Relating Form to Function: Horse's Head

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

A few breeds have certain characteristics that help define breed character and type, but for most breeds, attractive, well-conformed heads have the same characteristics.

Parts of the Horse's Head

These characteristics include:

  • short, well-set ears
  • large, bold eyes
  • short distance from eye to muzzle
  • large nostrils
  • refined muzzle with a shallow mouth
  • sex characteristics (stallion, mare)
  • breed characteristics.

In general there is no physiological benefit to horses having a pretty head. Ugly-headed horses are able to function and perform …

Relating Form to Function: Horse's Neck

Equine Neck: top to bottom is 2:1 ratio

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

The length and shape of the horse’s neck is important, because the horse uses it as a balancing arm. The throatlatch, which is the junction between head and neck from ear to ear, should be trim and refined, regardless of 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 …

Relating Form to Function: Horse's Balance

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky


Balanced horse

All horses are basically proportional but not necessarily balanced. Balance is the most important characteristic in selection, because it forms the basis for movement, length of stride, and ultimately, performance. Balance is determined by the underlying skeletal structure of the horse. It is important to develop the ability to visualize and evaluate the skeletal system of the horse underneath muscle and other tissues.

The slope of the horse’s shoulder is critical in order for …

Relating Form to Function: Horse's Muscle

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Muscle areas of the horse

Muscling is an important criteria in judging many conformation classes, especially stock horses such as Quarter Horses, Paints, and Appaloosas. Muscling is proportional.

As one muscle in the body increases, total muscle mass increases. Muscling is visually appraised in the: 

  • Forearm
  • Chest
  • Shoulder
  • Loin
  • Stifle
  • Gaskin

Heavy-muscled horses have greater circumference of forearm, gaskin, and width of hindquarter than light-muscled horses.

Today, the horse industry accepts muscling that is long, clean, …

Permanent Identification using Freeze Branding in horses

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

A fairly new and less painful method, freeze branding uses irons chilled in liquid nitrogen. The hair that grows back where the brand was applied has no pigment, resulting in a white brand. Therefore, when freeze branding a gray or white horse, the brand must be kept on longer to give the appearance of a hot brand.

Another type of freeze brand, called the alpha angle system, uses a horse’s date of …

Permanent Identification in horses

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Equine Freeze Brand
on Shoulder


Using colorings and markings to identify a horse is a good method of horse identification, but what if a horse has no unique markings, such as one with solid bay coloring and no white facial or leg markings?

How would the owner identify his or her horse from a group of solid bays with no white markings? One way to do this is to use permanent identification methods to mark the horse.

Not …

Identification Using Signalments in Horses

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Signalments – Colorings and Markings

There are two types of identification methods used by the horse industry that enable individuals to keep track of their horses. One uses the horse’s natural markings and colorings, called signalments, and the other uses permanent markings. Every horse owner should keep a detailed record of the specific coloring and markings of his or her horse. Some breed associations and other groups require that a horse identification record …

Equine Laminitis or Founder

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae of one or more hooves. Severe pain can result from poor circulatory congestion in the foot. When the sensitive laminae become inflamed, the union between the hoof and the laminae can separate. In severe cases the coffin bone can rotate and begin to penetrate the sole.

A foundered horse often has a distorted hoof with characteristic “founder rings,” a long toe that curls if …

Relating Form to Function: Horse's Front Legs, Side View

Ideal alignment of the horse's front legs, as viewed from the side.
Ideal alignment of the horse’s front legs, as viewed from the side.

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

When viewed from the side, the front column of bones should have the appropriate slope and angle of shoulder and pastern. Additionally, a straight line should run from the center of the scapula and bisect the leg equally in half, touching the heel of the hoof as pictured in the “ideal” side view.

Camped-under is a condition in which the forelimbs are …

Relating Form to Function: Horse's Frontlegs, Front View

Ashley Griffin, University of Kentucky

Horse's straight column of bone

The horse’s forelimb bears 65 percent of its body weight. Therefore, it is extremely important for a horse to have straight, structurally correct front legs. Due to the amount of weight on the forelimbs, horses suffer from more front leg injuries due to trauma and concussion than any other type of leg injuries.

Ideally, when viewing the forelegs from the front, a straight line from the point of the shoulder should bisect the entire …