roach back' is rounded upwards; this makes it hard to fit a saddle and the horse has a hard time using its back to lift the forehand. Lacking flexibility, roach backed horses often interfere and have a short stride.


A 'sway back' is hollow, and dipped down in the middle. It makes collection more difficult and also limits the transmitting power from the hindquarters. This fault may be congenital(the horse is born with it), but it is often the result of age or of uncoordinated, inverted movement.



This is the point that a horses should be measured to determine the heart girth which can be used to determine the horses weight. A large girth or barrel is a desirable feature.  The larger this area, the more room there is for the heart and lungs.

Rump - Croup

The croup (rump) lies between the loin and the tail. When one is looking from the side or back, it is the highest point of the hindquarters and the quarters should be well-developed, as it determines a horse's ability to engage its hindquarters. It should be broad, well muscled, not too long and slightly rounded. Length is important because long muscles are associated with speed and endurance, and width is important because it is related to strength and power. The horse's breed and intended use determine the ideal slope. Long, level croups are best for long-distance runners. a slightly sloping croup is better for short-distance runners and horses that need a lot of mobility. Extremes on either end should be avoided; a long, muscular, rounded and fairly level croup is best. A short, steep croup is often associated with sickle hocks, and it puts extra strain on the legs. The hindquarters are also less powerful, as the muscles are shorter. If the croup slopes and tapers from the hips to the buttocks, it is called 'goose rumped.' A flat croup is often associated with hindlegs that are camped out behind, and it makes engagement and collection more difficult. A peak at the croup may be a 'jumper's rump,' which can be many things, one is a swelling caused by partial dislocation of the hip joint at some point, which can happen when a horse makes a strong effort with both hind legs (ie when jumping), but can simply be a conformation point showing a horse with jumping potential.


The hindquarters provide the force for impulsion and should be thick, deep and well muscled, carrying this through to the thigh, stifle and gaskin. The legs should be long and well-muscled, moving in parallel planes. The hips should be smooth and even. Uneven or knocked down hips may result in lameness. They should be well-defined, but excessive prominence shows a lack of condition, strength, and endurance. Length from the point of the hip to the point of the buttock, and from the point of hip to the stifle are both positive. A tipped pelvis can be powerful as long as it is long and well muscled, but it usually accompanies a longer back and loin.



The flank is the area below the loin, between the last rib and the muscles of the thigh.


The stifle is the joint at the end of the thigh corresponding to the human knee. The stifle should be muscled enough so that its the widest part of the hindquarter. A strong prominent stifle with a flexible area of muscle and tendons that play a big part in generating power in a horse’s stride.  The thigh bone(femur), is the strongest bone in the horse's body. It should be relatively short, and inclined forward, downward, and slightly outward. The outward angle allows the stifle joint enough room.


The gaskin is the region between the stifle and the hock.  A long, well-muscled gaskin increases the length from hip to hock, which is desirable. Also, it ensures a maximum range of motion, as well as a larger area for the driving muscles of the hindquarters to attach. As the gaskin gets shorter, the length of stride decreases too. Well-defined muscling in the gaskin should be broad, wide, and deep, especially toward the hock.


The hock is the joint between the gaskin and the cannon bone, in the rear leg. The bony protuberance at the back of the hock is called the point of hock. It is subject to much stress so it has to be strong and devoid of any deformities.  The hock is integral in releasing the power through to the lower leg. Its the hardest-working joint in the body, and is a pivot that propels the horse forward at the same time as the hindquarter muscles contract. They should be clean, well-defined, deep, strong, wide, and flat across; not rough, puffy, rounded or fleshy.


This is formed by the radius and ulna which are fused together below the knee, and above the knee the humerus bone. To allow a maximum amount of extension, it should be moderately long, well muscled, and fairly upright. If the elbow is too close to the body, the horse will toe out, and if it is too far outward, the horse will toe in. It should be straight, strong boned and have a solid coverage of muscle.  It should taper smoothly into the knee; this is where the muscles in a horse’s leg stop. Horses only have bone, tendons and ligaments below the knee joint. A line dropped from the centre of the shoulder should go right down the centre of the leg. From the front, the legs should be parallel, and again, a line dropped from the point of the shoulder to the ground should pass through the middle of the leg.


Faults (side on)

Standing under - the leg is set too far back, which causes the horse's balance to be too far forward, and may make them more prone to stumbling.

Camped out in front - refers to a fault where the leg is in front of the line, which puts extra stress on the legs, especially the heels and flexor tendons.

Over at the knee or buck knee - when the knee is too bent, is sometimes connected with contracted tendons. If severe, it may cause stumbling.

Back at the knee or calf knee -  is when there is a backward bend in the leg causing the cannon to slant forward. It puts a lot of extra strain on tendons, ligaments, bones and joints. Chips, fractures, bowed tendon, or other unsoundness are prone to happen.


Faults (front on)

Base narrow - a situation where the legs are closer together at the hooves than at the chest. This puts more concussion on the outside of the foot, and may lead to ringbone. The horse may also interfere, or 'rope walk,' where the feet are placed one after another instead of next to each other when the horse moves.

Base wide - as the name implies is when the legs are wider apart at the hooves than at the chest. Stress in on the inside of the foot, and it may also cause ringbone.

Knock knees - where the legs bend inside the lines, places extra strain on the knees and the inside of the leg and foot. The horse is prone to splints, arthritis and ringbone.

Bowed knees or Bow legged - his legs bend outside the lines. This puts extra stress on the knees and the outside of the legs.

Bench knees or off set knees - is when the cannons do not line up with the forearm. It puts uneven stress on the cannon and splint bones, possibly leading to splints or ring bone. Horses are believed to be born with this fault.

Toes in or pigeon toes - is when the toes point in, causing the foot to swing out when the horse moves; this is called 'paddling.' There is not a huge chance for lameness, but uneven stress is put on the feet and legs, and ring bone may result.

Toes out or splay footed - is a condition where the toes point out, causing the foot to swing in toward the opposite leg(winging in). This may cause interference and subsequent lameness, also, more weight is placed on the inside of the foot, and ring bone may occur.


The knee should be large, broad, flat, wide, clean, and capable of great flexion. A 'clean' knee is defined as one that has no thickness or swelling that might be caused by injury or deterioration. The knee should be straight from both the front and side, thick, wide, deep, and squarely placed on the leg. The knee is the joint between the forearm and the cannon bone. Knees turned in or out generally lead to trouble later in a horse’s career.  Symmetry too is crucial.

Lower leg

The cannon should be short and flat from the side, and centred from the front. tight, well-defined tendons should be set well back to give an appearance of great support below the knee.  A horse's fetlock joints should be wide, thick, free of blemishes and capable of great flexion. The joint should be closely examined to see that its strong and clean. The slope and length of the pastern are crucial to shock absorption. The pastern consists of two bones and three joint surfaces. If it's too long and sloping, called a 'coon foot,' the horse's gaits are smoother, but there is more stress on tendons and ligaments, and the horse is more prone to 'running down(hitting the ground with the back of the fetlock).' Short, upright pasterns increase concussion and trauma to the foot and fetlock, and unsoundness can result, but they are stronger. Also, the gaits are short, rough, and jarring for the rider. Ideally the pastern should be of medium length and slope, to absorb shock and stay strong. The hocks should be'well let down,' or close to the ground as this is more powerful. Long hind cannons give a higher action, and more flexion, but they are less strong. They should attach strongly to the hock, with flat, well defined tendons. The hind cannons are often longer than the fore cannons. The rear pasterns may be shorter and less sloping than the fore, but they should not be excessively so.


 The hind leg gives strength, power, and better balance. They act as levers, which is one reason why their proportions and angles are so important. The line from hip to hock should be long; this indicates a longer stride, with better engagement. The angles at hip, stifle and hock determine how the leg is placed under the buttocks. This is crucial to power, ability to engage, and length of stride. When the plumb line runs from the point of the buttock, down the back of the cannon, the proportions of these angles should be just about ideal. From behind, it is good if the stifles point slightly outwards; this allows room for the legs to swing forwards without hitting the body.


Faults from the Side

camped out behind - that means the leg is set too far back, behind the line. This conformation is weak, and makes engagement more difficult.

sickle hock - is a hock that has too much bend in it, causing the lower leg to be angled forward. There is extra stress on the hocks, and problems like curbs, bog spavins and bone spavins are more likely. This is the most common hind leg fault; the stride is shortened and the horse will often stand under as well.

Post leg - means that the hock and stifle joints are too straight. The horse is likely to just swing the leg forward, without bending it. There is more stress on the leg, especially the hock and pastern. Additionally, shock absorption is affected.


Faults From the rear,

Cow hocked - means that the hocks point in, and the cannons slant out. There is extra stress on the inside of the hocks and legs, possibly leading to bone spavins, bog spavins, or thoroughpins.

Bowed hocks or Open in the hocks - point outward, with the cannons slanting in. This puts more stress on the hocks and the outside of the legs; bog spavins and thoroughpins can result.

Base narrow - means that the legs are too close together. There is often a lack of muscle development, which makes interference easy; this can lead to injuries and lameness.

Base wide - his legs are too far apart. This makes it more difficult to reach forward, and causes a shortened stride. The toes may point outwards slightly, as long as the cannons are parallel.


Hoof - The hoof refers to the horny wall and the sole of the foot. The foot includes the horny structure and the pedal bones and navacular bones, as well as other connective tissue. It should be neat and not too large, without any marks or ridges.  It should have a tough durable appearance and all four hooves be the same in make-up.



The pastern extends from the fetlock to the top of the hoof. should sit at a 45° angle to the cannon bone when the horse is standing.  Should be set at the same angle as the front section of the hoof.


also know as navicular bone, is a small bone near the fetlock area.

Flexor Tendons

The flexor tendons run from the knee to the fetlock and can be seen prominently lying behind the cannon bone.            


The fetlock is the joint between the cannon bone and the pastern. The fetlock joint should be large, clean, and must be strong, tight-knit, and symmetrical. 


The cannon bone lies between the knee and fetlock joint, and is visible from the front of  the leg. It should be straight and strong, joining to the fetlock joint.