Conformation…what does it mean? If you’ve spent any time around horses or horse people, you’ve heard this word or related words used again and again. “Wow, that horse has great conformation!” or “My trainer said not to buy that horse because he has such horrible conformation–he won’t hold up.” Conformation is discussed so frequently because it often is what makes horses better able to perform their job, or at least can help them have longevity in regard to performance. Horses with good conformation are prized and usually more valuable than a counterpart with poor conformation.

Over the years, people have created numerous terms to describe conformational faults or flaws in horses–I’m sure you’ve heard a few. For example, “That horse is gorgeous, but he’s pigeon toed.” Or how about, “I really liked that hunter, but he’s got an ugly club foot.” Then there’s the, “So what if the horse has ‘bad’ conformation, he can jump the moon.”

Does conformation really have anything to do with performance? Does bad conformation eventually cause lameness? What are some of the more common conformation flaws to avoid?

In this article, we will discuss the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly aspects of conformation in horses.

What Is Conformation?

Conformation, according to Ted Stashak, DVM, who wrote The Horseowner’s Guide to Lameness, is the outline of a horse as dictated primarily by his bone and muscle structures. However, conformation is not just straight legs, it also is about the length of t