Conformation Clinic With Julie Winkel
Place these horses in your order of preference. Then turn the page to see how your choices compare to sporthorse judge Julie Winkel’s.
Which young prospect has the best conformation? Compare your placings to our judge’s.
Whether judging a model class, evaluating a prospect for a client or sizing up the yearlings at home, I first stand back and look for an overall impression of balance and symmetry. My ideal horse “fits” in a square box. By that, I mean he is defined by matching and equal parts, both front to back and side to side. This allows for athletic ability, soundness, trainability and longevity in the job.
A horse who fits in a box will have a body made up of one-third shoulder, one-third back and one-third hindquarters. I like to see the withers and point of croup at the same level. The horse’s stance, from point of shoulder to buttock, should equal the distance from the height of the withers to the ground.
I also always look at the eyes because I want to see a horse with clear, alert vision. From the head, I move down the neck to the shoulders and along the back to the hind-end and leg construction.
For jumpers, the emphasis should be on hindquarters with a good length from the hipbone to the point of the buttock for power off the ground. For hunters, the emphasis should be a level topline from ears to tail, a well-sloped shoulder for fluid movement and ability to lift in the air. For dressage, a more upright build and a shorter neck are desired.
Our winner this month fits the mold. He is balanced with a level topline and equal distance from the top of his withers to the ground and from the point of the shoulder to the point of his buttock. His neck length is ideal, a third of his body length.
This gelding has a mellow expression, but his eye and nostril are on the small side, though his mouth has good length. The head could be more defined but shows a nice attachment with a clean throatlatch.
92˚ He’s a bit ewe-necked with an overdeveloped underside and undeveloped crest. However, the neck ties in clean and high to the shoulder to allow freedom of movement. His well-defined withers blend into the nice slope of his shoulder.
His legs are clean with nice joint size. But he stands back at the knee, stressing tendons, ligaments and joints. He has good pastern length and angles for shock absorption.
His coupling looks slightly weak over his loins, but his strong, powerful hindquarter, with the great length from stifle to hock, gives him good range of motion to track under and propel himself forward.
Don’t let the rope halter or this gelding’s color blind you, this is a nice horse.
Two issues jump out to me on our second-place gelding. First is how large his head appears and second is his camped-out hind end.
His attractive head shows a beautiful, kind eye. It’s just too large in proportion to his body, causing him to be out of balance. The throatlatch appears too small for sufficient air passage. His neck is also more than a third of overall body length, contributing to front-end weight.
His shoulder angle is more upright than ideal as are his pasterns, producing a stiffer gait. The cannon bones and forearms are nearly the same length, reducing stride efficien-
cy. He’s also tied-in behind the knee, where the tendons are narrower at the top. This creates uneven loading and weakens tendon strength.
Although he has a substantial hindquarter, the pelvis-to-femur angle is quite open, which results in the camped-out hind legs. This puts his power behind him, limiting range of motion and propulsion. Look closely on the left hind leg: The bump below the hock is a curb. This strain or tear of the plantar ligament is caused by faulty conformation.
This bay is handsome, but several faults impact his athleticism and raise concerns for long-term soundness.
Our third gelding shows little symmetry in the way his parts fit together. The resulting lack of balance makes it difficult to ride and train such a horse and for the horse to oblige.
Although he has a sweet eye and kind expression, a good length of mouth and large nostrils for air intake, his extreme Roman nose stands out. In contrast, the pencilthin neck and very thin throatlatch don’t match his head or body.
He has good shoulder angulation and length, though the withers are lower than his croup, shifting his balance downhill. His knees, fetlocks and hocks are adequate size for his body but the forearms lack muscling.
This horse’s hindquarter is unusual. The equilateral triangle is quite off the mark, looking at the hip-to-stifle length, and will result in an inefficient gait behind.
But the major fault of this gelding’s structure is the broken axis of the pasterns where they join the hoof. This puts tremendous strain on tendons, ligaments, and bones; in this case, of all four legs.
I really appreciate the braiding effort, the nice hunter bridle and good pose that show attention to detail and good horsemanship. However, I put this horse in the guarded category in terms of future soundness.
3-year-old gelding Thoroughbred/ Appaloosa DISCIPLINE: Eventing/Dressage
3-year-old gelding Thoroughbred DISCIPLINE: Eventing
2-year-old gelding Hanoverian DISCIPLINE: Dressage/Jumpers
90˚ 90˚ 1