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Conformation for VersatilityBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · January 25, 2011

Correct conformation is supposed to follow the same basic tenets, regardless of the breed of horses. But what would happen if three of the world's most elite equestrians assessed the same horse's potential for their different disciplines? Read on to find out!

Combined driver Chester Weber, eventer Phillip Dutton, and reining rider Lisa Coulter all took a look at Rivella, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. Here's what they had to say.
 

Chester Weber – Combined Driving
I like this mare's ears and intelligent-looking eye. The length of neck and slope of shoulder indicates this mare would easily go in the correct frame for the dressage portion of combined driving. The front legs look suitable from this angle; however, she looks a little weak in the pasterns. The body looks good and the back looks strong, which is a very important attribute. I often equate a pronounced wither with freedom of movement of the front leg, so I would assume that she has enough reach at the trot. The hind leg looks correct and the pasterns seem more upright. The hock appears to be on the high side, and that would make me question the power this horse has from the hind leg. 

Studying conformation is a useful activity. The more I learn, however, the more I get comfortable with the idea that many horses are great despite conformational flaws. One must realize that conformational flaws are not a predictor of what athletic accomplishments a horse might achieve, though they may be an indicator of how long a career might last. In conclusion, I am comfortable that my crystal ball is not without flaws and that horses achieve greatness despite many handicaps.

Phillip Dutton – Eventing
Let me start by saying that it is hard to judge potential in an event horse on conformation alone. I have found that the way the horse goes and carries itself are the most important factors and outweigh conformation. 

I like this mare's uphill stance. An uphill build such as this should put her in nice balance on her jumping approach. I would like a little bit of a taller wither, which may make her a little bit more comfortable to sit at each gait. For the size of the horse, there isn't a lot of hindquarter and maybe she is a little straight in the hind leg, which will affect her ability to engage or collect.

She is obviously a pretty big, heavy horse particularly for eventing. If I had to guess, her size would affect her ability to gallop at speed across country above the Preliminary level. I think she is a very attractive horse, though, and she looks like she would be able to handle a big jump.

Lisa Coulter – Reining
This mare is simply too big to handle the quick turns and movements required of a reining horse. Reining horses should be short-coupled and compact, as they need to be quick and agile when executing rollbacks and spins. I find her to be nicely balanced, however, and that is great for any discipline. We typically look for a shorter back in our reining horses, and this fits in with their balance when they are shorter coupled. I like this mare's long, pretty neck, even if her throatlatch is a bit thick.  

She has strong bone with short cannons and pasterns, and these are conformation characteristics that I look for in potential reiners. She has no set to her hocks, which will work against her as a reining horse. Reiners need to execute sliding stops from a full gallop with their hind legs well under them, and having some set in their hocks allows for this transition to be effortless.  

This mare has a weaker hip and gaskin than we like to see in reiners, as they require strength for stopping and spinning. I have seen horses with the same muscling stop 35 feet and spin hard, so I personally don't rely solely on conformation to estimate ability. 

This mare has a pleasant head and look about her, and though I generally like her, I am guessing she would not take up reining as her occupation if she had the choice.

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