Watching the tennis in January illustrated to me how crucial it is for the players to be structurally sound as well as in peak physical form. It is exactly the same for horses – it is hard enough to win at competition level at any time without any physical disadvantages getting in the way.

If you know what to look for, then when looking at a new horse, your eyes should start at ground level and work up. This will save you a lot of time and heartbreak, and ultimately save you a lot of money. Horses are an expensive luxury item, and to own a high maintenance horse is even more expensive.

Eliminate any horse from your consideration if it has any conformation problems.

A conformation problem is one that is bred into the horse and cannot be altered.

These conformation problems often cause lameness and ultimately shorten the competitive working life of the horse. The main conformation problems to look for are:

  • Offset cannon bones

  • Base wide

  • Base narrow

  • Pigeon toes

  • Knock knees

  • Club foot

A trimming problem can look like a conformation problem, but can be resolved. The most common trimming problems are:

  • Cow hocked

  • Splay footed

  • Long toes

  • Low heels

  • Contracted heels

Nearly all of the above mentioned trimming problems are caused by not correctly balancing the hoof. Often a horse that is standing crooked can be bought cheaply and improved dramatically in value and performance simply by correctly balancing the feet. So it is important to recognise the difference between conformation problems and trimming problems.

A combination of conformation problem and trimming problem will exacerbate the problem, and may cause the horse to break down early. To give one example: offset canon bones cause toe out or toe in, and may result in lameness. The effects of this can be minimised by correctly balancing the feet, but conversely can be worsened by incorrect trimming.

The ideal conformation to look for is

  • Straight legs

  • Parallel hoof pastern angle

  • Standing straight behind

If you get into the habit of looking at every horse from the ground up, you will learn to automatically identify conformation problems and trimming problems before they become your problems.