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Page Heading Conformation

Photo by Fred Taylor  Perhaps the two most significant factors to a horse’s success (aside from its  determination or “will” to win) are its pedigree and how it is constructed.

 A horse’s pedigree is its bloodline or genealogy—mother (i.e., the dam) and father  (i.e., the sire), as well as all of its grand-dams, grand-sires, brothers, and sisters.

 Conformation refers to a horse’s physical makeup (head to toe, both sides, front,  and back).  How its legs are formed and body has developed.

 A third consideration is its overall "look."  Does the horse have an intelligent head;  racey appearance; and commanding presence?


When a horse is in a stretch dual, you want it to be able to call on the best traits of its ancestors to help it prevail. When analyzing a horse’s pedigree, I believe its physical attributes come from the sire, and its mind and will to win come from the dam. That’s just my opinion; but it’s no secret that the dam plays a significant role in a horse’s success. Many astute buyers know this in some way, shape, or form. And you don’t have to look any further than a catalog page in a sale book for additional proof.

Image by KeenelandAs notable as the billing is for the sire of a yearling, he only receives a paragraph at the top of the page that briefly lists his accomplishments and any notable success of his offspring. The rest of the page is dedicated to the dam, grand dam (or 2nd dam), and great-grand dam (3rd dam). Much is written about her side of the family, and if the immediate dams are “light” on wins, then the sales company will dig deeper into the dam’s lineage to find winners to publish.

This is all for good reason, of course. While pedigree doesn’t guarantee racing success or failure, it does give insight into the offspring of the parents. As such, if the momma has produced six healthy foals, and all six were winners (of some “type”), then that’s worth noting.

As I stated in my Keeneland update, wins are categorized by how notable are the races that a horse has won (if any). Races are listed by an internationally recognized Grade or Group: 1, 2, or 3 (Grade 1 is the most prestigious). After graded stakes, there are stakes and handicaps; followed by listed, restricted, allowance, claiming, and maiden (for non-winners) races.

Of course, to any Thoroughbred racehorse owner, a win is a win; but in terms of evaluating the success of a stallion or a dam, the quality of its wins (and those of its other offspring) makes a big difference in terms of the marketability of the horse being sold. As such, the type font of a horse’s name is a reflection of its success. Subtle differences to the untrained eye don’t mean much; however, the number of capital letters, bold-face type, and what I call its “G force” designation actually means a lot. If a horse’s name is in bold, that means it at least finished "in the money" in a stakes race. If the same name is in bold and all caps, that means it was a stakes winner. If the name is in bold, all caps, and has a G1 by it, that means it won one of the most prestigious races in the sport.


How a horse’s hoof meets the turf is probably more important than its pedigree. I say this because a horse can come from the best pedigree in the world, but if it has a significant physical flaw (particularly in the alignment of its legs and feet), then sooner than later it’ll develop an ailment, or worse, breakdown completely.

The horse relies on balance to keep its enormous 1,000+ pound body in fluid, pain-free motion as it zooms around a race track at speeds up to 45 MPH. This balance is achieved with equal weight distribution between its fore and hind legs. The composition of body mass to leg and ankle ratio is really impressive—especially if you take a close look at the bone structure in a horse’s leg (which is not much bigger than a human’s).

As powerful as a horse is, its legs, knees, and ankles are very fragile. Thus, it is important to look for a sound body all the way around. There are many ways to do this, and none is superior to another. Overall, you are evaluating the horse's symmetry front to back; top (of the withers—the area between neck and back) to bottom; facing forward and from behind.

Image by Gaited HorsesThe head and neck are important to its airflow. The nostrils should be large; the eyes clear; the jaw wide at the neck; and an internal examination of the throat (by way of a professional Endoscopic examination) should show that the esophagus and voice box are clear of obstruction.

The shoulder should be long and sloping (on both sides), and set a 45-degree angle to the ground to ensure the maximum length of stride.

The chest should be broad, and the heart-girth should be deep to allow the lungs to expand and heart to pump freely. The back should be short with a slight dip, and the loin (the area between the back and hindquarters) muscular.

Image by Gaited Horses

When looking at the horse from the front, and you draw that line through each leg from the chest to the hoof, the leg should be symmetrical on both sides of the line. The imaginary line through both legs should be parallel and equidistant to each other from the top to the bottom and not narrow in spacing - See "Figure 1A" below.

The toes should be pointing forward and look perfectly rounded like a dome. A good farrier can mask hoof maladies and direction by the way the shoes are fitted, so you have to take a close look at the hoof from the front, side, and underneath. 

When viewing the hoof from the side, the 45 degree slope should be flat from the tip of the toe to the ankle (or pastern).  The pastern is the shock absorber for the horse’s leg, and if the angle of the hoof is jacked up above the 45 or rides lower than the 45, then this will affect the horse’s cushion and increase stress on the tendons and bones. The bottom of the hoof will tell you how the horse is running and what type of corrections the farm has asked the farrier to make. The bulb of the heal should be wide and free of wear, and the soft “v-like” tissue (or frog) should look healthy.

Image by Gaited Horses

The front legs support 60 percent of the horse’s weight. The ideal conformation of both front legs (when viewed from the front and side) should be such that you can draw an imaginary line through the center of upper leg (forearm), knee, and lower leg (cannon bone) to the back of the hoof - see "Figure 2A" below. The forearm should be wide, muscular, and have enough room to place your fist where the leg meets the chest (same area as a person’s arm pit). The knees should be large, aligned straight, and flat. The tendons that surround the cannon bone should be parallel from top to bottom. And the angle of the hoof should be the same 45 degrees as the shoulder.

Image by Gaited Horses

The hindquarters (or croup) produces the horse’s power. The croup should be muscular and well-rounded; and wide, flat, and symmetrical when viewed from behind - see "Figure 3A" below. The muscles should be long, slightly rounded, and well-developed. The croup should be rounded—not flat, short, stocky, or sloped. The thigh (or gaskin) should also be at a 45 degree angle. Unlike the foreleg, you should be able to draw straight line from the rump to the hock (elbow) along the back of the leg (cannon) to the back of the fetlock (lower elbow). The length, width, and alignment of the hindquarters are important to speed and power generated respectively. Some slight imperfections in the hindquarters are allowable—just not extremes which will upset the horse’s balance.

Last, but not least, the true test of a horse’s conformation is to see how it walks. Handlers are trained to present the horse in the best position when standing still. However, when the horse is in motion, you can see if it actually takes clean steps (meaning: the right front is on the same line as the right back, and same for the left). You want to see if the right interferes with the left, paddles, wings out, or clip heals (inside or front to back). Watch the horse from the front, side, and back. It’s said the best way to watch a horse walk is from behind—just don’t get too close!

Famous Comment on the Same

We can talk about pedigree and conformation all day until we’re blue in the face; but the late Hall of Fame Jockey, Bill Shoemaker, said it best: “If the big S.O.B. can just run a little bit, we ought to be all right.” 

Horse Awareness and Safety

Horses are “flight” animals. If they get scared, then they run, kick, stand on their hind legs, or any combination of these things. Some horses are "high strung" or even mean—for whatever reason—and they will bite and stomp just to prove their dominance. As such, when you are near horses, be respectful of your shared surroundings, and give yourself plenty of room to negotiate. Don’t make sudden moves, or run up to a horse. Be mindful of what a horse might do when you are standing next to one. Basically, a horse can only see what’s ahead and slightly off to the side, but it can hear (very well) all the way around.

If you plan to get close to a horse during your inspection, you should probably ask the handler for permission and a little insight about the horse’s demeanor. If it’s okay get closer, start from the front; and as you move toward the horse’s hind quarters, keep your hand on its shoulder, back, and rump as you walk around. This will give the horse a sense of your presence. Never stand directly behind a horse when close, and be attentive to keep your feet back to avoid being stepped on or kicked when off to the side.

Horses are adorable; but if you are not familiar with one’s behavior, keep the peppermints your pocket and leave the hay in the feed basket. If you are uncomfortable being around horses, then it is best not to be in close company because they can sense tension and fear, and that makes them nervous too.

Mojo Makes It Easy

Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC (which conducts its horse racing operations as Mojo Racing Partners) was founded in 2006 to give people affordable and fun opportunities to participate in the exciting sport of Thoroughbred racing.


If you have any additional questions about participating in a Mojo Group, please contact: Fred Taylor, Jr. - Founder, CEM, and President - Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC.