Miniature Horse Conformation
Miniature Horse breeders strive to breed horses with excellent conformation because well-conformed horses are typically more healthy and beautiful. To properly evaluate a horse's conformation you must know the common names associated with horse anatomy.
Parts of the Horse
Click on a part of the photo to see a definition of the term.
Proper Proportion in Miniature Horses
The angle of the shoulder will influence the smoothness of the horse's gait. The steeper the shoulder, the shorter and choppier the stride. Horses with long, sloping shoulders will be better able to disperse the concussion of the leg striking the ground, which contributes to ease, freedom of movement, and style of action. A horse with too much slope to the pastern would also be undesirable and said to be coon-footed.
The neck connects the head to the shoulders, starting at the poll and ending at the withers. It should blend smoothly into the withers and the chest and not appear to emerge between the front legs. Ideally the neck should always be in proportion to the rest of the body. Draft type horses will need shorter, heavier necks to balance their shorter, heavier frames; and finer boned, light horses have reasonably long necks in proportion to their longer body and legs. Proper proportion will also present a more attractive appearance.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS FOR PARTS OF THE HORSE
Poll. The poll is the bony prominence lying between the ears. It is the junction of the vertebrae with the skull; an area of great sensitivity and flexion. Except for the ears, it is the highest point on the horse’s body when it is standing with its head up.. In this area are many nerve endings and acupressure points.
Forelock. The hair growing between a horse's ears that falls forward ontp the forehead; a horse's "bangs."
Forehead. The forehead is the area between and just above the eyes. Foreheads can be concave, flat or convex.
Muzzle. The muzzle is the end of a horse's face, including the nose, nostrils, and lips. The head should taper to a small muzzle. The nostrils should be capable of wide dilation to permit the maximum inhalation of air, yet be rather fine. The lips should be firm and the lower lip should not have the tendency to sag.
Mouth. The mouth is the opening through which an animal receives food; the aperture between the jaws or between the lips; also, the cavity, containing the tongue and teeth, between the lips and the pharynx. It is important to examine the mouth of the horse to ensure that the horse is not parrot- mouthed (overshot muzzle) or monkey-mouthed (undershot muzzle). The depth and shape of the mouth is an indication of the "lightness" of a horse's mouth. Typically, the more shallow the mouth, the softer and more responsive a horse is to the bit.
Jaw. The jaw is the part of the skull that frames the mouth and holds the teeth. The horse should have a well-defined jaw and cheek. Stallions will have a slightly larger, deeper, more defined jaw than mares, indicative of secondary sex characteristics. A gelding will typically have a jaw intermediate in size.
Throatlatch. The throatlatch is the junction between head and neck from ear to ear. It should be trim and refined, regardless of the breed. If a horse is thick and coarse in the throatlatch, air and blood flow may be restricted when the horse is asked to flex and bend at the poll. A trim, refined throatlatch allows the horse to perform while breathing correctly.
Neck. The neck connects the head to the shoulders, starting at the poll and terminating at the withers. It should blend smoothly into the withers and the shoulders. The underline of the neck should be straight and attach high on the shoulder, giving the appearance of a vertical chest. Ideally the neck should always be in proportion to the rest of the body. Draft type horses will need shorter, heavier necks to balance their shorter, heavier frames; and finer boned, light horses have reasonably long necks in proportion to their longer body and legs. Proper proportion will also present a more attractive appearance.
Shoulder. The shoulder runs from the withers to the point of the chest on each side. They should be covered with lean, flat muscle and blend well into the withers. Ideally the slope of the shoulder should be approximately 45 to 50 degrees. However, shoulder angles will vary from the ideal. In general, pastern angles usually follow that of the shoulder. If the shoulder is more upright, or ‘straight’ the horse’s stride will be shorter and its gaits may be more choppy and uncomfortable to ride.
Point of Shoulder. The point of shoulder is a hard, bony prominence at the lower part of the shoulder surrounded by heavy muscle masses.
Breast. The breast is a muscle mass between the forelegs, covering the front of the chest.
Chest. An ideal chest is wide and deep and contains the space necessary for vital organs. A narrow chest indicates lack of muscling and area for the heart and lungs and can lead to interference with the front legs. Chest muscles should be well developed and form an inverted "V". However, an excessively wide chest forces the legs out, so the gait may be rolling and labored.
Elbow. The elbow is the joint between the humerus and the radius and ulna, located on the foreleg between the shoulder joint (scaputahumeral) and the knee (carpal joint). Its bony prominence lies against the lower chest at the beginning of the forearm in the girth area.
Forearm. The forearm is the upper part of the foreleg which extends from the elbow to the knee. The underlying two bones of the forearm are the radius and the ulna. A well muscled and long forearm is desirable as it can signify a long smooth stride. Forelegs should be straight and perpendicular when viewed from all directions.
Chestnut. The chestnut is a horny growth on the inner side of the legs. On the forelegs, they are just above the knees. On the hind legs, they are just below the hocks. No two horses have been found to have the same chestnuts and so they may be used for identification. Also called "night eyes."
Knee. The knee is the carpal joint between the radius (forearm) and the cannon bone. The knee of the horse is made of several small bones. Although it is called the knee and bends forward like a human knee it is different in structure to a human knee. A human’s knee joint is a ball and socket joint. A horse’s knee is several bones held together by small muscles, tendons and ligaments. The bones in the knee are similar to the bones of a human’s wrists.
Cannon. The cannon bone lies between the knee and fetlock joint on the front leg and from the hock joint to the fetlock joint on the hind leg. It should be straight and strong. Along each side of the cannon bone runs smaller bones, called the splint bones.
Flexor Tendons. The flexor tendons run from the knee to the fetlock and can be seen prominently lying behind the cannon bone, when it runs parallel to the cannon bone it constitutes the desired "flat bone".
Fetlock. The fetlock is the area around the joint between the cannon bone (metacarpus or metatarsus) and the pastern (first phalanx), including the sesamoid bones. It is equivalent to the human knuckle but often referred to as the "ankle." The fetlock should be set well back on pasterns of medium length that are strong and sloping. Fetlock and pastern together provide springiness to the gait and also disperse concussion. The joint should be strong, clean and free from stiffness.
Ergot. A small horny growth in a tuft of hair behind the fetlock joint; similar to chestnut
Pastern. The pastern is the area between the hoof and fetlock joint on all four legs. The pastern is made up of two bones that extend downwards from the fetlock. The upper bone is longer and the shorter lower bone extends into the hoof where it joins to the pedal bone inside. The angle and length of the pastern is important to strength and smoothness of gaits. Too long a pastern, while providing supple shock absorbency for a smooth ride, may not stand up to hard work. A short pastern will be strong but the horse’s gaits may be choppier. Ideally the angle of the pastern on the forelegs should be about 45 degrees on the front and 50 degrees on the back.
Sesamoid bones: two small bones (medial and lateral sesamoids) located above at the back of the fetlock joint.
Coronet. The coronet is the band around the top of the hoof between hair-covered skin and hoof from which Soft tissue is turned into the hardened horn of the hoof wall. Also called “coronary band”
Hoof. The hoof refers to the horny wall and the sole of the foot. The foot includes the horny structure and the pedal bones and navicular bones, as well as other connective tissue that play an integral role in supporting the weight of the horse.
Girth. The girth is the circumference of the body measured from behind the withers around the barrel. This is the point that a horse should be measured to determine the heart girth which can be used to determine the horse’s weight.
Underline. The underline is the length and shape of the line from the elbow to the sheath or udder.
Hock. The hock is the tarsal joint between the tibia and the cannon bone in the rear leg that corresponds to the level of the knee of the front leg. The hock is responsible for providing most of the forward energy of the horse. It corresponds to the human heel. The bony protuberance at the back of the hock is called the point of hock.
Gaskin. The gaskin is the muscular region between the stifle and the hock. The underlying bones are the tibia and the smaller fibula which are equivalent to our calf and shin bones. Sometimes called the “second thigh”.
Stifle. The stifle is the area at the end of the thigh corresponding to the human knee. Underlying the stifle area is the stifle joint made up of the femur, the patella, and the tibia. A luxating patella is a condition in which the patella, or kneecap, dislocates or moves out of its normal location.
Hindquarters. The hindquarters is the part of the horse's body from the rear of the flank to the top of the tail down to the top of the gaskin. Since the hindquarters provide power to the horse they should be well muscled when viewed from the side and rear. Also called quarters.
Croup. The croup is the top of the hindquarters; it lies between the loin and the tail. When one is looking from the side or back, it is the highest point of the hindquarters.
Loin. The loin is located between the last rib and the croup, lying either side of the vertebrae over the kidneys. It is the short, sometimes sensitive area joining the back to the powerful muscular croup. Sometimes called “coupling”. The loin transmits power to the forequarters, so it must be short, wide, strong and heavily muscled. A horse that is weak in coupling and shallow in the flank is termed hound-gutted, or wasp-waisted, and lacks drive. Do not be misled by a highly conditioned horse that is well tucked up.
Flank. The flank is the slightly indented area behind the horse's barrel between the ribcage and the hindquarters. This is the area you watch to count your horse’s respiration.
Barrel. The barrel is the area of the horse's body between the forelegs and the loins. The curve of the barrel is formed by the ribs. Depth of heartgirth and spring of rib translate into more strength and constitution.
Back. The horse’s back extends from the base of the withers to where the last rib is attached. Beneath the surface of the skin are the upright ‘fins’ of the vertebrae. Along either side are many muscles. Horses should have a short, strong back relative to a longer underline. Length of back plays an important role in balance, length, and type of stride. It is directly related to the length and angle of the shoulder and the top-to-bottom line neck ratio. Horses with excessively long backs are unbalanced and weaker in their toplines than shorter-backed horses. Sway backs (lordosis) can be genetic, caused by old age or by improper riding.
Withers. The withers is the prominent ridge of the horse's spine where the neck and the back join. The height of a horse is measured vertically from the withers to the ground, because the withers is the horse's highest constant point.
Mane. The mane is the long and coarse hair growing on the upper side of the neck of the horse.
Crest. The crest is the topline of the neck, the area between the poll and the withers. Ideally the crest should be a gentle convex curve from the poll to the withers. Moderately lean in mares but inclined to be more full in stallions. On some horses, the crest can become very thick and actually break over, called a “broken crest.”
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