A horse ain’t what he used to be!
But that’s not news…heck, a million dollars isn’t what it used to be either.
A horse used to have good conformation or bad conformation or conformation faults.
The good, the bad and the faults were based on the idea that a horse’s conformation was judged on “efficiency of movement.” Of course, that made perfect sense. Horses are flight animals and their survival depends on their ability to move efficiently. A horse’s ability to move efficiently also made him man’s choice as a work animal….he didn’t have to stop to chew his cud, and he can travel a lot more miles in a day than oxen. (Not stopping to chew his cud is one of the main reasons we moved the horse from meat and milk husbandry and replaced him with the cow.)
What changed everything is specialization; but that’s nothing new either. Our special needs made us choose the horse to carry us across country, pull our plows and our Surry with the fringe on top. All, of course, were judged on “efficiency of movement.”
Then specialization got even more special for the horse when he was converted from a work animal to a “pleasurable companion,” and good conformation sudden took on a different meaning.
Good conformation today is in the eye of the beholder…and the beholder’s eye may be seeking a jumper, a gaited horse, a working cow horse, a western pleasure horse or a sprint racer. Good conformation for a jumper certainly isn’t the same as good conformation for a western pleasure horse or sprint racer. The conformation that makes a gaited horse gait isn’t going to be good conformation for a working cow horse.
Efficiency of movement may not be desired.
Just understanding that concept changes everything about bad conformation. Bad conformation for one discipline can be good conformation for another. Being back at the knee was bad conformation, but not today if you want a western pleasure horse. Being back at the knee can create a slow, flat knee that for some is highly desirable.
A cutting horse doesn’t want his neck conformation and placement to be the same as that for a dressage horse.
And that’s the way it should be, because to be good, then better, then the best you have to specialize.
When looking for a horse today, know exactly what you want to do with him before you seek him. Then find a horse with the conformation to do the job you want him to do. Don’t try to force a square peg in a round hole; let the horse do the work he was conformed to do.
When judging conformation, observe a part of the horse, then immediately relate it to how it’ll affect his performance…his movement. That’s what’s important today.
What used to be conformation faults, if they predispose the horse to unsoundness, are still conformation faults. But we don’t worry about them these days; now they are just “something to be managed.” We inject joints and have anti-inflammatories, poultices and sweats and blisters, internal blisters and surgery.
If his feet are bad we put use pads or eggbars or clips or toe weights or heart bars or glue-on shoes.
If the horse doesn’t have enough tail we add to it…or we break it, or we cut it or inject it or do something to keep him from moving it.
Sometimes if it ain’t broke, we fix it anyway.
So the old gray mare isn’t what she used to be.
Which is just confirmation that conformation is a horse of a different color.