Claremont Riding Academy: Barn Management Series
Conformation and Movement

When looking at the overall conformation of the horse, it is most important to assess how the parts tie into the whole. The horse should look proportionate and pleasing to the eye. Certain traits for each part are considered favourable or faults.


Lop Ears: ears set on the side of the head, so that they stick out
Pig Eye: small, squinty eyes
Roman Nose: convex profile
Parrot Mouth: overbite or shortened lower lip

Ewe Necked: muscled more on the underside of the neck than over the crest

Straight Shouldered: not having enough slope (angle) to the shoulder, which may limit the stride or reach over jumps

Camped Out: stands with the legs out in front of the body (or behind the body, for the hind legs)
Camped Under: stands with legs far underneath the body
Over at the Knee: standing with the knee bent, not locked
Long or Short in the Pastern: either too much or too little angle to the pastern which either makes them prone to hyperextension with the former or limited in ankle flexibility with the latter
Small Hooves: horse will be prone to sore feet as a larger hoof would better support the large body (also applies to the hind legs, but it is more common to cause problems in the front)
Upright: not enough angle to the shoulder, pastern and/or hoof limits range of motion
Splay Footed: toes point out, making the horse prone to interference (especially if base is narrow)
Pigeon Toed: toes turn inward, causing the horse to paddle (legs go up and out when running)
Base Narrow: standing with feet too close together, usually due to a narrow chest
Base Wide: standing with legs far apart, usually due to a wide chest

Prominent Withers: makes the horse prone to sores, and can make it difficult to fit a saddle, which will tend to slide back
Mutton Withers: not enough definition, which often causes the saddle to slide too far forward or from side to side

Short in the Back: limits flexibility
Long in the Back: creates difficulty in connecting the front and back end (a similar problem occurs if the horse is long in the croup)

Short Coupled: short behind. May limit ability to extend but not necessarily a fault or detriment
Goose Rumped: pointed top of rump which slopes downward
Capped Hocks: swollen or thick over the point of hock, sometimes caused by kicking stall walls
Sickle Hocked: tied or curved in below the point of hock
Cow Hocked: hocks point in, causing splay footed build

Lower hind limb faults can be the same as the front legs.

High Set:
Low Set:



Different disciplines and breeds will favour different ways of moving.

The conformation of the horse has a direct effect on movement. Many of these characteristics have been discussed. The footfall of the three gaits recognised in English Huntseat or Dressage / Combined training should be clear cut to be correct.

A four beat gait. The foot fall should be left hind / left front / right hind / right front. The rhythm should be marching and energetic but not hurried.

Some horses, when tense or too fast, will become lateral - meaning they pace, lifting the front and hind leg on the same side at the same moment. This creates an incorrect two beat gait.

Two beat gait, in which the legs move in diagonal pairs. The left hind and right front swing forward together followed by the right hind and left front together.

Posting on the correct diagonal, which means posting so that you are out of the saddle when the outside front leg and inside rear leg are forward, helps the horse to balance by allowing the inside hind leg freedom to swing well under the body.

At both the walk and the trot, the horse should "track up", meaning the hind feet fall at least within or even beyond (over tracking) the hoof prints of the front feet.

The rhythm should be forward and energetic, not to be confused with fast. Some horses, especially pacers will pace (as described above) instead of trotting.

A three beat gait. Initiated with the outside hind leg, followed by the inside hind and outside front, and finally the inside front (or leading) leg. If the lead is incorrect, initiated by the inside hind, the horse may have difficulty balancing. If the horse lacks energy, the second beat may be broken into two, creating an impure four beat gait.

The canter should be forward and energetic but not fast with a jumping quality, the third beat followed by a moment of suspension.


Ways of Going

Daisy Cutter: having a long low to the ground, sweeping foot fall. Favourable for hunters.
High Knee Action: As it sounds, lifting the knee upward before extending the front limb outward. May be good for collection, but not as well suited for proper extension.
High Head Carriage: Often caused by a high set neck on the shoulder. May be due to a hollow, ewe necked gait or may make the horse lighter on the forehand in a correct manner.
Low Head Carriage: often caused by a low set neck on the shoulder or a higher hindquarter. May cause the horse to travel heavy on the forehand but can also enable the horse to stretch the neck well.
Out Behind: May be due to a long back or hollowing of the back. The horse pushes hind feet out behind rather than under the body, compromising the horse's ability to track up.

There is great variation in conformation and movement. Just because a horse is built a certain way does not mean it cannot perform a particular job or achieve a desired way of moving. Proper training and riding and a willing attitude from a horse and can enable it to overcome difficulties due to conformational or movement problems.

even a walk is fast!