American Trakehner Association

Sport Horse Conformation And The Breeder
by Dr. Robert Baird

Part III   Part I    Part II    Part IV








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Part IV   Part I    Part II    Part III



In emphasizing the importance of the back, Dr. Bennett compares a horse to an automobile. The front legs are the wheels and suspension; the back is the transmission; and the hindquarters are the motor. The car may run for a time on flat tires with broken suspension. It may even go for a while with a grossly under-powered engine. But without a transmission it is useless.

She also talks about muscle tone, and how it varies with breed. Muscle tone is a muscle’s response to a stimulus. It is slowest with cold blooded horses; highest with full bloods; and medium to low with warmbloods, which are considered more suited to dressage. However, a higher degree of neuromuscular response may be desirable in upper level jumpers and eventers.

The breeder must develop the ability to observe, not only the individual parts, but also how harmoniously they fit together. He must not confine his observations to standing conformation alone, but must also see the horse in motion.


The sport horse breeder’s challenge is to breed the best available for a specific purpose, and to retain for breeding only those horses that meet a standard of acceptable conformation.

‘Culling’ is a word which is often misused, and is not necessarily an indication of a ‘poor’ horse. It indicates only that the horse is not considered suitable to be bred for a specific purpose.

‘Culled’ horses may excel as sport horses, while not being suitable for breeding. For example, a small mare may produce small offspring which may be very good sport horses; or a horse with a long, weak back, but with good legs and a good temperament, may give a smooth ride and be suitable for the pleasure rider. However, it will be difficult to train for activities requiring collection.


The judge’s challenge is to study the standing horse carefully, and forecast, with accuracy, how he will move. If he has an opportunity to see the horse move, then his task is simplified significantly. None of us will be correct all of the time, but, with practice, all of us should be accurate most of the time.

A word of caution. Although breeders are enchanted by a specific breed, and often entranced by a pedigree, these preferences must not be allowed to cloud the vision when looking at a horse. It will, in fact, be more challenging not to know the breed, the bloodlines or the breeder, until after the horse has been inspected and a judgment made.




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The Gymnasium of the Horse - Gustav Steinbrecht (1888)
(Xenophon Press, 1995) Translated by Helen Gibble
Principles of Conformation Analysis - Dr. Deb Bennett (Equus , 1991)
Equitation - Jean Froissard (Wilshire Book Co., 1971)
A History of Horsemanship - C.C. Trench (Doubleday, 1970)
Complete Training of Horse and Rider - Alois Podhajsky (Doubleday, 1967)
Horsemanship - Waldemar Seunig (Doubleday, 1956)
Anatomy of the Horse - George Stubbs (Bracken Books, 1990)

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Robert Baird, M.D.
Unionville, Ontario

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First Edition 1997

Revised 1998