Buying for Resale
The most common
a close second.
(Pinhooking) is the practice of
buying a horse with the specific intention of re-selling it for a profit. The most
common pinhooking ventures are weanling-to-yearling partnerships,
with yearling-to-two-year-old partnerships a close
Occasionally mares will be purchased, foaled out, and then bred back to sell the
next fall. All of these deals have a start and
a finish, making it easy to "keep
score." Nevertheless, expert advice is needed from a professional
who can confidently predict the market. The motive for most participants in pinhooking
partnerships is the predictability of fixed costs, and the reasonable return on
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 the bones, the angles of the joints, and the
proportions and overall balance of the horse.
Conformation is related to the breed and use of the horse. For example, a
Quarter Horse used for Western pleasure will have a different ideal conformation
than an Arabian used for saddleseat, especially in regard to desired
length of neck and back, straightness of the top line and
croup, and way of
So, some aspects of conformation really do depend on breed and purpose. While
it would be easier to fill the entire magazine with descriptions of desirable
conformation for each breed or type of horse, instead we will concentrate on
undesirable conformation, which practicaly is the same for all breeds.
How Do You Evaluate Conformation?
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Conformation in horses should be evaluated carefully, and all good judges,
veterinarians, and horse owners should have a system to prevent missing any
aspect. Each person has a system which works for him, so if you are curious, ask
a respected individual in your area, or attend a judging clinic.
In brief, the horse should be viewed from each side, making sure to evaluate
the horse at a standstill and while in motion (walk and trot). The
fore and hind
legs should be evaluated for straightness, correct angles, slope, muscling, and
proportion. The pelvis and croup are evaluated for symmetry, length, and
straightness. The head
neck are evaluated for normal balance and appropriate
length and curvature, with special attention being paid to the
teeth and bite.
To help you evaluate whether the horse's legs are straight, you can imagine a
plum line (a piece of string with a weight at the bottom allowed to swing freely
and hang straight). If standing in front of or behind the horse, imagine the
line from the point of the shoulder (front)/tuber ischium
(back) straight to the
ground. The line should intersect the
hoof in the middle of each structure. However, when viewing a horse
from the side (profile), a line can be drawn from the top of the
scapula/tuber ischium down the
leg. In the
hind leg, the line should follow the back of the
cannon bone to the ground. In the
foreleg, the line should intersect
the carpus and
fetlock in the middle of the
This is an extremely brief description of evaluating a horse for correct
conformation as the purpose of the article is to discover and evaluate
conformation flaws. So, let's talk about the bad.
What Are Conformation Faults?
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Faults or flaws in conformation can occur in the forelegs, hindlegs, pelvis, head, and even the
neck. For this article, we will mostly concentrate on faults
of the fore and
hind legs. These conditions are undesirable, not just because
they don't meet a breed standard, but because they cause inherent weakness in
the legs and predispose the horse to lameness or injury.
Many of these problems are present at birth or soon after, and they are
correctable, if they are recognized. However, many of these faults go unnoticed
until the horse is one or two years of age, and then it is too late to correct
the problem. At that point, they are permanent baggage for the horse and the
horse owner, leading to abnormal wear of the
joints, tendons, and/or ligaments.
Following are descriptions of common conformation faults (with the lay term
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A club foot is a term that describes a
hoof with a foot axis of 60 degrees or
more. This condition can be acquired (developed ) or
congenital (present at
birth). This condition occurs almost exclusively in the forelegs. If the club
foot is congenital, it results from a congenital flexural deformity
of the deep digital flexor tendon. An acquired club foot often is the result of
an injury or condition that causes pain in the leg, resulting in disuse. The leg
then develops a flexural deformity from the disuse, and the hoof changes shape
as a result. An acquired club foot also can be the result of
problems, leading to the same flexural deformity.
Treatment is aimed at eliminating the inciting cause and returning the hoof
to a normal angle through corrective trimming or shoeing.
Toed-In (Pigeon Toed)
This flaw is recognized when viewing the horse from the front. One or both
hooves will point inward. The deviation can begin at the shoulder or hip, or as
low as the fetlock. This conformational abnormality--like many of the others--is
congenital in nature, which means it is present at birth. This problem usually
can be completely corrected with corrective trimming and shoeing, but the
correction must start at an early age to be successful (by one to two months of
This problem is frequently seen with angular limb deformities, so correction
of the angular limb deformity with surgery often is necessary.
conformation leads to aberrations of the
leg during flight; the leg will travel
in an outward arc (paddling) during movement. The toed-in conformation leads to
excessive strain on the outside or lateral aspect of the
the horse usually lands on the outside wall of the hoof.
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This flaw also is recognized when standing in front of the horse. One or both
hooves point outward (opposite of toed-in). Like the previous flaw, toeing-out
is a congenital problem, and can originate from the shoulder/hip or
lower in the
leg. Unlike the
forelegs, it is normal for the hooves of the hindlegs to point
out slightly. This is a result of the normal position of the stifle in the
horse, which is turned out slightly.
Again, like toeing-in, an angular limb deformity such as a
outward) deformity, can exacerbate the problem. The angular deformity might
require surgery; however corrective shoeing and/or trimming beginning as a
foal usually can correct the outward deviation of the
hooves. In these horses,
interfering of the foot and
fetlock can occur, resulting in injury to the
Carpal Valgus (Lateral Deviation Of The Carpus; Knock Knees)
Carpal valgus is one of the angular limb deformities that occurs in foals.
These congenital deformities are common, but easily corrected, either with rest
and trimming/shoeing or with surgery. We do not understand why they occur;
theories include heredity, malposition within the uterus, and nutritional
factors. Carpal valgus is when one or both
carpi (knees) deviate outward when
viewed from the front. If left uncorrected, this results in a great deal of
stress placed on the ligaments and small bones of the carpus, especially on the
medial or inner surfaces of the carpus.
Although most of these deformities will correct spontaneously if mild in
nature, those that are more severe or do not correct on their own require
surgery within the first two months of life. After that time, the growth of the
radius has greatly slowed and there is a much less chance of a successful
Carpal Varus (Medial Deviation Of The Carpus; Bow Legs)
Carpal varus is another
angular limb deformity that occurs in foals and is
the opposite of carpal valgus.
Carpal varus is when one or both
carpi (knees) deviate inward. This results is the stresses being greatest on the lateral or
outer surface of the carpus. Like
carpal valgus, this deformity should be
corrected early to decrease the abnormal stresses placed on the
small bones of
the carpus and prevent injury.
Palmar Deviation Of The Knee (Calf Knee)
This conformation flaw is best seen from the side of the horse. In an animal
with this flaw, if a straight line is drawn from the scapula (shoulder blade) to
the hoof, the carpus will be behind the line. This fault greatly weakens the
carpus and can lead to chip fractures of the radius and/or
especially in racehorses because of the fatigue factor at the end of a race.
Dorsal Deviation Of The Knee (Over At The Knee)
Adults and foals with this flaw are best recognized from the side. A straight
line from the scapula to the hoof reveals that the knee is in front of the line.
The horse might appear to be buckling forward at the knee. A congenital problem
in foals, it is thought to be due to "contracture" of the tendons in
the back of the knee. Treatment for these foals includes
splints and air casts
to help straighten the leg, accompanied by treatment with
antibiotic that is thought to work by binding calcium and relaxing the muscles
in the leg to allow lengthening).
Base Narrow (Stands Close)
Another conformation fault is a horse with base narrow forelegs. This
condition is recognized from the front of the horse, with the distance between
the horse's forelegs being less at the hoof than at the shoulder. These horses
typically have overdeveloped chests (pectoral muscles). This deformity leads to
lameness problems such as ringbone (osteoarthritis of the pastern or coffin
joint). The ringbone usually results because this flaw in a horse forces it to
bear weight unevenly, with the horse landing on the outside of the hoof first.
This uneven loading of the foot is the reason for the development of osteo-arthritis.
Base Wide (Stands Wide)
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The opposite of base narrow, this flaw is recognized as the distance between
the horse's forelegs being less at the shoulder than between the hooves. Breeds
with less-developed pectoral muscles more commonly are found to have this
condition. As in base narrow horses, base wide horses abnormally load the
of the lower leg, with the most stress being placed medially or on the inside of
the legs. Ringbone commonly results from this conformation flaw.
Offset Knees (Bench Knees)
This conformation flaw is best seen from the front of the horse. This flaw
gets its name because the cannon bone is placed too far laterally or to the
outside of the knee--offset. A line from the
scapula down the
intersect the radius in the middle of the bone, but the line would be on the
inside of the cannon bone. This conformation results in more stress being placed
on the medial side (inside) of the cannon bone, especially on the medial splint
bone. This flaw often results in horses with medial splints.
Straight Hocks (Post Legged)
This conformation flaw of the hind legs is best seen from the side of the
horse. In normal horses, there is a small, gentle angle between the tibia and
the cannon bone within the hock joint. In a horse with
straight hocks, there is
little angle between the tibia and cannon bone (hock joint) and tibia and
(stifle joint). Therefore, the leg has the appearance of a post. This
conformation predisposes to osteoarthritis of the hock and problems with the
patella within the stifle joint.
Large Angulation Of The Hock (Sickle Hocks)
This conformational flaw of the hocks is best seen from the side of the
horse. While in post-legged horses the hock is very straight, in
horses the angle of the hock joint is too small and results in the
being too far underneath the horse. This conformational defect leads to
stressing of the structures at the back of the hock and
cannon bone, especially
the plantar ligament. This ligament can be strained or injured in heavy exercise
in horses with this conformation.
Unsightly, Not Unstable
And now for the ugly. These conformational defects do not necessarily hinder
performance or result in lameness, but are they are definitely not
Exacerbated Lordosis (Swaybacked)
This conformational flaw is more common in older horses with
long backs. It
also is seen is some older broodmares. In longer backed horses such as American Saddlebreds, the
ligaments that support the
lumbar vertebrae begin to sag, thus
allowing the back to sway. There is no treatment.
Brachygnathism (Parrot Mouth; Overbite)
This is a congenital conformation defect that is characterized by the
jaw or mandible being shorter than the upper jaw. This is the most common oral
conformation defect in the horse. Normal horses should have contact between the
surfaces of the upper and lower teeth (arcades). A severe overbite results in
difficulty chewing, and frequent dental work is required. Surgical treatment
with wires to inhibit the growth of the upper arcade can be performed to help
correct the deformity. However, because this condition is thought to be
hereditary, many veterinarians will not perform the surgery unless the foal is
Prognathism (Monkey Mouth; Underbite)
This oral conformation fault is the result of the lower jaw being longer than
the upper jaw. This condition is less common than the overbite, but the
treatment is the same.
Horses with a ewe neck often are said to have their necks attached upside
down. These horses have a concave neck with a depression just in front of the
withers. A ewe neck appears to have more muscling on the underside of the
Horses with ewe necks also carry their heads higher than might be desired, and
usually are athletically challenged.
So, what relation is conformation to lameness? It's obvious that severe
conformation defects will limit if not inhibit performance. More mild defects
could lead to lameness problems such as osteoarthritis or traumatic injuries,
which might mean intensive medical management or a short career.
Good conformation always has been a precedent for good performance. However,
there are exceptions. Horses which defy the odds and run faster, jump higher,
and just plain outperform their more correct counterparts do exist. These horses
have something else going for them--an indefinable nature that makes them a
Adams, O.R. Adams Lameness in Horses, edited by Ted S. Stashak, DVM,
MS, DACVS, Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia, 1987.
Auer, J. Equine Surgery, W. B. Saunders, 1992.
Stashak, Ted. Horseowners Guide to Lameness, Lea & Febiger,
to Come Soon........