I look at balance, eye appeal and breed character--I want a horse to look nice. Next I'll look at soundness and structural correctness. I'll start at the head and want to see that he has a nice, kind eye, a little fox ear, and that his head is in balance from the eye to the point of nose, and to the muzzle. I want to see a clean throatlatch, a head that ties in nicely to the neck, and a neck that ties in well to a long, sloping shoulder.
For balance, I look for shortness of back compared to the underline, and a long croup that carries down deep into the stifle, with good gaskin muscling. I like to see good depth of heartgirth.
And then I'll assess straightness and how the horse travels. All four legs need to be correct--just like a car can't run on three tires, a horse needs to have four legs that are structurally sound.
Click "Next" to find out how I placed these three 3- and 4-year-old Quarter Horse geldings.
First: Gelding C
I placed this bay gelding first because he exhibits the best balance, eye appeal, breediness and structural correctness of
the three. Starting at his head, he has a soft, kind eye, nice fox-like ears placed well on his head, and a clean throatlatch. His head sets well on a clean neck that connects correctly into a nicely sloped shoulder. The muscling in his shoulder ties down deep and well into his forearm, and his legs appear straight and sound, with a correct, clean front end. He's got a good set of withers, a nice short back compared to the length of his underline, and a lot of depth to his heartgirth. All of that tells me he'll be able to lift his front end and work off his hindquarters.
The one area where I'd like to strengthen him a little is in his croup, but it's adequate and carries into the stifle and gaskin muscle, then down deep into his hind legs. His hocks are a little hard to see, but they're down where they belong so he can get under himself and handle himself. When this horse is jogging and loping he'll be
able to stick his hind leg under himself, and when his front foot leaves the ground, his hind leg will reach forward and his hind foot will step right into the same place. He's balanced and should be a nice horse to ride.
Second: Gelding A
This horse and the third-place horse are a close call, but I chose this horse ahead of the other because he looks like he'll be a better mover. These horses are geldings, which means we're going to be riding them, and I chose this horse because his conformation tells me he'll be sounder and more athletic than the third-place horse.
He's a nicer-headed horse than the third-place horse, and while I'd like to see a longer, cleaner neck on him, his topline is shorter in relation to his underline when compared to the number three horse. Because of his shorter back, its ratio to his underline (you want to see a 1:2 ratio for length of back to length of underline), the depth of heartgirth and where his hock is, he'll probably be a better mover than the number three horse. He has a little more substance, and nicer, flatter bone than the sorrel horse. I suspect he won't face the soundness issues the third-place horse might have. I like him better in the shoulder and withers, too. Again, they're a close pair, and I'm going to pick the one that fits my needs best. If I had to pick one to play in the roping pen, I'd pick this dun over the sorrel.
Third: Gelding B
I placed this horse third because he lacks the balance, structural correctness and breediness I like to see. He's light in the
shoulder, with not nearly the muscling of the first two horses. He does have a nice, clean neck that comes out of his shoulder well, and he has a clean throatlatch--he should be able to flex well at the poll. But he's long-headed from his eye to the point of his muzzle, which contributes to a plain head. If you compare his ear placement to the ears of the other two horses, his ears are setting a little forward. I'd like to see this horse with a little more bone and substance.
Moving to his hind end, he's shortcrouped, and just looking at the way he's made I'd guess he's a little base-narrow and weak in the front end. He'll have a much harder time working with his hind-end underneath him. I'd also like to see more muscling. He doesn't appear as structurally correct as the others, and he may toe out, based on the positions of his ankles and hocks in the photo.
Darrell Bilke has been judging horses for more than 30 years, and holds some 15 judges cards, including more than 20 years judging for the American Quarter Horse Association and the American Paint Horse Association. Bilke has judged all major world shows, including the AQHA, APHA, and ApHC world shows, and has presided over Australian and European championships. Bilke owns and operates Bilke Enterprises in Miami, Okla.
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.
Enter Your Horse in Conformation Clinic!
To submit a photo of your horse to be evaluated in Horse & Rider's Conformation Clinic, send us a left-side view photo of your horse (for digital phots: high-resolution, 300 dpi, in at least 3" x 5"). Make sure he's well-groomed, looking straight ahead and standing on level ground--and try to avoid distracting backgrounds.
Email HorseandRider@EquiNetwork.com and include your contact info and your horse's breed, age, gender and height.