Conformation + Soundness = Performance

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let's be practical: No horse has perfect conformation. That means you need to know what you can live with and what will be troublesome can be vital to horse selection and management.

All too often, horses are selected either without knowing the effects of faulty conformation on performance. These faults usually cause training problems and lameness in usually predictable ways.

Proper trimming and shoeing can be used to manage conformational defects in the mature horse and can have some permanent correctional effects in horses under the age of six months. After that age, the best we can do is help influence ground reaction forces and breakover in a positive way. Remember though, that, despite the growing barefoot trend, shoeing may be necessary for optimal management.

Educated farriers, who understand conformation and the results from abnormal forces on the leg, play a key role in managing conformation defects.

As a horse owner, knowing how to discuss these options with your farrier can ensure your horse has the best chance for a long, sound life.? These are common problems and how they influence the horse's body and possible problems you may see in the horse:

Conformation Defect: The front hoof is abnormally forward of the leg.

Result: The horse will be heavy on its forehand and likely stumble frequently.

Likely Issues: Navicular disease, bowed tendons, and heel spurs.

Conformation Defect:? The front hoof is set too far inside (drop a plumb line from the shoulder).

Result: A paddling, inefficient movement.

Likely Issues: Popped splints and various forms of osteoarthritis.

Conformation Defect: The front hoof is set too far to the outside or rotates outward.

Result: The horse will ?rope walk? and likely interfere.

Likely Soundness Issues: Quarter cracks on the inside heel.

Conformation Defect: The hind hooves rest abnormally forward of the leg (sickle hocked or standing under).

Result: These horses will likely be perpetually sore and shouldn't be used for any work where hind-end engagement is needed, such as upper-level dressage, roping, reining, jumping and driving.

Likely Issues: Arthritis and stifle strains.

Conformation Defect: The base of the hooves is inside the hips, so the hocks displace laterally before they can push the horse forward.

Result: Horses with this defect are a poor choice for dressage or jumping and will underperform.

Likely Issues: Arthritis on the inside of the hock and ligament injuries in the lower leg.

Conformation Defect: Hooves are placed wider than the hips (?cow hocked?).

Result: Horses that stand with their hind legs out behind their buttocks travel with a strung out movement.

Likely Issues: Abnormal forces cause arthritis in the hocks and stifles, gluteal issues.

BOTTOM LINE. Before you start worrying about everything that looks misaligned on your horse, remember that mild-to-moderate defects can usually be managed with proper trimming or shoeing. The horse with severe defects will require your farrier and veterinarian to work together. And the more defects in play, the harder it will be to keep the horse sound. See?Conformation photos.

Article by Steve Kraus, Farrier Contributing Editor and Cornell Veterinary School Head Farrier.