Train Your Eye to Spot Good Horse-Health Characteristics

When judging horse conformation, look for the good characteristics first.

When most people set out to evaluate a horse, they hunt for faults. Instead, AQHA Judge Jim Heird, Ph.D. says to get into the habit of first looking for what's good about the horse.

Before you can know what you don't like, you have to firmly establish in your mind what you do like. Start by studying the breed ideal.

"Train yourself to find the horse that most closely resembles the breed ideal, with the most positive combination of balance, structural correctness, movement and appropriate breed characteristics," he says.

"From there, you can talk about what's optimum in a horse versus its usefulness," he says. "We have the ideal horse that we compare everything to, but we can accept certain deviations from that as we look at performance and form to function."

With the ideal firmly in your head, you can better see what deviations you can accept based on what that horse is going to do. For example, if you know what an ideal hock looks like, then, if a horse has a little more set to the hock, you can better see the difference between a deviation that helps a horse get its hind end under it (to better go around barrels or perform a sliding stop), and a true sickle hock that could lead to unsoundness.

Learn more with AQHA's American Quarter Horse Conformation Standards report. It's a great, FREE resource you can share with your friends

Look for the Skeleton.

"When you drive up to a building, all you might see is a big, red brick building," Heird says. "You don't think about its framing or what the rafters took like. "That's exactly the way most people judge horses," he says.

"They never look at the framework that's underneath - the skeleton. It doesn't matter how straight a horse's legs are if the skeleton is wrong."

Learn what a normal skeleton looks like and train your eye to see the way a horse's bones fit together. For example, look at the differences in the skeletons in the image above, especially in the shoulder blades and pelvic bones.

"Everything is attached at the same place, but the skeletons are different," Heird says. "Horse A is what a normal horse's skeleton looks like. Horse B has quite a bit of slope to the shoulder. Horse C is too straight in the shoulder."

The skeleton makes the difference between a horse that stands square and balanced (A), a horse that tends toward being uphill and on its haunches (B), and a horse too much on the forehand (C). When you see the skeleton, you can better see the individual as a whole.

Get your FREE copy of the American Quarter Horse Conformation Standards report. This easy-to-read, two-page report explains conformation standards and what to look for when judging a horse - at a show or for possible purchase

Quick Judging Tips

    • Get an image of the ideal in your mind.
    • Train your eye to see the skeleton.
    • Train your mind to first look for the good: think positive, not negative.
    • Develop a system for how you look at a horse, and stick to it.